Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Making Education Relevant

Most teachers at some point in their career have been asked by students, ‘Why do I need to know this?’ or ‘When am I going to use this?’ Questions like this arise when students fail to see relevance in what they are learning.

One method, outlined in the Ontario Science Curriculum, to make science more relevant is to relate science to technology, society and the environment. For example, after students in a chemistry class learn about the properties of chemical compounds, they could analyze the chemical components of household cleaning products and discuss their effect on the environment. While this approach does illustrate how chemistry is applicable outside the classroom and helps students to develop an awareness of the environment, its ability to make chemistry relevant to students is questionable. 

A more effective way to make topics relevant is to take the theory in the curriculum and find ways for students to apply it in the classroom. Consider the previous example: instead of simply analyzing cleaning products, students could design their own. This approach would require students to apply their knowledge rather than to simply examine the problem from a distance. Not only would this approach make the topic more relevant and interesting to students, it will also require students to use higher-order thinking. When developing their product, students would need to consider many factors in their design such as chemical composition, concentration and environmental effects based on the intended use of their product (i.e. is it for industrial use or for a family with young children?).

I was recently talking to one of our math teachers. During this discussion, another example of how to make a course more applicable came up. We discussed how programming could be used to teach mathematics. Trigonometry, linear equations, quadratic equations and matrices are all important elements to both mathematics and programming languages. If students were to use the theory learned in math class to build simple computer applications, not only would math become more relevant, students would also learn the valuable skill of programming.

When students work with open-ended problems, they inevitably take different paths through the problem. As such, making content relevant through application helps to promote student independence and leads to a more personalized experience for each student.

Kyle Acres
Learning Technology Adviser

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