Archived — Making It Real

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Many teachers prefer to help students learn by giving them challenges like those they would face in a real job. They believe that these challenges are better for learning than typical classroom assignments or that they are a good supplement for these.

By its very nature, this approach requires considerable research and creative effort by the teacher, particularly since it is very easy for a project inspired by real-life work to miss the mark. "If students are asked to merely imitate work done by professionals, it is a lot like saying, turn to page 83 and do the exercises," says Marc Pelech.

One of the key requirements of real-life work is that it must be aimed at an audience other than the teacher. "In a real-world situation, you don't hand the work to a teacher to have it assessed and then put it on the shelf or in the garbage," explains Michael Ernest Sweet. Real creative work, for both these teachers, is work that aims to actually achieve something in the world. It must reach an audience and have an impact on them.

Another key aspect to genuine real-life assignments is that they have a problem-solving aspect. With a textbook problem, the teacher knows ahead of time everything the students might discover in it. When students do real research, neither they nor the teacher is certain what problems will arise or how they will be solved ahead of time. The teacher will probably recognize challenges and solutions more quickly, says James Kostuchuk.

Real scientists have to be able to communicate scientific concepts in the spoken and written language they use to communicate with one another. Shirley Turner has developed a series of exercises that enable her students to develop, practice and become comfortable with the use of scientific concepts and language. These real-life science skills make it easier for students to interact with their teachers and their peers, and those interactions produce better learning and better marks in science class.

Turner is also a strong advocate for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award program. The program requires students to make connections with life beyond the school by partaking in community service and outdoor physical activity, and developing a skill, such as playing a musical instrument.

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