(photo from victorisawesome.wordpress.com)
Today I overheard this comment by a student in one of my physics classes: "I like this class because I actually learn something real that I can use." I was very happy to hear this.
I try to relate what I'm teaching and what students are doing to something they know. This is something teachers are taught to do, but it's not always easy. In physics, I relate the concepts to daily activities. For example, today we were exploring the concept of torque. The students learned about extending the length of a tool (lever arm) to increase the torque. We talked about how this could help them when changing a tire or working with a nut and bolt. I work hard to find things like this that I can use to make the learning more relevant. I don't want a student to ask "Why do we have to learn this?" I want them to know right away how what they are learning is relevant to them. I don't come up with all of the ideas myself. I find a lot of ideas from textbooks (yes, you heard that right) and my personal learning network. I've found some great resources online over the last few years.
Relevance in the classroom has always been a major idea in education, but I'm seeing more and more discussions about this topic in the education area lately. Students know that there are certain skills and knowledge that they need for the future.
In addition to making the content relevant to them, I use project based learning to help them develop computer skills (presentations, online research, blogging, graphing and calculations with excel, publishing, etc.), communications skills, teamwork, problem solving, self learning, and critical thinking. These are the kinds of things they really need to know and be able to do in the future. (see this article "10 Important Skills Students Need for the Future".)
Another good way to make school more relevant is to let students have a choice on how to demonstrate their learning and use some creativity. Let them choose whether to write a paper, create a website, create a multimedia presentation or write a song to demonstrate their understanding. Let them be creative and have time to explore topics that they are interested in. Differentiating teaching and learning helps also.
Making school relevant to students is the best way to engage them and prepare them for the future. Show them how what they are learning is important to them now and in the future. Show them that the content they are learning can help them or serve them in some way and remind them of the other skills they are developing that will help them in life.
10 Important Skills Students Need for the Future
Project Based Learning
Science of Everyday Life
Create a Personal Learning Network
Should we force students to learn? or How can we change schools to engage students?
Differentiating with Web 2.0 Technologies
What do you think? How are you (or how can you) make school more relevant to your students?