Is there anything a teacher hates more than to look out across his or her classroom and see a group of tired, uninterested, and unmotivated students? Teachers are forced to cover state standards that students may not see any intrinsic reason to learn. Other students may not care about their grades or understand how their current education connects to their future success. What is a teacher to do?
It is probably not a huge surprise that students need to be motivated. Motivation directs behavior toward goals, leads students to increased effort and energy, increases initiation and persistence in activities, positively affects cognitive processes, and often enhances performance. It may further not be a startling surprise that one huge way students can be motivated is by making real world connections.
Spanish 1 was my worst grade in high school, and guess what subject I teach now? That’s right. I primarily teach Spanish.
What changed my frustration with seemingly pointless vocabulary and grammar to my career and one of my life passions? Having a real life experience in Nicaragua with native speakers forever changed the way I would understand the world and motivated me to learn a language.
What Real Life Can Do for All Subjects
Real life connections are important in every subject. Geometry formulas might be boring to most students, but show how it lead Chelsea Sullenberg, “Sully,” to be able to save everyone on his flight and to safely land on the Hudson River and suddenly you have your students’ attention.
Memorizing another physics formula may triple the weight of most students’ eyelids, but go outside and let students throw a timed baseball over a measured distance. Show them how to calculate their throws, compare them to one another and to major league players, and all of sudden students can’t get enough physics.
Instead of doing another worksheet in social studies, invite a guest speaker. More than ten years out of high school, I can still remember every detail and emotion I felt as a young lieutenant shared his experiences of leading his men during the first invasion into Iraq. He was proud to have served his country but forever scarred by the orders he had to follow, the decisions he had to make, and the men he had lost. That day I learned about the impact of political decisions, war, the military, history, and mental health.
The One Resource Most Underutilized
Most of us teachers realize the importance of real world connections and try to share stories of life experiences, make connections between classwork and the real world, or bring in a guest speaker to share experiences and expertise.
There is one resource, however, that most teachers are probably not using to motivate students and make real life connections.
(Next page: How all subjects can use video conferencing to enhance classroom learning)