Making Learning Relevant

One of the ways to create a positive classroom is to make learning relevant. When I taught math to grade 3 public school pupils, I was able to instill why mathematical operations were important to learn. I mean, all of us could agree that we need to learn addition, right? But I also had to make them learn why saving was important, why they had to count the change and why they had to return excess money, why sometimes we had to bargain etcetera. I believe that skills and values are equally important.

High school is different. I frequently questioned why they wanted us to memorize the elements and their atomic numbers, the dates when this and that died, the scientific names of the animals in each Phylum, the terms and definitions in HTML. The list goes on and on. I got good scores because I was good at memorizing, but do I remember these terms and dates and names? No. (This is why I am grateful to K-12 grading system… but that’s another issue.)

The reason why I appreciated high school math, though I do not use these formulas every day, was because my teachers made us remember that through our drills, we practice logical thinking. Kaori Fujimiya from the anime One Week Friends (週間フレンズ) got what I was thinking, “Math is like a puzzle or a game. There’s a clear answer, and you’re going on a journey to find it. But there are many ways to reach that answer. That’s why it’s so fulfilling when you find the solution. There are ways to find an answer promptly, or more freely. Even roundabout methods can bring you to a definite solution. The method may not be pretty, but when the answer you worked hard to discover is right, it makes you happy.”

Those being said, I asked James how it was to teach science in a private all boys high school.

We usually talk about education since we are both in the field; he’s a teacher in a private school, and I am now working in the Department of Education. We had a healthy argument about private versus public since I prefer working in a public school and he prefers working in a private school. I discussed why making learning relevant was more challenging in private high school than in public grade school. I pointed out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and experiences in high school stated above.

In the end I asked him, “how do you make learning relevant?”

He shared to me two experiences that occurred during that day. His students, by the way, are neither the “I’ll absorb everything” type, nor the “I will sit and listen” type. Most of his students are the combination of the opposites of the two statements.

During a group activity in his physics class:
Him: Are you okay with your classmates doing your activity for you?
Class laughed and said yes. (If it were in elementary, the answer is an immediate no.)
Him: Are you okay with your classmates answering the quiz for you?
Class still laughed and said yes.
Him: Are you okay with your classmates answering the periodical exams for you?
Still yes.
Him: Are you okay with your classmate answering the college entrance exams for you?
Some said yes.
Him: Are you okay with your classmates doing your job for you?
A few said yes, some under circumstances.
Him: Then are you okay with your classmates taking over your life?

Guess how the class reacted.

During his earth science class:
Him: One of the theories why dinosaurs died was an asteroid or meteorite impact. But they did not die because of the impact itself, but because of the change that it caused. This impact created a massive cloud of debris that blocked out sunlight for years, destroying many life forms. Would you let your children or your grand children experience and suffer this change that the asteroid or meteorite brought?
Class said no.
Him: Then why are we letting humans become the meteors?

One of the students said, “Sir tama na. Nakakarami ka ng hugot!”

If I were his student, he would ultimately be one of my favorite teachers. I kept wondering if I would be able to do that in Geometry or in Calculus. I taught Algebra and Calculus two years ago, but they needed these subjects because they were taking up course in Electronics, Electrical and Instrumentation.

But what if they don’t?

I took notes of what he said for future reference. I shared his thoughts because I find them interesting. Making learning relevant is important, but it is challenging when teaching subjects that highly need memorization. Perhaps we forget to connect our lessons to real life because we are concerned with the little time we had for our lesson, but there are ways. There are ways to make learning relevant; we just have to look for them and apply them in class.

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