3 Activities to Connect Students with Content

Decorative: A brain-shaped made up of and filled with nodes and and links


"Small Changes in Teaching: Making Connections" (post) outlines "3 ways that faculty members can help students link course content to the world around them":

  • "The commonplace book"
  • "Social-media connections"
  • "The minute thesis"

1. Why Bother?

a. Connections Lead to Deep Learning

"One important way experts’ and novices’ knowledge organizations differ is the number or density of connections among the concepts, facts, and skills they know."

  • "[N]ew learners tend to have information, ideas, or skills lodged in their minds in discrete, isolated places." 
  • "[T]rue learning occurs when students make new connections on their own."
  • "Deep knowledge is connected knowledge."

b. "Thick" Connections Nurture Ideas

To help "students ... develop expertise, ... we have to help them thicken up the connections ..."

  • "... from the first week of the semester to the fifth, from the last course they took in our discipline to this one, from the course material to their lives outside of class."
  • "The more connections they can create, the more they can begin to formulate their own ideas and gain a wider view of our fields."

2. How to "Develop Thicker Webs of Connection with our Course Material"

  • Each point and suggestion is developed more fully in the post.

a. Suggest they start a "commonplace book."

  • "A unique combination of diary and scrapbook, ... [a commonplace book] help[s] [people] retain and connect what they know and what they are learning."
    • It "can also spur creative thinking as students see course topics intersecting with other ideas in new and original ways."
  • "[R]eserve 10 minutes at the end of class once or twice a week for a 'Connection Ten' — 10 minutes in which students can make entries in a course commonplace book, either paper or electronic."
  • "Ask them to":
    • "Write down the most important thing they learned that day, and why it matters to them or to society."
    • "List one way in which the day’s course content manifests itself on campus or in their home lives."
    • "Identify a television show, film, or book that somehow illustrates a course concept from class."
    • "Describe how today’s course material connects to last week’s."
  • "Make this a regular, low-stakes activity (i.e., collect their commonplace books once or twice a semester and give them a participation grade)."

b. Social-media Connections

  • "[T]ry bumping the [Connection Ten] activity to social media ... Twitter ...  Facebook, Instagram, other social media sites, or even the discussion boards of your virtual learning environment."
    • "[S]tudents have their phones with them everywhere."
    • "Popping onto a course-specific social-media site to post something — or using a course-specific hashtag on Twitter or Instagram — can be done instantly when the connection occurs to them."
  • "Build in a low-stakes assignment like this throughout the semester, or offer it as a participation option for quieter students."
    • "Assign them to post one or two links a week to a connection they have observed or discovered."

c. The Minute Thesis

  • Provide specifics or prompts concerning your content for students to consider.
  • Ask them to formulate a thesis that connects the various items of knowledge, sources, etc. listed.
  • Have them their connections and the resulting "brief thesis sentences" -- and then discuss.
  • Variations on this activity are given in the post.
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