As technology rapidly changes, classrooms are changing too. It has become common for students to use laptops, iPads, and other technologies as part of the normal school day. In addition to new computing tools, students have all sorts of new cultural tools to help them process the world. For teachers, this presents exciting opportunities to incorporate new music, news, and events to support the standard classroom curriculum.
One of the broadest opportunities to use popular culture in the classroom is to incorporate internet trends and memes in everyday instruction. This can happen in a number of ways. One possibility is to allow students to find images and video online to use as part of a lesson. Students can search YouTube, Google Images, or other popular sites for easily accessible images to illustrate important points from the days’ lessons. Maybe there’s a funny clip about American History that someone can bring into a history class. Or perhaps there’s a comedic clip about grammar that a student can use to help introduce a writing lesson. By allowing students to select and contribute media that they enjoy, teachers can create an environment where students come into the classroom more invested in the day’s lesson.
Another way to use popular culture to enhance the educational mission is to incorporate students’ love of social media. This is an especially engaging form of incorporation because it requires students to engage with their lessons beyond the classroom. In some instances, teachers establish a class Instagram account and assign students a theme with an attached hashtag. Then, for the duration of the lesson, a few days or a week, students will post and tag things that they see that are related to that lesson. So if students are studying world geography, they can post pictures and video of commercials, billboards, magazine articles, t-shirt slogans, and other things that are relevant to that topic. In this scenario, students receive credit for the lesson by posting and participating in the social media exchange.
Finally, teachers can find ways to welcome students’ stories and interest in popular culture into the classroom by opening up time for students to share whatever is interesting to them that day. An instructor might use the first five minutes of class to let students make announcements or talk about stories they’ve heard in the news that week. Then other students can chime in. By allowing students to set just a small part of the itinerary for the day, we can teach them to feel at home in the classroom.
There are of course dozens of other ways to incorporate popular culture into an active and engaged classroom. By being open-minded and proactive, teachers can take advantage of these opportunities to create a classroom where all students energetically participate in the day’s lesson.