The Real World

I must admit I used to use this phrase. As a former math teacher, I was always on the hunt for “real world” problems and situations.  Somewhere along the line, I heard someone ask why the distinction between school and the rest of the world. It got me to thinking.

At their age, school is their real world. When we separate school from the “real world” we send the message that what they are experiencing now isn’t real. If it isn’t real, what is it? Is school imaginary? Are we just pretending?

Yes, I understand what the term means. It really means “here is a situation that you might experience as an adult but in reality we just want an example for our lesson.” Our students see through this. They know that most people don’t actually measure their swimming pools to find the volume before they start filling it. Most of us don’t calculate the unit price of everything in our grocery cart each week to determine the best value. And I can’t tell you the last time I used a shadow to determine how tall a building is. I get the purpose of these examples.

I started asking my students to find uses for the lessons I was teaching. Their problems were much more “real world” than I could ever dream up. They did care about the miles per gallon in their parents’ vehicles. They were very much concerned with how much space a movie would take on their devices. Trying to decide just how many apps or songs they could download for a certain price was instrumental in their lives. Download speeds were vital for their entertainment.

I know the wording is subtle. I know it may sound like I’m making a big deal out of a few words, but I really think words matter. We need to be honest with ourselves and our students. By creating “real world” problems, we rob our students of the opportunity to truly apply what we are teaching to the world in which they live. Give them a chance, they may just surprise us. I know they surprised me.


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