Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching in “The Real World”…or The Missing Piece

What was your favorite subject in school? Was it one that had a really cool teacher? One you could sleep through without getting caught? One that was very challenging? One that you still actually remember what you learned? When I have asked kids and adults this question, I was surprised to find out that many people’s favorite classes have been the more challenging classes, but they are the ones that relate to their own lives. Through my years of working with students of all ages, I am constantly impressed with how well students of all abilities rise to meet our expectations. If we can create classes and assignments that are a lot of work, but not purely busywork, students might surprise us by showing more potential than we ever knew they had. I know this was true for me as a student in some of my more challenging math and science classes in high school. I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers who took the time to make their subjects interesting and relevant in their students’ lives.

I laughed when I read Joann’s description of her geometry class, because I think we have all had classes like that during our school careers. The teacher may have the best of intentions, but somehow the subject is lost on the students. Unfortunately, it’s easier for many teachers to just keep teaching the way they are teaching even when it’s not working. What would it take to help teachers like this get through to their students with quality challenges and real-world examples?

Creating a real-world connection is easier in some subjects than others, but teachers have accomplished it in all different subject areas, and we can learn from their successes. I think this is where an online PLN, a group of teachers who can share success stories and ideas on sites like Facebook and Twitter can be very helpful. Teachers have shared this camaraderie in their own schools for a long time, but the community can grow exponentially as you include educators from around the world. As your PLN grows and you start to read blogs and join in conversations, you will find more and more great ideas. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have enough time to try out all of the wonderful ideas I read!

A few years ago, I taught a course called “Chemistry in the Community,” an introductory level chemistry class with a textbook that was entirely based on real-world applications for chemistry. I still got the questions about why we were learning things and when we would ever use it, but I had tools to demonstrate these answers. Students got to experiment with things like water quality, mining, farming, and fireworks to gain an appreciation and understanding of the role chemistry played in their everyday lives. The big ideas behind this curriculum inspired me to think about how well units like this would work in all different subject areas.

This week, we are focusing on geometry resources at The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. Joann presented some outstanding non-traditional geometry resources in her column and she will be posting more ideas every day on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Geometry is a subject with a lot of potential for including real-life problem solving applications for students. I found one thread on the Classroom 2.0 page that shows how teachers can share project ideas and links to build a better geometry class than Joann’s! Some of the projects would be really neat to make a geometry class more fun and challenging at the same time. Nancy Powell, a teacher at Bloomington High School, has compiled a really extensive list of ideas and projects, too. Some of her activities use Sketchpad, software you can purchase, but a lot of them are designed to be done without a computer. There is a LOT here, so be sure to take some time looking through them. As always, I highly suggest searching “geometry” on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. There is a huge variety of resources catalogued there, including resources from Pi Across America (I just love the name!).

“It was missing a piece. And it was not happy. So it set off in search of its missing piece.” From The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

Are you missing a piece in your teaching? Join a group of educators, either in person or online, and let them help you turn your classroom into a learning hub for the real world. Have your students live geometry this year, not just learn about it.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/16/2010~


  1. Peggy, I love the way you tied this post into the missing piece. It has me evaluating my own classroom and teaching and thinking about where my missing pieces might be. Thanks!

  2. I think I have found that I have a lot of missing pieces, but networking with other educators and reading great ideas in all of the different blogs has helped me so much. The best part of collaborating with other educators is that it really gets me evaluating what I am doing, too. Good luck finding your missing pieces! :)


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