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)
This resource is available in nearly every classroom in the US and yet almost none ever use it. Video Conferencing is a tool that teachers must begin to use in the classroom.
With a basic high-speed Internet connection and nearly any laptop or computer, teachers can connect to anywhere in the world the internet does.
As a foreign language teacher I use video conferencing to talk to my friend Emanuel in Nicaragua. I have my sister tell stories of her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Another friend, Garret, has talked to my class from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW.
My goal this year is to use Skype in the Classroom to find a class in a Spanish speaking country trying to learn English that can be a sister class to one of my Spanish II or Spanish III classes wanting to practice their Spanish, but video conferencing does not need to be limited to foreign language.
Science teachers can use Skype, Face Time, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, Viber etc.to talk with an expert Botanist, Paleontologist, or university professor.
The really cool thing is this can be a person in your hometown or in the Amazon jungle. History teachers studying World War II could talk to a family member of a Holocaust survivor living in Israel. A class studying Egypt could videoconference with a professor about the Pyramids of Giza.
Studying American Art? Why not set up a free video conference with the Smithsonian? The opportunities are limited only to your imagination, and the impact this has on students is priceless. Not only is video conferencing engaging, but it is proven by research to bolster listening and speaking skills through interaction and immediate feedback. My students love asking questions and are always attentive listening to someone from outside their world.
So why not make some connections this summer? Contact some college professors and museums. Talk to your friends and other teachers to see what experts they know. Call up old friends who may now be all over the world doing interesting things with their lives.
A computer is not just a tool for doing research or typing papers; it is a gateway to real people that can bridge any topic from the classroom to the real world.