Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Make Learning Relevant for Young People



1a: having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.

My son Ryan asked me if I could make math more fun for him the other day. Our days plodding through his algebra text had grown tedious when compared to what and how he was learning at his homeschool resource center with its creative way of reaching young people. At the time, I told Ryan how important it would be for him to know math in the future and that he just had to buckle down and learn it, fun or not.

Later that day, after our frustrating math session came to an end, I came across an article online featuring Will Wright- the mind behind the games Sims and Spore, discussing how video games and their problem solving requirements, may help in learning. Wright explained that because video gamers must solve problems in order to move on to the next level, the work they engage in to solve problems becomes relevant to them. This relevancy encourages the gamer to pursue the knowledge needed to move forward.

As I was reading the article, I realized where I had been missing the boat with Ryan and his math. Just telling him he was going to need what I was teaching him some day down the road didn't create the desire he needed to really learn the material now. There was no relevancy. No significant or demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. Much like the disconnected learning young people are subjected to in public schools.

A search online turned up many articles on how to create relevancy in learning for school teachers. It involves creating lesson plans that attempt to create links between the student and what he is learning. I found these plans to be contrived and offering no real connection to the student because they are teacher directed rather than being led by the student's interests themselves. If students don't care about what they are learning, they will lack the ability and motivation to learn it in a real way.

When students are allowed to pursue what interests them, their passion for the topic will carry them forward and create the relevancy needed for real learning to take place. Real learning, relevant learning, requires passion and the solving of problems that are found in the pursuit of that passion. Because passion is individual, every student needs to have the freedom to pursue what interests them.

On that note, I've discovered that I can't make math fun for Ryan. Making it fun won't create the relevancy he needs to really learn it. He needs the passion. Just as I did when I found myself needing to pass math in order to be accepted into the business school in college. If I passed, I was accepted, if I didn't I wasn't. My passion to get into business school made me learn math. Math skills that I would some day like to pass onto my son once he becomes passionate about learning them himself.

1 comment:


What an introspective post. I a gree that things need to be relevant in order to really learn. Your son is lucky that you understand this. -- barbara