If you’re a math or science teacher, you’ve probably heard the question: But how will I use this in real life? more times than you can count. Many students view these subjects as “boring,” or insist that they’re “just not good at it” so they cease to try.
The numbers don’t lie: The U.S. has been falling behind in math and science recently. In 2013, it ranked 21st out of 23 countries in math and 17th out of 19 countries in problem solving.
It’s unfortunate, because these subjects can be the building blocks for showing us all the splendor of how life works. Not to mention, math and science both prepare students for fulfilling careers in a wide variety of fields—from engineering to manufacturing, laboratory research, medicine and many more.
You love the subject, and you just know that if you can make it click for your students, they’ll love it too (or at least dislike it less). A good way to start is by getting creative with your lesson plans.
Here are three ideas for breathing new life into straightforward subjects in the hopes of connecting with students and engaging them in the learning process.
Connect Across Disciplines
Have you ever used theater, music or art to teach math or science? One award-winning teacher named Alex Kajitani rose to fame after his creative teaching methods, including rapping and acting, caught people’s attention. He says that his students made fun of him, but that his creative lyrics paid off when their test scores went up.
If performing isn’t necessarily your thing, there are still many ways to use history, English, pop culture and art to make your more straightforward subjects stand out. While some students respond well to a traditional lecture-and-lab format, others may thrive with a jumping-off point that’s more in line with their other strengths and interests.
Sometimes math and science make us feel like it’s “everyone for themselves.” After all, students typically earn grades based on their individual exam results and homework. For students who are less engaged or not naturally inclined to enjoy these subjects, this can be very alienating. It’s worthwhile to routinely check in and boost collaboration whenever you can.
Interactive tools like a word cloud generator can bring the class together and get an honest discussion started. By asking students for something as simple as how they feel about the current lesson or their main takeaway from the previous unit, you can get a truthful (and anonymous) sense of where they stand. Since it all happens in real time, you and your class can react and adjust as needed—and have some fun while you’re at it.
Show Real-World Applications
A great way to show students that yes, math and science do have real-world applications, is to introduce them to people who use these disciplines in their careers. By lining up one or two guest lectures every month, you can give students concrete reasons to learn the fundamentals. Find community members who are able and willing to come speak—anyone from an architect to a construction manager, nurse, software developer or field biologist.
It’s also important to show your class that the world is full of groundbreaking and interesting research, and it’s happening in the present tense. As Catherine L. Drennan, a chemistry and biology professor at M.I.T., points out, students may spend more time learning about the history of these subjects than 21st-century developments. Tracking current events and contemporary issues in the field is one way to make it feel fresh and exciting to students. It takes them out of their textbook and into the fast-paced real world.
Next time you’re putting together a lesson plan for science or math, think outside the box. Your students will likely appreciate it, and you’ll get to see the lightbulb moment that occurs when they see how exciting and useful these “boring” subjects can be.