Making School Meaningful and Memorable

Think about your high school memories.  What stands out to you?

For me, these are 40-year-old memories, and I have a suspect memory anyhow.  But the things that really stand out for me are the projects, the things I DID – the urban studies course where we tried to plan a modern city; performing in the choir and the jazz band; learning to write stories and publish a school newspaper; working a printing press and other graphics technology in the print shop class; learning to type on a manual typewriter; doing adventure courses in the youth group at church; even having a mock performance of Macbeth in English class.

Yes, we’re all wired differently, and some experiences will be more meaningful than others.  But whatever really is meaningful in our lives are things that have an element of real-life application, where we put our knowledge to use in some way that is meaningful and authentic.

Chip and Dan Heath (the authors of “Switch” and other great books) talked about this idea in the January 10 issue of Education Week. [i] They talk about the key to student motivation is “Peak Moments,” the experiences with elevation and connection that really make an impact on us.

They describe some peak moments for most of us that involve performances, competitions and ceremonies, but they also make a disturbing observation.

“Unfortunately, all those memorable moments happen outside the classroom, even though students spend the vast majority or their time inside the classroom.”
They pivot to talk about some examples of peak moments inside the classroom they have observed, such as well-structured mock trial they observed in a classroom in California, as well as the practices of the High Tech High charter schools, also based out of California.

Perhaps without knowing it, they are advocating for the kind of Dynamic Teaching and Learning that happens in high-performing Career-Connected Learning environments.  Career-Connected Learning is about designing these kind of learning experiences regularly throughout the school year, and clearly linking classroom instruction and projects to real-world career-connected applications.

It’s a good question to ask all of our teachers and school leaders, “When and how are Peak Moments happening in your classrooms, and how can we make this the norm vs. the exception.”

As the Heaths conclude, “These moments are worth fighting for.”


Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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