Help Students Make Real-World Connections

Bring School to Life Through Project-Based Learning

This post is part of a series titled “Teacher Perspectives” by Lily Jones. You can read all of Lily’s posts here.

How many times have you heard students say, “When am I going to use this in real life?” The question is almost cliche, the hallmark of the disconnect that can exist between kids and school. Though we may understand how what we teach in the classroom connects to the outside world, kids often don’t. You can use these three strategies to increase student engagement by making real-world connections:

1) Ask Your Students

The first step to engagement is getting to know your students. This post describes why it’s important to build off of both your students’ prior knowledge and their life experience. Start by getting to know more about their experiences, then design your lessons from there. Use these questions to help you learn more about your students:

  • What do you like to do on the weekends?
  • What are you interested in learning about?
  • What professions interest you the most? What kind of knowledge and skills do people in these professions need?

2) Think About Both Content and Skills

Sometimes real-world connections are about content, and sometimes they’re about skills. For example, if you find that your students are really interested in learning about veterinarians, you could apparently plan lessons about different types of animals. However, students may not realize that to be a veterinarian, you also need to be able to do math when performing tasks such as determining how much medicine to give to animals. Sometimes emphasizing these real-world connections are just the boost that kids need to engage in certain subject areas.

3) Embrace Project-Based Learning

Learning through interdisciplinary projects can be a wonderful way for kids to see how their learning connects to the world outside of them. In Goalbook Pathways, check out the DOK 4 (also known as “Extended Thinking”) projects that are aligned to specific standards. These projects cover a range of topics, from saving dragonflies to managing money, and are a great way to dive into project-based learning.

For more information on project-based learning, you can also check out the Buck Institute for Education. On their site, you’ll find planning tools, videos, and other resources to help you dive into designing projects that meet the needs of your students.

This year, try to find ways to connect your classroom to the outside world. Make these connections explicit, and you’ll motivate your students to learn and to explore.

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