The literacy and math strategies supported by the Gates Foundation do an amazing job of getting learners to engage. Students bring the level of energy they often bring to sports, music, video games, and other activities they value--but don't always bring to their classwork.
I've been hearing stories for a while from Kentucky educators. There's one about students stopping the principal to say they loved the new way their math classes had been working--and were worried that the teacher was going back to the old pattern. There's another about students stopping their science teacher a month after completing a module on health hazards from cell phones, because they'd found new information on the topic.
In my recent travels, I've picked up a few more.
In Pennsylvania, an art teacher has been using the literacy approach, but reports ruefully that on the last day of school, her students begged for permission to leave her room and go back to science class: they hadn't finished responding to that teacher's literacy teaching task and didn't want to end the year without having another chance to improve their work.
In Colorado, Ann Shannon was invited to explain the mathematics strategy to potential partner districts there, and she decided to show rather than tell. She put a formative assessment lesson out on every table in a full ballroom, and in just a couple of minutes had the entire place abuzz with adults trying to figure out how many descendants one mama cat could have in 1 months. (Completely addictive stuff: I spent my first 90 minutes on the plane home working out my own answer.)
My working theory is that the work learners are doing simply engages at the level adolescent and learners have wanted all along. They don't want to be spoon-fed: they want to wrestle challenges worth wrestling, and when they get the chance to do that, they turn out to have the strength to win major learning victories over and over again.