A good teacher will take the time to address the students' concerns and patiently give examples of how algebra or sentence diagrams just might come in handy in the real world. A great teacher will go a step further and circumvent this question by providing a real-world connection that gets students excited about learning from the very first lesson.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find the inspiration to create this connection, especially when the day-to-day realities and demands of teaching are front and center. If you can find a way to engage your students; however, your job will be much more enjoyable in the long run.
How does one get students excited about learning? How can you provide a real-world connection for STEM education and other subjects? The easiest way is through simulations that mimic how these skills, like the pythagorean theorem or subordinating conjunctions, will be used in a real-world setting. Your students will not only learn, but their creativity and problem solving just might amaze you.
Recently, four high school students in California designed exciting scientific research that may lead to actual medical breakthroughs. As winners of the tenth through twelfth grade division of the ExploraVision national science competition, these young scientists came up with a prototype for a DNA "box" that helps restore the damaged heart tissue of cardiac patients. The second-place winners of this competition designed a new device to correct scoliosis using magnets, electrical impulses and drug therapy.
These innovations are exciting and hold scientific merit and promise for future breakthroughs and research. The fact that these scientists are still in high school is even more exciting. Even if you're not a STEM educator at an award-winning high school, you can help your students link their learning to real-life situations.
If you are an average teacher, in an average classroom, you may not think you'll ever be able to bring students to this level of achievement. However, if you provide students with a real-world context for their learning, you will lead them to greater success than with traditional teaching methods.
Those tried-and-true teaching methods do have a time and place, and unfortunately, we have to utilize them to prepare students for standardized tests. Nevertheless, if you can add excitement to STEM education and other subjects with rich learning experiences and authentic assessments, your students will learn more than if they are memorizing and regurgitating content.
We all have to start somewhere, and I think I would like to be more prepared the next time a student asks me, "Why do we have to learn this?" I'm hoping to lead my students toward other questions-- those essential questions about how the world works, creating in them a thirst for knowledge that will only be quenched with continual learning.
I know it won't be easy, and I know I probably won't be leading the group that wins the next national science competition. I do know; however, that I will be able to provide my students with evidence that what they are learning is not a waste of time and will actually be useful at some point in the future. They may not all be rocket scientists, but with proper insight and direction, I can interest them in STEM education while showing them how each individual can change the world.
Written by Kimberly J.
Teacher: K-12 English and Art