Teachers have long extolled the virtues of prepping students for the ‘real world.’ But what happens when that world is advancing at an unprecedented pace?
As we moved away from a farming culture to a society of industrialized workers, our educational models naturally evolved, too. Now, with technological changes barreling forward at breakneck speeds, educators are being forced to rethink how they disseminate lessons and engage students.
When it comes to making meaningful connections to curriculum, how do we create a culture of active learners who also see real-life value in the subject matter?
connecting beyond the classroom
Student success used to be as simple as memorize, recite, rinse, and repeat. This narrow view offered little in the way of practical real-world applications that keep today’s youth invested. Learners in the information age are motivated by the why’s of the world. To help them absorb the real-world skills they need, we must teach to the times. Best to find ways that drive their individual curiosity, connect them to the larger global community, and make lessons interactive.
taking lessons into the real world
1. Embrace technology throughout the school day.
Start by banishing your ban on mobile phones. Although it may sound counterintuitive, it actually makes sense to incorporate devices they’ll be using in the workplace. Plan lessons that use multimedia activities, create quizzes they have to take electronically, assign presentations that are mobile-ready. Podcasts, video streaming sites, and network news feeds can also create a structured learning environment that helps bring material to life.
2. Mirror what they see in the media.
Invite other industry experts in interesting fields to spend some time in the classroom. You can find an ‘Instagram influencer’ to teach a social studies lesson, a video game developer to give a science tutorial, or social media manager to talk about algorithms. You can even set up a “celebrity” judge panel to critique a semester project. Whether you’re showing them the STEM skills they need to open certain doors or using a respected community voice to reinforce your lesson plans, it’s very likely to help offer them a renewed approach to homework.
3. Bring the outside world to them.
While teaching with television isn't something we'd want to do all the time, as students become more screen-centric, it can be a tangible way to help them make real-world connections. Used sparingly, it can bring international news to their home turf and expand their view of the world. It can also help demonstrate math and science concepts seen only in the vast and expansive vacuum of space. You could even take them back in time for a powerful history lesson that helps solidify and make relevant, previously non-relatable portions of our past.
4. Teach authentic analysis.
As our Google use increases, our memory capacity appears to be decreasing. Instead of memorizing facts and details, many of us are accustomed to simply recalling where to find said information. Same goes for students. Structuring lessons around how to research well and determine reputable facts from fake ones is a valuable skill in our information age. Better students have a mind for critical thinking and analysis than just a head for figures and dates. This kind of media literacy is critical for any truly employable student in the 21st-century.
5. Help them connect to their community at large.
Community connections offer an invaluable return on lessons and large-scale projects. Structuring curriculum so that it clearly addresses issues in student’s city or neighborhood is an incredible motivator. Be it a community garden to demonstrate concepts like photosynthesis or a tour through a historical neighborhood, done well, these types of lessons encourage them to think beyond the walls of their home or school and makes learning the first step in orchestrating change.
6. Get them involved.
For something that can so easily overwhelm a student’s schedule, tests are wholly underwhelming when it comes to real-world connection. Alternatively, a project that has a more tangible payoff like a presentation trip, or comes with a real-life positive impact for their neighborhood is irreplaceable. You can have them submit work to be published in a book that will live on past the semester. You could also make a video of them teaching an important concept that will get sent to a community in need. If you can have a local politician come interact with your class, you can help them solidify their duty as public citizens. Whichever you choose, the key to engagement is involvement.
In the end, be it technology and new media, or community involvement, your approach matters less than the intent. The more you can broaden their focus and connect to their future in the working world, the more you can help them achieve so much more than academic acumen alone. When the goal is to expand classroom lessons beyond the schoolyard, you create memorable real-world experiences for your students to carry with them into adulthood.