TELL THEM WHY — Spark your classroom with the power of ‘why’

Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

Have your students ever asked you? “Teacher, how will I apply the area of polygon in medical practice?” I get this type of question quite often, the last was from a student in the 8th grade. Odds are, you’ve gotten similar or even deeper questions.

Students of this generation are very inquisitive. They want to know the “why” of everything. And their “why” never ends until it satisfies their curiosity. This is expected because the information landscape has also changed from that of scarcity to abundance and even surplus.

This will also affect your role as a teacher from one that provides mere information, to one that helps student connect information with reality. This is the recipe for the 21st century success.

You can’t be a good teacher here when all you just do is to teach the “how”. There are better teachers on YouTube and Google that do the same thing. So, as a classroom teacher, you must learn how to tell them “why” and connect your lesson to the world around them.

Often time, when you do this, a hitherto passive class becomes active because students will start asking you tons of questions.

One of the ways to transit from the traditional 20th century teaching style to the much needed 21st century teaching model is to always tell the students “why”. Most of our current contents are packed with how something works and solution to problems but not why those things are there in the first place.

The area of a square is L × B. Now, we know how. But why? Why is it important for a 7th grader to know the area of a square? Yes, they will not comprehend all of it at this age but, it is still important to at least give them an idea of what they can do with such knowledge.

The last time I taught measurement, I actually asked my students to go home and measure about ten things they can find around them. My intent was to help them understand measurement not just as a theoretical abstraction but as a tool they can use to make comparison between objects and make judgment about quantity.

Knowing the “why” will help provoke the creativity of students into thinking outside the box which is one of the required skills in the 21st century –this is called creative thinking. Creative thinking is one of the skills required in today’s workspace. As a saying goes, people who know “how” work for people who know “why”.

To build students that will be armed with the capacity to solve problems in the future, it pays to always tell them the “why”.

In one of my English classes, it occurred to me to ask the students why we needed to learn English grammar even though “we could speak English”. Their responses were empowering because after they shared their opinion, we had a discussion about it and they became more equipped, more interested to learn and more willing to share their opinions. (See what they wrote below)

This is how empowering it will be if you dedicate a part of your lesson time to discussing “the why” with your students.

Students of this generation don’t want to be passive learners; they want to be actively involved in class activities both physically and psychologically. Making students realize “the why” is one of those ways to stimulate such active participation.

Our changing world also requires students to understand the “why”. That makes it easier for them to navigate through the unending changes without been limited to only one way — the teacher’s way.

Therefore, to raise students with 21st century skills, the entry point is to make them realize “the why”.

In fact, if the only thing your students will take away from your class is “the why”, you would have made a whole lot of difference rather than just bombarding them with “the how”.

The big thing about this is the sense of idea connectivity it will spark. Students will be able to connect the why of the lesson with the realities of their environment and come up with something sterling. This is how powerful the “why” can be.

Therefore, if you want to be a teacher that inspires, a 21st century teacher that promotes creative thinking, then learn to tell “why”.

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Abdulrafiu Arikewuyo

Abdulrafiu Arikewuyo is a teacher and a writer. On a mission to change the school model.