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Boise teacher overcomes connection conundrum with students

East Junior High's Justin Mings improved student engagement by creating theme days, including Meme Mondays, Weird Fact Wednesdays and Funny Fridays.

BOISE, Idaho — It's hard for teachers to connect with kids learning remotely when the students won't turn on their computer cameras. So, this week's Innovative Educator came up with a creative and fun way to turn the students on to tuning in to class.

Justin Mings teaches seventh-grade reading and eighth- and ninth-grade AVID, which is like a college prep class, at East Junior High in Boise.

"They just are who they are, and I love that about them," Mings said of his students.

But with remote learning he encountered a connection conundrum.

"I'd have a class of 20 kids and maybe three kids would have their camera on," Mings said.

He needed to spice things up.

"How can I get creative? How can I get some engagement going?" Mings says he asked himself.

The answer? Daily themes. On Mondays, he starts class with memes, as he and the students share their favorites. The same goes for TikTok Tuesdays.

"I'm competing with TikTok because they're sitting there with their phone in their hand as I'm talking," Mings said. "And I'm like, OK, let's do some TikToks."

The themes also include Weird Fact Wednesdays, Trivia Thursdays and Funny Fridays when Mings and the students trade jokes.

A student told this one: "What do you call a bear with no teeth? A Gummy Bear."

"I have kids who never talk in class who are like, 'oh, I have a joke. I have a joke,'" Mings said.

All the fun memes, videos, facts, trivia and jokes have made a serious impact.

"It was really good to start that because it kind of felt like the whole classroom culture and vibe changed from that," Mings said. "It was reinvigorating for me, and I think it was for the kids as well."

Mings also offers the students extra credit for keeping their cameras on.

If you would like to nominate a teacher who is going above and beyond, send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com. Educators, for more information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation, visit 
www.capedfoundation.org.

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