I’ve been noticing a trend in education where various subjects are trying to move to a more authentic curriculum by having the student explore concepts in real-world situations. The theory is a good one: if a student can see where they might use a skill again, they might be more willing to tackle it. If they can apply it practically, they might have a better chance of remembering the skill on tests, and later on in life, too.
That’s great. Tying what we do in the classroom to what goes on in the real world is definitely useful for engaging students and keeping them motivated, but it forgets something.
Students sometimes don’t have a lot of real-world experiences when they come in to school. In fact, they might not even have the basic skills needed to stay afloat in class. Some curricula are starting to rely on discovery teaching methods, but that only works if the teacher uses the discovery element to explain why a basic skill works, to help the student understand the processes going on.
Most people, children and adults alike, find it very difficult to apply what they don’t understand.
Start with the basic skill. “Discover” it if you have to, but then talk about why the discovery worked. Talk about the concept. Talk about the underlying principles. Give the discovery component meaning. Then, give real-world related practice if you feel the students are ready to tackle it. Don’t let them move on if they don’t understand why they’re doing something, or what they’re doing.