One of the most common requests I get is for “real world problems”. I, too, once sought examples from the fabled “real world.” But when we aim for real world problems, we’re assuming that these are somehow better problems.
But they’re not! Real world problems are often… pretty dull and annoying.
Would you rather…
- work through a Sudoko puzzle or do your taxes?
- read a legal contract or read Harry Potter?
- play a card game or figure out your cell phone bill?
Many “real world problems” are simply the worst! We often hire others to handle these problems for us so we can enjoy non-real-world activities! The real world is mundane and tedious. In fact, we spend a lot of money to escape the real world.
So let’s simply aim for “interesting” rather than “real world.”
When I put a Word Ladder on the board, kids didn’t complain that it’s not “real world.” They dove in because they found it engaging!
When we tried to figure out what The Little Prince would think about about Claudia, from The Mixed Up Files, it was fun because it was so far from the “real world.”
When I present this question in a workshop, everyone murmurs in delight, even though it’s ridiculously fantastic:
How big of a lawn would you need so that when you finished mowing you’d have to start over because the grass has grown?
Likewise, this prompt always gets a reaction, not because it’s realistic, but because it’s so darn interesting:
How long would it take to drink an Olympic-sized pool with a straw?
Are any of these “real world”? Nope. But they’re highly engaging because they’re interesting and out brains simply love figuring interesting problems out.
Dan Meyer calls this Real World vs Real Work. Is the work interesting? Then it doesn’t matter how real-world it is.
So don’t be tricked when students ask “when will I ever use this?” They’re really begging for something that’s simply interesting.