A few weeks ago, my children finished their last day of school for the year. They were excited to start their summer vacation. We went to the toy store and purchased Super Soakers for everyone in the entire family. We spent the afternoon hiding, sneaking up on each other, attacking, and in the process, getting soaked from head to toe! The purchase of the water guns was well worth it, as we have spent much of our summer enjoying water fights.
Anyway, as we approach the midpoint of our summer vacation, we have started to focus some of our attention to summer projects and assignments that my kids must complete before they return to school in September. Some of the projects are related to books that they need to read. My children are avid readers, and usually start and finish their day with their heads buried in a book. I understand reading being assigned over the summer, as some students would not pick up a book without the school-mandated projects. The summer reading list did provide some choice which allowed the kids to pick books related to their interests and reading levels.
Last summer, we ended up rushing through the assignments in August, and I vowed not to have to do the same thing again this summer. Which is why we have started the projects already, and tried to work on them this past week. We were distracted, however, by something called Camp Google (https://camp.withgoogle.com/). Here is how Google describes this venture:
“Camp Google is a free summer camp that gets kids learning through fun, interactive science activities and adventures. Led by experts, the activities have been designed to encourage kids to ask questions, setting them on a lifelong journey of exploration and discovery.”
The first week of learning focused on the Ocean, and came just after we had learned a great deal about sharks during Shark Fest and Shark Week on TV. Needless to say, we didn’t finish much of the work associated with the school-mandated assignments. I am glad that we discovered Camp Google. It goes on for three more weeks, focusing on Space Week, Nature Week, and Music Week. All of this distraction this past week led me to a question: Why were my children so engaged in the Camp Google activities instead of the summer assignments?
What I realized about my children’s experience this week is that the learning they have been doing throughout the summer, aside from their mandated assignments, has been MEANINGFUL and RELEVANT. My kids have been exploring Camp Google, learning about the ocean from experts, the same ocean that they are able to visit and explore each summer. The learning is relevant to their experience, as well as meaningful to them.
The work that we do in schools each day should also be meaningful and relevant. If we can engage learners (students and staff alike) in work that provides meaning and is relevant to their everyday role, we can ensure that these learners show up each day, passionate about their work, and willing to engage in order to solve problems and make contributions to our world.
Below are a few suggestions for making work meaningful and relevant for learners (again, students or adults) in your school or district:
- Make learning authentic – Have students and staff reflect on their learning through a blog. Give them a real audience which may include other students, teachers, friends or family members. Give students and staff real life problems to solve. Students and educators have difficulty addressing contrived situations, when they deal with real problems on a daily basis.
- Provide choice – Give students and staff the opportunity to make decisions about their own learning. Provide a variety of professional learning opportunities like Edcamp (https://fouroclockfaculty.com/2015/02/reflections-from-edcamp/, https://fouroclockfaculty.com/2015/02/planning-a-district-edcamp/) or Lunch and Learn (https://fouroclockfaculty.com/2015/06/changing-the-pd-model-in-your-district/) and let staff choose what is relevant to their class or instruction. Involve students in the management of your classroom (https://fouroclockfaculty.com/2015/07/visuals-5-ways-to-improve-student-voice-choice/).
- Support the interests that your learners are passionate about – If a student loves dancing, incorporate it into your lesson activities, or allow them to teach other students a dance lesson. As an administrator, support the projects and activities that teachers are passionate about. When a teacher comes to you and says, “I would love to put on this play with my students, ” simply ask, “How can I help or support you?”
When planning an activity for your students or staff, ask two simple questions: Is it meaningful? Is it relevant? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you can truly engage your learners in a powerful learning experience.
As I found with my own children’s learning this summer, when there is meaning and a certain interest level in what they’re doing, they will be much more willing to participate and engage in powerful learning experiences. How do you provide meaningful and relevant experiences for your learners. Please share in the comments section below.