Keep Your Students Engaged Virtually: When Life Hands Them Lemons, Help Them Make Batteries (…and Other Cardboard Engineering Ideas)

Video Podcast May 25, 2020 17 min

Are you wondering how to best support student reflection in your virtual classroom? Have you found it challenging to keep your students engaged during remote teaching? Our hosts this week, Ty Stevenson and Doug Ferguson, will share strategies you can use right away to help your students reinforce their learning through reflection. They will also chat with two expert STEM educators from Microsoft’s Hacking STEM team, James Burke and Jason Ewert. Learn how hands-on lessons with low-cost materials can work in your virtual classroom.

James Burke is a 20-year teacher of middle school STEM and a former Peace Corps volunteer, who actively works to support girls in STEM in Africa and the Caribbean. Jason Ewert is a full-time middle school STEM teacher in Redmond, Washington. He is also a teacher-in-residence with the Microsoft Hacking STEM team.

James Burke
STEM Teacher and Hacking STEM Expert, Bellevue School District
Jason Ewert
STEM Teacher and Hacking STEM Expert, Lake Washington School District

Right now, students are feeling isolated from their peers, and they are stuck at home… A big goal of ours and of the Hacking STEM projects is to get kids thinking outside of themselves. What can they be doing to benefit others or to benefit the environment? Emphasizing that really helps students a lot.

– Jason Ewert, STEM Teacher, Rose Hill Middle School, Redmond, WA


These resources and strategies were discussed during the Livecast and may be useful to you when teaching virtually.

Strategies and Tools That Support Student Reflection

There is no single right way to reflect, and depending on your students’ ages and learning styles, they will feel most comfortable reflecting in different ways. To begin, you may start out by requiring a specific format, but as students become more comfortable and confident, introduce more voice and choice. The following are examples shared during the Livecast.

Emoji Meter 

  • Students can create emojis or circle existing emojis to reflect on their thinking or feelings.
  • During live virtual learning, students can draw emojis on paper and hold them up, or teachers can set up a digital emoji meter.

Reflection Journals

  • Reflection journals can be picture-based, text-based, audio-based, or any combination of the three.
  • One strategy to support written reflection is sentence stems, which can be used in live virtual classes or in self-paced online learning.

Cardboard Engineering With Hacking STEM

Lemon Battery: Collaborative Problem-Solving 

  • Can you light up an LED with just some simple materials? Challenge your students to work collaboratively to figure it out and then make a switch to turn the light on and off with just a paper clip. Since students will not be able to gather with classmates, have them work with their family to complete the task.

Wave Machine: Building a Model 

  • Where do you see waves? They are everywhere, from oceans to sound to earthquakes. In this activity, students will work with a partner (perhaps a sibling or parent/guardian) to make a wave demonstration model out of everyday objects. Measurement, attention to detail, and resilience will all be developed in this engaging activity.