Kids retain learning that has real-life relevance

I recently met a student in the Work-Oriented Training Path who was questioning the need to learn long division. He planned to become a dairy farmer and saw no connection between the two.

My parents are dairy farmers and I was able to explain how they use multiplication and long division when mixing feed for the herd. With this new perception, this student’s attitude towards math completely changed.

Relate learning to life experience

The GOAL approach is simple: relate learning to life experience. Last year, when my Cycle Two class at Farnham Elementary was studying solar energy, we could have watched a video or discussed the concept in class. But I believe that if we’re not doing it, we’re not learning it, so I had pairs of students build their own solarpowered water heaters. Using pie plates, Styrofoam trays, plastic bottles and other items that hold water, students placed their devices in the sun. At 20-minute intervals we recorded the water temperature in each container to discover which ones heated the water. Finally, we discussed why some devices were more effective than others.

This kind of learning stays with kids

This kind of learning stays with kids because it opens their eyes to how knowledge can be applied in real life. This year, when their science teacher asked the class, “What do you know about science?” the students replied: “We know all about solar energy!”

Less review time

Many teachers would like to use more hands-on learning but feel it could limit their ability to cover the entire curriculum. My experience is the opposite. Engaged students retain knowledge and need less review time. I’m not suggesting we boycott traditional approaches. Doing hands-on activities for every part of the curriculum isn’t realistic. But if you design two this year and two next year and share ideas with other teachers, you’re getting more of the type of learning into the classroom that students crave and retain.

Rebecca Enright is a K-11 math, science and technology consultant and an elementary teacher.

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