Welcome back to another exciting school year! Let’s start the year off with a bang by building relationships, establishing a positive learning community, and including some pop culture to increase student interest and engagement.

Our goal is to ensure our lessons are relevant for 21st century learners to support 21st century college and career success. If a lesson is relevant, students can answer, "What am I learning?," "Why am I learning this?" and "How can I use this information/skill in the real world?"

Pop culture offers us the opportunity meet today’s students where they are.

A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report indicates that youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend approximately 7.5 hours per day using media, including TV, music, video games, and books. That’s up to 53 hours every week that we could potentially infuse and direct into learning activities and content.

Alexandre O. Philippe’s TED Talk, "Why Pop Culture?," helps us appreciate the role pop culture plays in society.

One of my favorite lines from his TED Talk is, "Pop culture is a universal language that connects us against social, racial, and political divides; it says something about us and our better nature." Thus, as educators, we embrace it, cherish it, persevere it, and use it in education to engage our students.

Pop culture is more than entertainment; it’s a useful tool for connecting with students, improving engagement, and deepening understanding. Though some of the icons, memes, news, and songs may seem silly to us, the benefits of its educational use are too great to ignore.

Check out three ways to infuse pop culture into our classrooms for the benefit of student engagement and critical thinking.

Create lessons that linger in students’ minds.

A few great ways to stay abreast of pop culture are to search popular stories and hashtags on the front pages of Twitter, Urban Dictionary, Buzzfeed.com, YouTube, and Facebook. Elicit student feedback and become familiar with what students enjoy by collecting interest inventories, quick polls, etc.

By surveying student interest, we can connect with pop culture and make ideas more relatable and easier to understand. Create memorable lessons by infusing music, video, memes, and infographics.

There are so many fun YouTube channels with pop cultural themes and tunes to support retention of academic content. For example, there is a History Teacher YouTube and Science Teacher YouTube. Flocabulary and Go Noodle also have a lot of catchy, rhythmic, pop songs to support academic content.

One of my awesomely talented colleagues Mr. Almeida, has a math YouTube Channel entitled Math With MrAlmeida, which contains fun remixes to Bruno Mars and other pop songs to support retention of key math content.

Two middle school science teachers, Diane McDonough and Tara Tetreault, brought their version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s "Call Me Maybe" with "Call it Density," a parody designed to introduce the concept of density to students.

Whether your students are using Dynamite by Taio Cruz to explore Satellites (I’m Galileo); Meghan Trainor’s "All About that Bass" to support lessons on healthy lifestyles, self-confidence, and body consciousness; World War II and Zombieland to help students identify with international relations; or even the remix of one of Drake’s songs, "Keke, are you reading and writing?," students are sure to connect and remember key content when we infuse pop culture.

Use pop culture as a conversation starter.

The National Education Association recommends using clips as a focal point for discussion, and as a resource that encourages interaction.

Film is especially useful for starting conversations, as students may have a strong opinion about what they’ve seen and naturally will want to share and discuss. Spark discussion in your classroom by showing relevant film clips that get students interested. One of my favorite resources is Literacy Shed.

Literacy Shed has hundreds of short clips that can be used to hook and spark conversation in every subject. The "sheds" are organized by thematic clusters such as history shed, music shed, etc. Many of the videos are animated, short, and even have discussion and writing questions.

A few other video resources to infuse pop culture and make real world connections are WatchKnowLearn.org (all subjects), Mathalicious.com, and MashupMath.com for math and science.

When introducing the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, a teacher showed a thought-provoking clip from the newest Jesse Owens movie. She sparked discussion after the clip by asking, "What thoughts do you have after watching the clip? What images did you find powerful?"

Use pop culture as a model for studying educational materials and ensure students create their own connections.

Ask students to build bridges between popular culture and "stuff" in your class. Prepare students to study poetry by passing out popular song lyrics and asking them for feedback, discussing word meaning, tone, and composition.

Show them how to engage in close reading, first with songs, and then with poetry. For example, a teacher used Destiny’s Child’s "Independent Women Part I" in close reading, having students take notes on the lyrics, costumes, dancing, and more.

Students were able to read the material deeply, and also put the material into musical and political context, considering the video in terms of feminism and cultural relevance. Another teacher paired two mediums, using the stimulating "This is America" video by Childish Gambino and a Robert Frost poem to build literacy analysis on figurative language.

Have students build bridges between popular culture and the "stuff" in your class. For example, ask your students to place Jay Gatsby into conversation with Kanye West, or Daisy Buchanan with Taylor Swift, and you’ll tap into some of the most complex academic and social emotional skills. Encourage students to explore the lives of historical figures by asking students to create fictitious Facebook or Twitter accounts for them.

As we start the year with a "pop," be sure to share the amazing things you and your students are doing on Twitter (our worldwide professional network). Join me @SavannaFlakes with a hashtag #popculture. The Complete Guide to Twitter Hashtags for Education can be found at https://www.teachthought.com/twitter-hashtags-for-teacher/.