Recent brain research says it is important for students to connect life experiences with new learning. In order for learning to go beyond rote memorization, students must perceive content and concepts to be useful and worth investing the effort to make sense out of the lesson. If the learner can relate to the content, then they are more likely to retain and recall the information.
Willis (2006) describes the importance of relevance in how the brain forms long-term memory.
Any new information must enter the brain through [the senses.] …The information travels through [initial pathways] to the limbic system. After first entering the hippocampus messages are sent to the prefrontal lobe storage areas… to reactivate any potentially related memories stored there. …previously stored, related memories can be activated and sent to [appropriate areas] where they are connected to the new information to build relational memories [requiring meaning in order to pass through]. The brain then makes the conscious connections between these stored memories and the new information, and forms a new integrated memory for storage in the frontal lobe.
If teachers relate the context of their students’ life experiences with the curriculum, then learners are more available to make conscious connections to attend. The limbic system and hippocampus direct our emotional learning system and serves as the gateway to the path of long-term memory. With each memory we hold, there is an emotional attachment to prior knowledge and experience. If the pathway is open, then the brain actively tries to sort out content, relate, and engage in a learning process.