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Dr. Marilyn Tencza

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April 2018 - Posts

Today’s Topic: Relevance: Making Real-World Connections

(Excerpts from an article by Saga Briggs, Managing Editor of informED, an Open Colleges resource for educators)

When you were in school, did you ever ask yourself the question, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” It’s a great question - one that schools need to take very seriously.

When students don’t see the reason for doing an assignment, or they are not interested in a particular subject, it is easy for them to withdraw or not even try in the first place. In either case, the chances of them remembering what they have learned or being able to use that knowledge in the future declines. Conversely, when teachers design learning opportunities that are interesting and help students “see the point” of what they are learning, students tend to be more engaged and are more likely to understand and remember the material. In other words, when the material is relevant to students, research shows that learning outcomes improve. “Relevant learning means effective learning” (Briggs).

In the Briggs article cited below, a teacher and educational psychologist, Robin Roberson, says, “I am convinced that relevance is one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning. Based on my experiences, I define relevance as the perception that something is interesting and worth knowing. When a teacher provides relevance for a student, the teacher helps the student perceive these two things.” Further, the article states that (based on cognitive science) the search for relevance is a basic feature of the human condition; it can be used well when communicated properly. Simply put, when teachers design and provide relevant learning activities, they tap into their students’ need to make sense of the world.

Some teachers attempt to add relevance to their lessons by focusing solely on creating interest. They do this by adding things like flashy digital presentations or games. These may attract the attention of students in the short term, but, if the content that follows is not substantive or well explained, then their attention will likely wane. The students will remember the flashiness or who won or lost the game, but they will not remember the content or be able to use it in the future. Don’t get me wrong, creating interest is important, but it must be accompanied by the perception that the material is worth knowing.

One way to achieve relevance is to give students real-world connections to the material - a reason to work hard other than merely completing the assignment or getting a grade. “Real-world connections draw from, or upon, actual objects, events, experiences and situations to effectively address a concept, problem or issue. It is learning that allows students to actually experience or practice concepts and skills, as opposed to learning that is theoretical or idealistic” (Real-World).

Some ways to make real-world connections in the classroom are:

  • Routinely provide students with living and inanimate objects to manipulate and experience such as 3-D models in chemistry, blocks in mathematics, and artifacts in social studies.

  • Have students make something useful in class such as yogurt in biology class.

  • Use the news. Focus learning on current issues and problems familiar to the students. Support student action to find solutions to a local problem such as conserving energy at home.

  • Provide frequent opportunities in all subject areas for students to collect, manipulate and use real data such as when conducting experiments.

  • Find opportunities for students to communicate, perform, and display what they have learned to audiences beyond the classroom through concerts, plays, art exhibits, debates, presentations, and publications.

  • Look to the broader community for partnership and mentoring opportunities that will allow students to practice, enhance, and apply classroom learning in a real-world setting, such as speaking a new language to native speakers (Real-World).

  • Bring in guest speakers, content experts, local historians, actors, musicians, and others who can share and discuss their real-world experiences (Haynes).

Making real-world connections in the classroom fulfills our students’ need for relevance, helping them discover that what they are learning is actually interesting and worth knowing.

What is Leicester Doing to Make Learning Relevant to Our Students?

In Leicester, I am happy to report that teachers and students are making real-world connections every day, both inside and outside of the classroom. Here are some great examples:

Leicester High School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In English language arts, students compete in the annual Lions’ Club speech contest and some go on to speak at the state level. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sponsored an initiative called Leading the Nation in which LHS students created a video that was shared at the state and local level. Click HERE to see the video.

  • Foreign language students cook and share French, Arabic, and Spanish recipes.

  • Math students participate in dual enrollment courses at Quinsigamond Community College, allowing them to experience a college course during school hours and use the credit, if acquired, for state colleges. This year the Math Department invited someone from the banking industry to discuss how math is applied in their field.

  • Science students traveled to UMass Medical School to explore different careers, and one of their guest speakers this year was a scientist who is studying tuberculosis in order to earn Ph.D./M.D. degrees. Science students care for the environment by using the three Rs at home and in school - reduce, reuse, recycle.

  • Seniors in social studies classes organize the annual voter registration drive and conduct mock elections during presidential campaigns to learn how the town voting system works. The department brings in guest speakers on Veterans’ Day and has conducted study sessions at the JFK Library. On March 14, students exercised their First Amendment rights and demonstrated responsible citizenship through a peaceful walk-out in honor of 17 lives lost in Parkland, FL.

  • Students in special education work with custodians during the school day.

Hands-on Learning Outside the Classroom

  • ELA students film and act as commentators for the varsity basketball games, which are broadcast on LCAC.

  • Social studies students provide assistance and logistical support to the town’s annual Memorial Day Observances, participate in field trips to historical sites, and attend the annual Student Government Day at the Massachusetts State House.

  • Foreign language students travel to other countries such as Spain and Canada. Next year they would like to plan a trip to London, Paris, and Rome.

  • The guidance department provides students with the opportunity to attend college and career fairs and participate in School-To-Career Opportunities such as:

  • Internships - job placements within the district.

  • Externships - job placements outside of the district. For example, we have students working at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, Pools and Cues, and New England Aquatic Landscaping.

Service Learning

The National Honor Society hosts/sponsors/participates in many activities and events such as:

  • “Senior Prom” for senior citizens

  • Red Cross Blood Drive

  • SoleHope - Students collect jeans and send them to SoleHope, an organization that makes shoes for people in Uganda who suffer from foot disease.

  • Toys for Tots at Boston Children's Hospital Cancer Center

  • Food drives which benefit the Leicester Food Pantry

Leicester Middle School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In Project Lead the Way, students are designing toys for children with Cerebral Palsy. Two groups of students will go to Boston Children's Hospital to present and showcase their creations to the children and the doctors.

  • The LMS librarian is constructing a Makerspace, a place for students to come and freely create, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve.

  • A group of teachers has come together to work on a huge interdisciplinary project, a film called Star Wars: Academy of the Force. A total of 50 students, including two high schoolers, are working on creating this film. The premiere of this film is on Star Wars Day, May the 4th.

  • The District Attorney’s office partnered with the Leicester Police Department to bring an anti-drug program to LMS.

  • Twice this year, eighth-grade French students visited the Leicester Senior Center to converse with native French speakers.

  • Middle School students regularly participate in Country Bank’s School Banking Program. This program teaches students how to manage and save money.

Hands-On Learning Outside the Classroom

  • Students in the Yearbook and Newspaper Clubs create wonderful products for their families, classmates, and the wider Leicester community.

  • The LMS Library Advisory Group allows students to provide input into the resources and programs offered in the library.

  • At the annual Evening with the Arts, students perform musical numbers and display their works of art for the public to see and appreciate.

  • Five students auditioned for the Massachusetts Central District Band and Chorus.

Service Learning

  • Some of our students were interviewed by Erika Tarantal from WCVB Channel 5 for their efforts with Crayons to Calculators. These students collected school supplies for teachers and students in need. Click HERE to see the news segment on Five for Good.

  • One student was chosen to be this year’s Project 351 Ambassador. This designation kicks off a year of service. Currently, the ambassador is working with the National Junior Honor Society to conduct a clothing drive for families in need.

  • The Peer Leadership Group volunteered at the Leicester Senior Center for the Veterans’ Day Breakfast and Senator Moore’s Thanksgiving turkey dinner. They also serve at the annual Harvest Fair and the Apple Festival.

  • The National Junior Honor Society regularly supports the Leicester Food Pantry, which serves over 200 families in Leicester. They also run an annual Halloween candy drive for active military personnel through Operation Gratitude.

  • CommuniTeen goes out into the community every month to help family, friends, and neighbors. They participated in a Walk for Cancer, visited The Meadows Nursing Home, served at New England All Breed Rescue, and sponsored a Read Across America Night for Primary schoolers.

Memorial School

Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • Students are pen pals with senior citizens in town.

  • Fifth-grade students write blogs online.

  • A published author (Jane Sutton) visited each grade level and provided a workshop on revision for our students.

  • Students voted for school-wide earnings using ballots.

  • On Unified Arts Nights, students display their work for parents and the community.

Hands-On Learning After School

  • Our project fair highlights student work.

  • Our field trips to the Freedom Trail and Plymouth provide connections to our past.

Go Deeper

Click on the following links to read the full articles cited in this blog.

Briggs, Saga. “How To Make Learning Relevant To Your Students (And Why It's Crucial To Their Success).” InformED, Open Colleges, 4 Oct. 2014,

Haynes, Kim. “Top 12 Ways to Bring the Real World into Your Classroom.” TeachHUB, 2018,

“Real-World Connections.” Resources for Rethinking, Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2018,

Simkins, Michael (et. al). “Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects.” ASCD, 2002,


Posted by colbyl  On Apr 04, 2018 at 9:42 AM 98 Comments
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