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Read on to find out more about the problems that need to be solved, from issues in the world to local issues that students are savvy enough to weigh in on.

While many teachers are familiar with setting their students hypothetical or fantasy issues to solve, whether as part of critical thinking or even just a math assessment, very few educators push their students to look at the real world. Some of that is instinct – we want to shelter children from the worst things happening in the world. But with the rise of the internet and information available to the average student around the clock, most children already have awareness about these issues, even if they don’t fully understand them. We look at some real-world problems students can solve as part of their classwork, engaging them in real-life, essential topics they should be educated on.

Given a little direction and all the information, students can form opinions based on their thoughts and feelings – rather than what the news or the older people around them teach them.

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Using real-world problems in the classroom

There are many reasons why using real-world issues in class is a part of learning about culture, responsibility, and the world around us. Many students leave education sheltered from what is going on in the world. From politics to ecology, global climate issues, and mental health issues. Educating students and allowing them to collaborate on real-world problems that need solving provides them with a basis for their own opinions and actions on problems that need solving, with issues in the world that genuinely affect and impact them.

If you’re planning on implementing real-world learning and insights into your curriculum and lesson planning, then it’s important to consider and put into place the following:

  • Access to a wide range of sources of information for personal research, allowing students to develop their own opinions on the subject matter
  • Rules about listening to and respecting other students, even in situations where students have opposing opinions and ideas about important topics
  • Structured lesson plans that allow students to problem-solve and discuss real-world information in a safe environment with the rest of their classmates
  • Providing a wind-down and discussion at the end of each session, and lending support and advice to students who struggle with real-world issues and their potential effects

For some students, discussing specific topics can be personal and distressing. It’s essential to consider this factor before beginning lesson planning. It should also be made clear that you, as the teacher, are there to provide support – and if someone feels they cannot contribute to a class discussion, there is no problem. This is especially true for more ‘hot’ topics, surrounding subject matter relating to culture, people, and even mental and physical health. Edutopia suggests making sure that the topics covered are appropriate for the age and interests of students for the best results.

Once you’ve got that support and structured plan into place, it’s possible for lessons on real-world problems, as well as assignments, to be incredibly successful. Particularly for high schoolers, but for younger students too, providing the opportunity to speak about important matters and use their voice is vital, according to Getting Smart.

Examples of real-world issues students can solve

Once you’ve got the framework for your lesson, you can then consider what topics you’d like to discuss and research with your class. There is a vast range of different subject matters, some more controversial than others. It’s all about striking a balance between finding something that is interesting and engaging without being too overwhelming or stressful for your class. As a teacher, you’re best placed to know which topics suit the maturity and capacity of your students, allowing you to make an informed decision.

To start you off, here are just a few of the topics you might consider covering in your lesson plan:

Healthcare and Mental Healthcare

Physical and mental healthcare is an excellent place to start as a topic that your students have likely heard their parents talking about regularly. With plenty of research available for healthcare access, cost, and quality, the US has a unique healthcare system unlike any other place in the world. Students could even compare current American standards versus those in other countries, such as Japan, the UK, or Europe, to compare and contrast which solution they think is best for their future and country.

Mental health, in particular, can be a difficult topic but is worth examining with your students. In the last twenty years, we’ve had more advancements on this topic than ever. Students are more aware of mental health issues and what causes them, making it an excellent subject for discussion with older classes surrounding how mental health is managed in the US and how it was handled in the past.

Climate Change

‘Global Warming’ has long been a topic at the forefront of the future of our planet, with scientists and regular people knowing more about the impact of this environmental issue than ever before. Your students likely have heard of climate change, making it a great starting point for discussion. There’s also ample research to cover all topics and plenty of teaching resources for your class.

Climate change, as a subject, makes for creative and innovative problem-solving. You could ask students to solve the problem if they had unlimited money and then ask them to see how they would try to fix the issue with no money but a large online following. Approaching the problem differently is an excellent way to flex those critical thinking skills and encourage students to take various approaches to solve large-scale issues.

Housing and Homelessness

Another topic that requires some real thought, insight, and research, housing and homelessness is a subject matter suitable for students of many age groups, depending on how you teach it. Provide your class with plenty of information and resources for their research, from the rate of homelessness in America to the issues that may lead to someone becoming homeless. For older students, you could even focus on more money-related topics such as debt and illness, which may lead to homelessness.

This topic can be emotional, but it is worth exploring with your students as a way to examine events and situations that may affect people they see around them. Many children live below the poverty line in America, which means that they most likely have been in positions where parents or guardians have struggled to keep a roof above their heads. Ask students to provide their opinion on solving homelessness in their state or even locally within their town or city, and see what solutions they come up with.

Violence

Many students will have heard first or second-hand about violent actions and attacks in America, whether they are local events or nationwide news stories about serious incidents. While this topic can be a delicate one to approach, it’s one that many young people care about – and are passionate about solving or finding a solution to. In a lesson on this subject, students should be able to access resources from many different sources, from local news articles to charity sites, online campaigns, and more.

Once students have researched these topics, consider having a whole-class discussion and making a list of solutions that could help resolve violence. Give each student a chance to speak, or in a less-vocal class, consider creating worksheets to cover this subject matter. With such a charged topic, it’s crucial to make it clear that discussion is voluntary and that, as your teacher, you are free to provide support if needed.

For impactful discussions, critical thinking, and problem-solving, tapping into real-world issues and problems can be a fantastic way to get your class engaged in the subject matter and inspired to find their voice. Students are the future – and as such, it’s just as vital for them to have an opinion, know the facts and understand how to research and learn about topics as it is to discuss those important problems in class.

Do you use real-world problem-solving in your classroom? What topics have you had the most success with?