"Why are we learning this? It's worthless..."
Almost every math teacher has heard this remark before, and it can be very shocking and hurtful. You pour hours and hours into lesson plan development and classroom management. The last thing you want hear is that a student thinks your efforts are "worthless".
But, have you ever sat and thought about what this statement truly means? If Jimmy thinks there is no future worth to his learning, then you can kiss his engagement and learning levels goodbye.
Honestly, it's easy to understand why a student may ask this question. Think back to when you were a 10 to 14-year old student. It is difficult to grasp why data analysis or algebra, in a literal sense, may be important to their future self.
An increased focus on 'College and Career Readiness'
That's where the increased focus on "College and Career Readiness" comes in. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and many other state learning standards are moving towards learning standards (that they believe) provide students the necessary content mastery AND the 21st century life skills needed to become successful post K-12 citizens.
But, as you and your fellow math educators may be finding out, building (or supplementing) post-K12 value within your math curriculum is no easy task.
To help bridge the real-life application gap in a fun and effective means, check if your math lesson plans contain the following attributes:
✔ Easy-to-understand connections between the basic math concepts and the students' community/environment
✔ Engaging, interactive materials and activities that simulate and emulate real-life situations, decisions, and professions where math is used (i.e. project based learning, online math activities that simulate professions and skills, etc.)
✔ A means to assess understanding and progress of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills as they relate to your state's math learning standards (going beyond grading 2 + 2 = 4...)
✔ Incorporation of digital resources and content to help students develop the digital literacy skills that are increasingly valuable in today's post-K12 workplace
Providing mathematics 'Career Readiness' with digital learning resources
Hopefully, you already incorporate many of those areas/strategies into your own instruction methods. If not, don't worry! In fact, many of the advances in technology and educational resources allow you to bring deeper understanding and real-world value straight to your math students.
Here are three great examples of how real-world application skills can be fostered with help from online/digital math education resources:
Set up real-life community and learning connections for your students
Do you feel like there's no way to take your students to real-life learning situations? Bring the experiences to them! Digital resources, including YouTube videos, webinars, and blogs allow students to see into a workplace or situation instantly.
Set up a chance for you students to speak with actual professionals online, where they can learn more about expectations, communication, and why and how these folks use math in the workplace.
Foster collaboration by means of discussion-based online tools
Let's not ignore the obvious, your students have a heightened engagement to digital resources. Why not use these tools to help promote the "deeper dive" of understanding required by new state standards?
There are tons of great online collaboration tools (Kidblog, forums.com, Google+ Hangouts, etc.) that are student-friendly and designed to promote peer interaction and discussion. You can learn more about these awesome collaborative tools in our previous blog post: "How to Improve Student Collaboration Skills via Online Learning Tools".
Simulate problem-solving situations through fun online activities
Imagine students playing games that require them to talk to an environmental engineer about using proportions and ratios to measure levels of contamination in a river or to help pilots use multiplication with partial products to calculate runway length and navigation. These learning tools exist today (hint, hint, Wowzers Online Math...) and you can often try them out in your classroom for free.
Carrying "worth" into the math classroom
It is a very interesting time to be a math educator. The importance of deeper understanding/application and career readiness is in full focus. Via EdTech resources, students are given better exposure to needed post-K12 math skills, while integrating and using technology every day.
I don't know about you, but that kind of learning carries a lot of "worth" in my opinion!