The Knewton Blog

Our monthly newsletter features edtech and product updates, with a healthy dose of fun Knerd news.

Teacher Feature: Kate McKeon on Motivating Students in the Digital Age

Posted in Ed Tech on July 23, 2014 by

At Knewton, we have a lot to learn from teachers. Our goal is to create technology that helps them create more effective lessons and help teachers better support students. We’re always interested in hearing about teachers’ perspectives on the future of education and educational technology. Below we’re sharing some recent insights we’ve heard from teachers across the country.


Teacher: Kate McKeon
New York, NY
Subject Expertise: Mathematics, English Language Arts

The education industry is adopting a range of new technologies to improve learning outcomes. Given the tools that we have now in the space, what are your thoughts about the potential for laboratory, hands-on, and other immersive educational experiences?

I love immersive experiences! A student can learn more in 3 weeks of immersive experience than in 45 minutes a day each day during the school year. The beauty of digital discovery is its availability anytime, anywhere. But that is also the greatest challenge for digital tools. They’ve become common. The uncommon experience is the hands-on immersive experience. Immersion brings emotional, physical, and intellectual worlds together. The teachers who create rockstar immersive experiences deserve more limelight than our pop stars.

World Knerd Tour? Lollapalooza + Knerds?

Given our current digital tools, we can address the most common educational needs for next to nothing and instead put our budgets behind opportunities for immersion. I would like to see American classroom education wrap up by the 8th grade so students can begin a series of laboratory and hands-on experiences allowing them to explore their worlds real time. It will change the way our workforce works and the people who can be attracted to teaching. It will give us a chance to help driven students optimize themselves and can give those who would not normally be interested in school a chance to find a subject or a mentor worth pursuit.

What opportunities do you think exist for cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary education in your subject matter?

I teach math, grammar, and advanced reading skills to students often aiming for careers in private equity investing, aka finance. My student is most often a well educated adult with a well developed agenda. I use cross-disciplinary material to expand his horizon and reignite his curiosity before the pressures of career and life narrow his perspective. Something as simple as using unfinished marine biology academic papers for grammar work can inspire him to think about the implications of business decisions through a new lens.

Subtle cross-disciplinary study has led to remarkable conversations about the impact of choices. Fortunately, my students realize they are soon to enter the case study, total interdisciplinary, mode so they humor any less elegant approaches to cross-disciplinary materials. Cases, specifically business school cases, are the most direct way to tie math skill development with critical thinking, and are meaty enough that a student must stay in struggle long enough to get emotionally attached to determining the outcome.

Given the proliferation of multimedia learning environments in the digital age, there’s been a lot of discussion about gamification — what it can offer education and what its particular pitfalls might be. What do you think is the ideal way to motivate students?

At our best, we help our students discover the inner fire – the set of life interests that will help them get out of bed and drive them to study when friends are tempting them, and help them understand the context of this study today with developing those life interests. Short of that, a little big sister/mom guilt goes a long way.

Gamification gets bandied about, but the greatest motivation comes from having a long term vision, not earning badges and getting manipulated into behaviors. I can build the study pattern such that a student becomes addicted similar to Candy Crush play, but that has thus far demonstrated more co-dependent behavior and less learning. It’s an area of interest that we’ve barely been able to adapt to our learning models.