When will I ever need this?
Why would I ever need to know this?
Questions like this from students are often met with an answer like, Well, when you're in the real world...
Wrong answer. This represents the loss of a great learning opportunity. Instead of referencing some ambiguous state called the real world, educators could instead find applications with which the students can directly relate. Merely just saying that they will need this specific piece of knowledge in some future "real world" also unnecessarily devalues the student's current lives. Are they not living very real moments every day?
So how can educators turn this question around?
Lesson Plan With Peers
Planning lessons with peers draws upon the collective experience of many individuals. While you may not be able to think of an application of "Gauss' Law," your colleague down the hallway may be brimming with ideas.
Change Assignments into Projects
Have the students go out and find those "real" applications themselves. Instead of having you lecturing them, engage the students to be the explorers. An example of this in action is Stanford's d.school.
Engage, Engage, Engage
The traditional classroom model of "seated and silent" does not exactly inspire individuals to be creative. Teachers who are passionate about student learning go beyond scores and GPAs to arrive at the heart of teaching. A great guide is the book What the Best College Teachers Do, which despite its title, is appropriate for teachers of all levels.