Monday, 14 April 2014

Teaching Tool for the Real World

Open the door to the real world !
Bringing relevancy to the classroom

 On occasion we may hear a student say "why do I have to learn this ?"  or "what use will this be to me after school ?".

As a teacher I found this a bit frustrating sometimes because I knew more of the bigger picture that I was teaching towards - step by step. I knew that the seemingly irrelevant section of work was very important indeed.

Telling them "trust me, it's important" was not enough. I wanted to help open the eyes of my students to the living and working reality of the outside world. I wanted to give them some meaning and purpose in what they were doing within the walls of the classroom.

So I devised a very handy teaching tool !


A teaching tool for the real world

 I know that specific school learning may never be taken further by many students. But the exercise of having done it still helps lay the foundations of good thinking and reasoning skills. Skills that students will need to use for the rest of their lives - particularly when big life decisions are to be made !

Even so, I still wanted to try and overcome those negative attitudes and feelings of irrelevancy. I went ahead to develop this handy teaching tool. I used it for many years with my classes. I call it the Reality-Squares Tool ! I found it to be quite successful in opening students' eyes  and minds to the world beyond the classroom walls. In some cases it helped to sow the seeds of interest in a career path !

The Reality-Squares Tool helps by giving a greater meaning and purpose to the topic being taught. I think it would fit snugly with project-based learning as well !

Introducing the Reality-Squares Tool

Reality-Squares Teaching Tool (click)
The Reality-Squares Tool is simply that - squares ! It consists of four squares A,B,C,D where each square represents a different lens through which the learning material (or problem or project) may be viewed. These four viewpoints easily and quickly enable a whole-of-world view of the subject matter - the outside reality - to be brought inside the walls of the classroom.

Reality-Square A - Finding Solutions
This viewpoint considers all the known facts, formulas and theory applicable to the learning task, problem or project. It's in this square that the problem /investigation task is clearly stated or defined. Possible approaches to tackle a research project or the design of an experiment are also considered in this Reality-Square. For projects other factors such as cost /benefit analysis, material and equipment needs are determined. Statistics and maths - number crunching - occur in this square. Calculations (perhaps based on investigation) can be made to estimate the probable success of a project. Investigations could reveal further information requirements - before the commencement of the task - or answers needed to new questions not previously considered. All shaping the decision in an answer to "what needs to be done here ?"

 Reality-Square B - Implementation
This viewpoint considers those logical steps required to carry out the problem solving task or the conducting of a experiment /study /investigation or a project. It involves data recording and analysis, report preparation, publication and /or presentation of findings. This Reality-Square may include factors of project management such as planning and organizing, cost control, procedure, method, technique, health and safety, risk assessment, time schedule and performance monitoring - all integral to the implementation of the task at hand.

 Reality-Square C - The Human Side
This viewpoint considers the human aspects of the subject matter /learning task /problem /project. This includes our care and concern for the environment. Factors in this Reality-Square include people, social justice, relevant history, relevant jobs and salary, social and environmental impacts, voiced feelings, emotional reactions, communication, culture, beliefs and values, customer /public relations to name a few. This square must examine the Human Side of all the Reality-Squares. For example, in a given project what are the relevant jobs are associated with each square, how much do they pay and where would you expect to work ? What would you expect to be the differences in type and content of public statements made from each Reality-Square viewpoint (A, B, C, D) regarding a particular issue of your project task ?

 Reality-Square D - Tomorrows World
This viewpoint considers the future possibilities, new applications, advancing the technology, future influences as well as developing threats and opportunities. Included in this square are factors such as  innovation, creativity, vision, mission and purpose. Philosophical questions may be raised - such as "Is this advancement for the greater good ?" or "Should we share our technology to benefit the world ?" or "Does it matter that our technology /science /policies weaken social structures ?". The is the Reality-Square for Big Picture thinking.


Typical skills and habits being developed using the Reality-Square Teaching Tool

Real World Skill Development
This is not an exhaustive list of skill and habits being nutured by using the Reality-Squares Tool but it gives the general idea - offering a guideline so that you can adapt the tool to your particular needs which will vary depending on the topic and the ability level of the class.


Using the Reality-Squares Tool

Usually, after the first few times I used the Reality-Squares tool with a class, I would notice a better cognitive engagement - one that lasted and could be built upon ! I also observed students take better ownership of their learning. Highlighting the relevancy of a topic increased interest and helped students to feel more academically competent.

Teaching mostly focuses on Reality-Squares A and B. Students generally don't see the fuller picture of the world. This handy tool will encourage them to do so.

Before you start using the tool you must explain to the students how to use it.

Then have a practice session or two where students think from within the different viewpoints. I would suggest that you do the following:
Practice a single square's viewpoint

1. Break you class into small groups.

2. Set the learning task / problem to be considered - keep it simple.

3. Allocate a Reality-Square to each group. They think about the task from that square's viewpoint only.

4. Appoint a member of each group who will report the main points considered from that group's Reality-Square viewpoint.

5. Switch groups around so they practice thinking from every viewpoint.

Finally, when you think that everybody understands using the tool then you can begin using it in your teaching every day. The students will also find it a useful guide for any project work.

As a teacher who would be using the tool for the first time I suggest you write down a few questions that you can use for each Reality-Square (A, B, C, D) viewpoint. Soon the questions will come to you automatically as you teach. Take the trouble to prepare properly.

Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions about the Reality-Squares Tool.

Thinking in the real world

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Please free free to ask a question about any aspect of your learning. I will answer you as soon as I can. (please consult your professional for medical issues that may hamper your learning effort) - Mike Raven