Editor's note: Carrying on with a key theme from Education on Air, we continue our series of blog posts about student empowerment. Twenty thousand educators from around the world will share ideas for engaging students when they gather at ISTE, one of the largest education technology conferences in the world. If you’re coming to Philadelphia, stop by and see us in the Expo Hall at #1808. You can check out any of over 50 short sessions that will share more ways to engage and inspire students.

When I was a teacher I always looked for ideas about how to make my lessons more engaging for students. As summer officially begins for us in New York and many other parts of the world, it’s a good time to reflect on the best lessons from the past year to help inspire us as fall approaches. We asked students from around the world to think back on the past nine months and describe their favorite lessons and experiences at school. We quickly received submissions from six countries from students aged 5 to 18. Hearing their responses, three common themes quickly emerged — students enjoyed self-directed learning, educational games and learning through experimentation.

Student-directed learning 
Students love to lead lessons, especially when they involve a group activity. “The best lessons for me are open and filled with discussions,” said Jack, 16. “Revising or collaborating with my friends is so much more effective — bouncing ideas off of each other and speaking out loud with friends.” Similarly, Chloe, 16, enjoyed the chance to debate ideas with her peers. “Usually people are so caught up in the way they see the problem, but when someone else expresses their side, you understand them better,” she explained. “You understand the situation better. Your mind is opened up more.”

A number of students valued the ability to create their own learning experiences. For instance, Ty-Shia, 14, enjoyed making and sharing an online magazine about protein for health class. Ben, 15, made a film for English class and showcased his hard work on the big screen. Keona, 18, designed his own statistics project, then conducted the experiment and presented his findings. “It was nice to be in charge of something,” he said. “It forced us to excel and try our best, not just because of the project but because it was our own research and we felt very connected to it.”

Educational games
Technology is opening up new ways of creating, exploring and working together. Not everyone likes competition, but for many students games were a highlight. Students like 11-year-old Ashwath enjoy using tablets “to play educational games and learn all about a topic,” like history or math. “It’s competitive and a good way to enhance what we’ve learned,” he added. “The best time I ever had in a lesson was playing Kahoot in math class,” said Andrew, age 11. “It’s like an online Jeopardy — lots of fun.”

Learning through experimentation
The most frequent theme we heard was that students love to learn by doing. Eleven-year-old Aryan told us about her favorite lesson in science class. “We cooked a marshmallow on a heat plate so we could see how conduction and convection worked,” she said. Observing the radiation and differences in heating and cooling helped her understand the concepts. “It stays in your mind for a while,” she said.

This type of simulation excites high school students, too. Eighteen-year-old Sydney described an epic AP Physics lesson that involved launching rockets. Daniel, 17, described a math class that taught him about the limit of functions — and the best technique for reaching top speeds on a rolly office chair. “We had someone push us down the hallway, made our own functions and calculated our own limits on certain points and intervals,” he said. “It was really interesting and pretty entertaining.”

Sydney might have put it best when she said, “let's go actually discover and experiment what we're learning, be active in our learning and then from there take notes about why that happened the way it did.” Hear more about the favorite lessons of students around the world in this exclusive video from the Education on Air Student Voices series. Check out the Student Voices playlist to view them all.