The Difference Between Entertainment and Engagement

When a student is simply sitting there and listening, that is below their level of skill and is therefore not challenging. Once students are out of kindergarten and first grade and have developed a certain level of personal control, they can sit in their seats. They already know how to listen; they are no longer learning skills. They need to be challenged and given an opportunity for growth in order to extend that skill set. They need to be moved back into an area of challenge for a growth mindset as rapidly as possible.

Rigor, flow, and boredom

When the level of challenge falls below the level of skill, we see boredom, which leads to student withdrawal.

It's when we ask them to simply listen or watch a video, or in any way put them in a place where the level of challenge is below the level of skill, that we start to see withdrawal—and that's where we start to see students fighting us. That doesn't mean that when we change from a traditional model of expectations to a next generation model of expectations that students won't still try to buck the system. Even in a rigorous environment, they may. But by trying to seek a purposeful challenge that exceeds the current level of skill, we can try to avoid this. Yes, students will still try to stay in flow, where they are comfortable, but part of being a skillful teacher is knowing how to manage and push that.


Entertainment is a subcategory of boredom in which students might be superficially engaged, but are receiving opportunity neither for growth nor practice.

The key takeaway is that boredom kills creativity. It killed the inquiry nature of the student. But we must also understand that entertainment is a kind of boredom. Unchallenging activities or tasks, or environments of observation that simply occupy time, don't engage students in ways that challenge them. They might be engaged, but there is no opportunity either for growth (rigor) or flow (practice). These are key points to keep in mind as we move into the subject of how to design curriculum to instill grit in students in our next blog article.

“Growing up, I wanted to be an inventor, solving problems that would help people have better lives. Every day at KnowAtom is an opportunity to invent solutions that give thousands of students and teachers a better experience doing science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Providing educators with professional satisfaction and students with the opportunity to understand the world we live in is my way of helping people have better lives.”