Why does it matter?
The question “Does what you learn in class help you outside of school?” helps educators check-in on whether or not students are being supported in making connections between their lives, the world outside school, and what they are learning in the classroom. Making learning relevant to students promotes engagement, motivation, and equity.
It’s all about the why
Explaining why something has been put in front of students should be a part of every lesson. Caitie Meehan reflects on her experiences as a teacher and the strategies she developed to make learning meaningful to her students for Responsive Classroom.
Introduce the skill and look for a connection to students’ lives
Meehan recommends beginning by drawing on students’ own experiences and background knowledge about a topic, then connecting what students offer up to help them see the importance of what they are about to learn. Here are some more recommendations from Meehan:
Create a lesson based on personal connections
Connect a math concept to a students’ recent shopping. Choose a popular song and ask students whether or not it’s poetry. Meehan once asked a math class to create a class mall in order to teach the basics of adding, subtracting, and multiplying decimals. Each group chose a “store” in a mall” and drew pictures of products, then labeling them with a price. Connecting activities to students’ lived experiences can help them get more comfortable with a new skill, while also helping them become more invested in the outcome because there are real life implications for their learning.
Invite students to reflect
Asking students explicitly “How do you think decimals will be useful to you in class?” is another way to help students find the connection between what they are learning to their lives.