Sweet chili lime pistachios? In my classroom?

Sweet chili lime pistachios. Yes, they are real; and they are addictive. One of my team members told me about them, and because I’m a pistachio lover and a chili lover, I had to try them. Yum! I’m a sucker for Tex-Mex flavors, and this one got me. Like many of you, I tend to eat lunch and snacks at my desk, so I need to be careful my laptop doesn’t end up with chili in the keyboard!

When I first heard about sweet chili pistachios — maybe you did this, too — I kind of debated whether I really wanted to try them. Sometimes we read or hear about combinations of foods that don’t sound so good, like the Scandinavian chicken / banana dish my aunt recently sent me as a joke. Ew.  Sometimes we try the new combo and discover it’s really amazing. And other times … well, it may have been better to ignore it! (Kudos to the first person who put peanut butter and chocolate together … but why would anyone want that chicken / banana combo or a mayonnaise-and-peanut-butter sandwich?!)

You might justifiably wonder just how this foodie blog has anything to do with student engagement. Bear with me a moment or two while we explore some thoughts here. Like those addictive sweet chili lime pistachios, sometimes we need to spice things up to get students engaged. Sometimes we have to be willing to try something new, or look at something innovative to capture their attention. Sometimes we need to seek out new resources to share with them.

First, it can be helpful to think about how we teach and how students learn. Take a look at a book like Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide. Read Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning if you haven’t yet done so, or Powerful Teaching. Whet your own appetite with practical applications for the classroom based on solid cognitive research. Consider tools like retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback and how these can be used to help your students learn better — and keep them interested. Our excitement, and our own growth mindset, can help students be more engaged.

Next, explore technology tools (or even non-techy tools like index cards) that allow you to track student responses and get real-time feedback on muddy points. Look at tools like Pearson’s Learning Catalytics.  

Then, take a look at the research about emotional intelligence, grit, mindset, and related qualities. As simplistic as it may sound, many students aren’t sure how to schedule portions of their days. They don’t realize the importance of mindfulness vs. the multi-tasking that they are so familiar with. They need specific, targeted feedback and modeling to develop metacognition skills.

Don’t forget resources for the students. Maybe they are not engaged because they don’t even know how to be a student. Share www.studygs.net. Students might really appreciate the Learning Scientists blogs. A recent one explores the importance of explaining things to help cement memory and learning. Earlier this summer, another blog outlined research about note-taking. Giving such tools to students can empower them, and drive them to succeed  which can engage them more deeply in the learning process both in- and outside of the classroom.

Something to keep in mind is that we don’t need a lot of chili powder to spice things up — many of these changes don’t need a lot of time, and they don’t take a ton of effort. Maybe you’re even doing some of them already. 🙂 A little bit can go a long way. And humor helps. Check out articles like this one: Examining the energizing effects of humor: The influence of humor on persistence behavior. 

Time for a snack!

About the author:
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.