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March 18, 2021

Video Playlist: Relevant and Real Content to Engage Students

The French origins of the word “Mayday” suggest an only coincidental connection between this call for help and the fifth month of the year. However, as any teacher knows, this is a time of year when distress calls are common. “Mayday – how do I keep my students productive and engaged in these waning days of the school year?”

For those of you in distress, help is on the way. This month, we are excited to launch a series of videos from Success at the Core, a professional development toolkit. This collection includes several videos specifically focused on engaging students through relevant and real content. These videos showcase instruction that connects content to students’ pre-existing knowledge, their lives, and the world around them. See students take ownership of their learning as they see its purpose, and apply it to new contexts. See teachers offering opportunities to apply content to real-world problems and guiding students to make interdisciplinary connections.


  • How do I ground the content I teach in real-life experiences?
  • What strategies do I use to help students assess what they know about the content of a new lesson?
  • In what ways do I design or adapt lessons to make them relevant to my students?


Supply and Demand Made Relevant: As seventh graders struggle to understand a supply and demand story problem, math teacher Mark Egger asks students to consider how the cost of items they purchase impacts their buying decisions. Notice how recognizing the relevance of the content helps students to build understanding.

Preparing Students to Read: Word and Inference Walls: Prior to assigning a new chapter of The Outsiders, teacher Cathy Farrell hooks her students by connecting vocabulary from the text to prior knowledge, and by asking students to infer what the chapter will be about, based on several clues. The vocabulary and inference work deliberately connects to cross-subject learning targets as well.

Grounding Content: Teacher Keith Olive suspects that his students won’t be naturally drawn to a mineral identification lab. Take a look at how he creates relevance by connecting lab content and vocabulary to their world and existing knowledge.

Challenging Students to Discover Pythagoras: Rather than telling his math students the Pythagorean Theorem, Brick Ivy guides them to discover it for themselves. As learners engage in this constructivist lesson, they recognize and articulate the relationship between the sides of a triangle. Watch to witness some great “a ha” moments!

Understanding Author’s Purpose: See students create and present radio advertisements in a lesson designed to build on previous lessons related to author’s purpose. By asking students to become authors writing for a specific purpose, teacher Karrie Fansler turns an abstract concept into a concrete learning experience.

Using a Warm-Up to Review Content: In this warm-up activity, watch science teacher Chris Blea as she encourages students to share what they know about balanced and unbalanced forces. Throughout the review, the teacher demonstrates the scientific concepts and vocabulary by maneuvering a fan car on and off a table.

Success at the Core is a professional development toolkit for teachers and leadership teams, designed collaboratively by Education Development Center, a global nonprofit organization that addresses some of the world’s most urgent challenges in education, health and economic development, and Vulcan Productions, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen’s award-winning film company. Original materials were funded by Vulcan Productions, Inc. and are used with permission.

Success at the Core

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