I recently asked a student of mine the question:

Do students care about 'real world' connections and problems or is there something else that motivates and drives them?

Her response:

"To be perfectly honest, as a student I do not know really know what I need for the real world. The term real world confuses me sometimes. While in the process of learning something I have never thought to myself "This will really help me later on in life. Especially while I work on so and so in the future" because it's irrelevant. The helpfulness for the "real world" comes later and I think that we can never really realize the significance until we naturally and effortlessly apply that knowledge throughout our daily lives.

When I am bored or I don't want to try or the assignments seems super difficult and tedious, I subconsciously think to myself "all this effort will contribute to nothing for me later on in life. When will I ever need this? Never." And therefor justify my actions for either not doing it or not caring or not doing the work to my best ability. 

extreme challenges with no personal connection or interest, or very confusing requirements = I won't need this!

I believe that most student's are not motivated by the real world. What students want is something that they can personally connect with on a deeper more intimate level. Something exciting, current, and easily relatable. 

I think relatable can translate to most students definition of "real world." When we argue for something real world and applicable, I think what we really mean is that we want something relatable and personal." 

Students have a lot of interesting things to say about education. Maybe we just don't ask them for their opinion often enough?


11/05/2012 8:57pm

This reminds me of the best curriculum design advice I ever read. It was in a chapter of the 1997 NCTM Yearbook. I've thought on it for many years, and continue to try to figure it out: "children must see themselves in the curriculum."

11/08/2012 10:32pm

Curious what you took away from her response.

11/23/2012 4:52pm

Dave...Mostly, I thought it was interesting that this student made a distinction between "real world" and something that she finds "relateable." Clearly, to her, these are distinct items and I would love to know more about how she perceives those differences. Her response is not a recipe on "what motivates and interests students?" but it certainly gives us a lot to think about.

11/24/2012 12:29pm

I don't think that "real world" is a good way to predict student interest. There are plenty of things that people do in the real world that I'm not that interested in learning about or doing myself! :)

In general, I find that students respond positively when they are solving problems that they didn't think that they could solve... and that makes them feel as though they are getting "smarter" or more capable. For example, my seventh-grade students love a unit we do on square roots, although I'm sure the topic feels completely irrelevant to them. While they probably can't see themselves using square roots in the future in the real world, they do feel themselves growing more capable. And that is important to them in the future in the real world.

12/26/2012 10:32pm

Very awesome. I think about this a lot. See these two posts:

07/30/2013 9:38pm

Now a days many students are very careless about there future and dont wish to get picture of world out side college world.


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