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How our district connects learning to the real world


Here are some ways to help students connect learning to life

Efforts to equip students for college and career readiness are beginning earlier and earlier in the classroom. A 2015 Gallup poll of one million students in the U.S. found that only half reported feeling engaged in school, and one-fifth feel actively disengaged. These statistics show a disconcerting lapse among curriculum, students, and the reasoning behind why we teach what we teach.

Fortunately, many districts are making moves toward building connections in the classroom, showing students real-world applications of lesson plans. For my K-8 media arts and technology students, I focus on skills such as computational thinking to display how what they are learning now can help them in a future career. This skill can be applied to any subject, with the most important part being that we are exposing students to a variety of critical-thinking methods and showing the application across subjects and job industries.

By encouraging students to explore careers, we inspire and empower them to choose their own path. Bringing awareness to careers and showing how STEM plays a part across the spectrum is crucial to gaining and retaining student interest while teaching these lessons.

Connect students with professionals
Educators can spur student interest in different career paths through a variety of resources and activities. In my district, we use Ignite My Future in School, which helps inspire students through computational thinking. The program features unique career vignettes that highlight diverse and dynamic people who have launched careers in computer science, design thinking, and more through their passion for STEM, an interest that was ignited during their school years.

It’s incredibly valuable to connect with professionals and introduce them to students. There is an ‘aha!’ moment that occurs when students realize that what they are learning now can be used in a career later on. Students see these specialists as mentors who can share real-world advice on careers, industries, and more.

Ignite My Future also provides Curriculum Connectors organized by the seven computational-thinking strategies. Each of these Connectors identifies how professionals in various industries use computational thinking and how the skill links to a subject, such as science or social studies. Introducing students to a variety of subjects increases the chance that they’ll find something appealing that they’d like to explore further. As important as STEM is, I try to broaden the spectrum by showing how computational thinking can be applied to social studies and language arts as well as to math and science.

Do project-based learning
In addition to using Ignite My Future, I’ve had major success incorporating project-based instruction it into my lessons. Project-based learning is a way to help students develop knowledge and 21st-century skills that they can then transfer into real-life situations. When students are given the opportunity to be hands-on, their interest increases tenfold. One activity the students and I enjoy is Rewriting History, during which students act as filmmakers. They collect multiple accounts of a historical event to accurately depict it on screen, while simultaneously gaining a better understanding of how history changes through various retellings. This social studies lesson, which ties into computational thinking as students collect data and find patterns, is a great way to tie two disciplines together.

Another activity that blends computational thinking with a non-STEM subject is Build a Movement, where students analyze what makes memes go viral on social media and use that knowledge to bring awareness to important social issues. This activity focuses on collecting and analyzing data to improve comprehension and problem-solving skills.

In our district, we highlight the importance of experimenting, making mistakes, and repeating experiences. I want students to feel that they can learn about a skill without the pressure, and in turn, bolster their confidence in the subjects they find exciting. Through this, we can help students discover their interests and potentially identify a career path. Most importantly, we are helping students build 21st-century skills and increase their confidence with STEM.

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