One of the things I frequently experiment with in my classroom is ways to connect what my students are learning with the real world. It is a useful approach since it stimulates engagement and interest from students, it links in with instilling a sense of lifelong learning, and, ideally, helps to make classroom-based work much more relevant to learners’ own interests and passions. Breaking down these barriers between classroom and real-life offers great scope for personalized learning trajectories, since learners can see reflections from their own life, experiences, and interests. It is also a great way to introduce older students to a range of careers that they may not previously have considered.
In this post I will outline a few of the more exciting ways I have been trying out recently in order to break down these classroom-real world barriers.
Bringing in guest speakers is always a great way to focus learners’ minds on how their classroom learning can relate to the wider world. I am a biology teacher who works in a Thai high school in Bangkok, Thailand, where English is the medium of instruction for my learners. Last year I invited a Thai researcher from a local university to come and talk to my Grade 12 students about the evolution of drug resistant malaria on the Thai-Cambodian border. This served a number of purposes. It helped my learners to link their evolutionary theory with real-time evolutionary processes that have a direct impact on human health, it was a public health issue that was geographically close to them (the Thai-Cambodian border is only around 250 kilometres from Bangkok), and the speaker was a Thai scientist with an international research profile, who gave her presentation in English, and was therefore a great role model for my students.
This year we went a step further, and a colleague and myself invited a team of international researchers from the mathematical modelling group of the Mahidol-Oxford Research Unit here in Bangkok to run a day-long mathematical modeling workshop for our Grade 12 students. The workshop included both epidemiological and health economics modeling. Following the workshop, learners’ evaluation feedback suggested that they appreciated gaining insights into the lives of working scientists as well as the opportunity to learn about mathematical modeling.
Another approach I am very keen on is to introduce learners to the concept of citizen science, which again is a great way to break down those barriers to the real world. Examples I use include Project Noah, which is a citizen science website dedicated to collecting wildlife photographs and information about biodiversity from around the world. This is great resource to get learners involved in, and offers scope for those who are interested in nature, wildlife, and photography to really participate in a global community of citizen scientists. Other projects my students are involved with include a couple of NASA-led programs, including the S’Cool and CloudSat projects. Both of these projects involve learners making observations of clouds, sky conditions, visibility, and other weather parameters such as temperature and rainfall. The observations are carried out to coincide with times when observation satellites are orbiting overhead. The students’ observation data is uploaded to NASA where it is analyzed and used to calibrate and refine the satellites’ onboard imaging systems, and to reconcile satellite images from above with observations made at the earth’s surface.
Finally, field trips can be a great way to get learners making connections between their classroom learning and the wider world at large. One field trip I arrange for my students is a trip to our local zoo. The zoo isn’t the best example in some respects, with some of the enclosures being a bit on the small side. It does, however, run a few conservation programs for endangered species. Therefore it gives students an opportunity to think about and form their own opinions as to the value of zoos, and whether they consider them to have a role to play in the wider societal context.
Although I feel I make a number of attempts to break down some of the barriers between classroom learning and the real world, there is always more that could be done. I would love to hear ideas from other educators about how they are breaking down barriers between their classrooms and the real world.