I can’t even count the number of times students have questioned me as to why they need to learn the “stuff they teach in school.” When are they ever going to use math or social studies; the things they really need to know will be taught in college, and once they know what they want to become they’ll know what to learn. Educational research has clearly demonstrated that establishing “relevance” for children will dramatically improve achievement and attitudes toward school. Behavior in class will change, homework will lose a lot of its negativity, and home and school will work more smoothly. In fact, for most children, understanding the reason or meaning of the things we ask them to learn improves both their motivation, as well as ability to participate. How then do we establish the relevance of the subjects and behaviors we try to teach?
First and foremost is the need to connect what they are expected to learn to everyday life. When do we use math in our lives? Why learn about the Industrial Revolution? Who cares about predicting and inferring? This connection cannot be established by repeated lectures about the real world, by references to the future, or by fears of not be accepted to their school or career of choice. The connection must be one the child can experience in their everyday life, either through their own involvement, or through the observation of significant others (parents, teachers, older siblings, to name a few). This connection is not limited to academic subjects. Values such as perseverance, religious observance, and honesty all live within the world of “relevance.”