Striving to Make Learning Authentic

How many times have we heard the following questions in our classrooms?

  • Why do we have to learn this?
  • When am I ever going to use this in my life?
  • What is the purpose in learning this?

These seem like valid questions for us to consider.

I am an avid reader and because I am so passionate about education much of the reading I do is education related.  I have read and reflected on many topics related to change that is necessary in our classrooms today.  Our students are living in a much different world than many of us were when we were attending school.  They will spend their lives in a much different global environment created by our ability to communicate through technology.  They will need skills related to design, communication and the synthesizing of information. Classroom instruction needs to reflect these changes by moving from just “teaching content” to teaching our students how to learn.  They will need to be able to find and evaluate content, connect with prior knowledge and use that knowledge to solve authentic problems.

A real-world authentic connection requires that students see a reason to do what they are doing, other than the fact they were assigned to do it and will get a grade for doing it. Interests, experiences, significant issues, improving the real world, interacting with people we know are all ways to make learning authentic for our students.

I am not pretending to be an expert on anything.  I just finished giving my students a teacher report card to fill out on me.  Some of the feedback I received turned in the direction of providing my 13 year olds with nap time and play time.  When you ask young adolescents for feedback, it is important to be prepared that not all of it will be useful and thought provoking.

Math Olympic Problem Solving
Math Olympic Problem Solving

One the other hand, many of them did provide me with some very useful things to reflect on.  One of the things I took away from what they said was that I was not providing them with enough choice and I was directing them too closely perhaps, especially in the ways they were going to show and share their learning.  Listening to student voice is crucial to engagement in learning and I am planning to make some changes starting in our next class.

Grade 4
Grade 4

Our school has been working on an action research project this year.  We are trying to see if we can improve some of our math understandings and therefore math achievement by making  real world connections for our students.  It has been an interesting journey and I have been very pleased with some of the things we have been able to accomplish.  We will be sharing our results with other schools in our school division at the end of the month.

Kindergarten Students
Kindergarten/Grade 1 Students

Yesterday I was asked to judge a cooking contest taking place in grade 5 math.  The students have been learning about decimals and were creating their finished products using what they had learned and practicing ratios.  As I listened to the teacher describe what they had done,  I could tell a lot of authentic learning had gone into the process.  The finished products were all delicious, so perhaps the ratios were not too far out.  The students were excited and fully engaged in what they were doing.

Tasting our recipes.


There are many examples throughout our building of students moving away from textbook problems to the creation and sharing of authentic learning experiences.

One of the other things we have done is try and have as many parents, grandparents, community members as we could come in and talk to our students about how they use math in their jobs.  Our visitors have been great and our students have been very engaged in hearing that we don’t only do math during math class.

Many of our students have created videos showing their learning but also for the purpose of sharing and teaching someone else different math skills.


We have been looking for every opportunity we can to make connections for our students and try and make our learning authentic and connected for our students.  Over the course of the year we have been sharing our learning on twitter @PDaleSchool using the hashtag #reallifemath, we have had an Olympic Math Day followed by creating math problems using pictures and data collected during the afternoon and we had a family games night inviting our families to join us for some fun games.

We have yet to see if we were able to improve our actual math scores, but one thing is for sure we improved our engagement in math and were able to share with our students how we use math in our lives and work on a daily basis. Our next challenge will be to see what other ways we can continue to make our learning authentic.  Any suggestions?