Reframing the question

October 12, 2010
Lee Fleming

Lee Fleming

And who actually cares about this?” is the first question I pose to a teacher when they share an idea for a project. Not because I don’t care but because I am genuinely interested in who really does.

There is someone out there in the universe that cares about this state standard, and once we can hunt down this person, we can create an application of new knowledge in some meaningful way.

If we discover that a local politician cares about the history of a particular court case and precedents, a social studies teacher can create a context for learning. If a local builder uses the Pythagorean Theorem to square up a basement, a math project can be built requiring students to have to actually need to know about these structures.

Application of something real, something that a guy with a real job needs to actually know, that is often where I start helping a teacher build in a sense of purpose in the project for students.

But sometimes, when we talk about relevancy in school, often times we are shown models of “exciting and relevant” curriculum, perhaps tying into local culture, music projects, or something that involves clothing. But is this the same thing as a meaningful curriculum?

Is finding meaning and application the same as tying into your favorite band? Or do we severely underestimate what motivates students by suggesting that they can only do schoolwork linked to their personal hobbies?

There is nothing wrong with tapping into student interest of course, but interest-based projects without deeper meaning still does not get to the heart of good instruction with real purpose — which is what stopped me short when I read the article yesterday in Forbes about the current list of young billionaires and some of their spending habits.

What is it that these young billionaires are doing to change the world? Philanthropic adventures. At young ages, many of these wealthy, self-made men are giving to a variety of causes including school systems, alternative fuel research, and other charities of interest to this wealthy set whose other unique lifestyle habits includes more modest-sized homes and moderate living circumstances than their older counterparts.

If today’s heroes have traded the Rock’n’Roll lifestyle for a more humble and giving existence, does this change the question from “Who cares?” to something deeper?

Perhaps the application of “a guy with a job” for Millennials needs a twist and when teachers are ready, I think the new question I am going to pose is “how are students going to benefit with this project?

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