“23 Exabytes of information was recorded and replicated in 2002. We now record and transfer that much information every 7 days.” Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics
In today’s world, more new information comes online in a week than had been previously produced in a year. This information – data, facts, opinions, ideas and images, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr posts – has shaped every student’s perception of his/her world and changed the 21st century classroom.
Today’s students have different expectations when they enter a classroom. First, they already possess access to more information than you can give them. They don’t seek your sage insights from behind the podium. They can go online and get all the sage advice that they need from “experts.”
They expect a learning experience that is “relevant” to them. “Relevance” means something very different to them than it did/does to older generations. For those in school during the final decades of the 20th century, “relevance” was a negative term. it connoted “sameness,” “blandness,” and “lacking specific defining characteristics.” Relevancy was equated with absurdity, as in “making everything equally important.” Ironically, “relevance” relegated a person or an idea irrelevant for consideration. Today, the word carries much more weight.
For students today, ideas, information, problems, or studies are relevant if they affect the students’ lives. Today, relevance equates with “real,” as opposed to theoretical. For instance, a person in math class would consider an algebra problem that pertains to the production and transportation of grain to 3rd World countries to the more standard, “A train left the station traveling at 30 mph. Four hours later another train left the station traveling 20% faster than the first. How long….” While most 7th and 8th grade algebra students are not directly involved in ending world hunger, they recognize the problem as important to them individually and to their generation as a whole. In history class, studying ancient empires as attempts to organize solutions to problems created in the competition for resources carries more relevance than studying leaders, memorizing dates, and listing their cultural characteristics and contributions to society. In Language Arts, an argumentative piece about “fracking” would engage students more readily than one about the effectiveness of UN policies. Third and Fourth grade students are more engaged when addressing problems of community in their school than they are with state politics. Topics that touch students’ lives engage students immediately because they meet students’ definition of “relevance.”
Artifacts are probably the easiest method of establishing relevance in the classroom. If you want to talk about community, have your students analyze a sign restricting access to a park, or a neighborhood. If you want to talk about the environment, bring in lawn fertilizer and determine where all of the contents go after they are dispersed over thousands of lawns on the weekend. If you would like to engage students in math class, have them work on the population rates in their city and state. Might that engage them more than the odd percentages problem from the math book? A couple of words of advice, however, BE READY for their answers and allow them to engage in solutions you might never have thought about. If you are going to open your classroom to artifacts, you must be open to the discussions they generate, because, above all