One of the biggest mistakes we make in education is taking learning out of a meaningful context. Research shows that when learners are engaged in a subject that interests them, they are much more likely to want to learn related information and to retain the learning they experience.
When we remember that everyone has unique interests, and that students want to learn information that will actually be applicable to their lives, we can begin to shift where and how we teach. The world becomes the classroom, rather than the room inside the school building.
If we can engage children and youth in broad areas of interest, such as a career path or hobby, we can tailor our standard curriculum to be taught within that context. The actual math, science, literacy and social studies lessons can be taught within the frame of reference of the career or hobby that already is of interest to the student.
This may look like project-based learning, field trips, internships in the community, or student exchange programs. It can also look like traditional in-the-classroom learning with the larger context as the class focus for the period of study.
The key is to be aware of how we can engage students initially, teach them required content in ways that will be useful to them throughout their lives, and help them begin to see how general content can fit in their preferred contexts.
We begin to use the actual world–our community, our nation, our global neighbors–to support the growth and learning of students. A side effect of this is that children and youth become global citizens, and develop a desire to be responsible for their actions and impact on the rest of the world. They also become more fully engaged in the classroom because they see why what they are learning makes a difference to them.
It actually is useful information to help them be successful in their future. As we see this shift, we will see students more likely to stay in school and graduate, to have more motivation to learn subject matter that tends to challenge them, and to go on to higher education or vocational/trade schooling to continue their growth and learning.