Many of you are familiar with the four C’s of the 21st-century learning framework: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. But step back for a second and remember why you teach students in the first place–so they can be successful adults who contribute to society and thrive while pursuing a fulfilling career. This is why we add to our list of 21st-century learning skills a fifth C: career readiness.
Career readiness can be engrained into the teaching and learning landscape in many ways. Educators across the nation are latching on to project-based learning (PBL) as an effective teaching method for building 21st-century skills. Career-focused PBL gives students the freedom to explore a variety of careers from the comfort of their classroom.
Here are three educators whose innovative learning strategies are empowering their students to build the skills they need to succeed in 21st-century careers.
Start the Career Conversation Early
– Dr. Genevra Walters, superintendent of Kankakee School District
From the time a student walks through the door of a school in Kankakee School District to the time they walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas, they are constantly transitioning to their next stage of life. Since I started in education, I’ve used the motto, “The transition to adulthood starts in preschool.” Today, the phrase is the mantra pushing my teachers and principals to think past the traditional style of teaching and incorporate hands-on project-based learning that offers students a chance to explore a plethora of careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).
Research shows that the earlier and more often you talk with young children about careers, the more students will envision themselves going to college and working in those fields. To help make all of our students aware of the career options available to them, in 2015 I created a virtual career wheel for Kankakee teachers to follow. Each grade focuses on a different segment of careers, so as students move through elementary school they are able to explore a variety of fields and recognize where their interests lie.
For example, first grade focuses on careers in agriculture, food, and natural resources; while third-grade students focus on business, marketing, and management. During the year, students do four hands-on, cross-curricular projects to further experience what it takes to work in a specific career. The projects make the career wheel come alive because students can apply their classroom knowledge and make connections to the real world. Kankakee’s teachers use a web-based curriculum resource, Defined STEM, which provides hundreds of project-based lessons that are based on real-world problems in STEAM careers.
Since we implemented this model, data shows that in one year (2016 to 2017), reading comprehension scores increased 8 percent, math application increased 9 percent, and math computation had a 42 percent increase. We have also seen an increase in student engagement in all of our K-6 classes, and have built partnerships with local businesses and industries that support students’ exploration and curiosity about future career options.
(Next page: Career readiness through real scenarios; teamwork)
Weave Career Scenarios into the Curriculum
– Dr. Nicole DeVries, administrative coordinator for Teaching and Learning at Virginia Beach City Public Schools
At Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), we use a locally developed curriculum and embed performance tasks that are focused on authentic, career-related scenarios. For example, we host an annual event, STEM Trifecta Challenge, that allows our students to engage in PBL activities based on robotics and programming, maker and entrepreneurship, and cybersecurity. Last year we had approximately 65 schools and 1,600 students participate. Depending on the area of the Trifecta event in which they choose to participate, students are challenged to develop and program a robot, develop and market a product to “sell” to Trifecta visitors, or use coding skills to block a fabricated cyber-attack.
In our classrooms, career exploration begins at the elementary level and is woven throughout the curriculum. One of our most dynamic and successful examples of infusing career exploration directly into our VBCPS curriculum and instruction happens each year in September when all 5,500 5th-graders travel to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana on the first day of its annual air show. The focus is to expose students to the variety of STEM careers and activities that occur in the military on a daily basis. During the Air Show, the NAS staff provides numerous STEM displays to highlight community partners, such as NASA, and to demonstrate STEM opportunities woven throughout the community.
To further the partnership between VBCPS and NAS Oceana, staff in the Department of Teaching and Learning created a curricular unit that includes learning events for students prior to the field trip, as well as instructional opportunities for students to engage in after the Air Show experience.
Incorporate Soft Skills Needed in Most Careers Today
– Jamie Harbin, K-6 grade STEM teacher at B.B. Comer Elementary School in Sylacauga, AL
As a STEAM teacher, I believe it is critical that our students understand and make connections between the classroom and the real world. While not every child aspires to be an engineer, nor do we expect them to be, every child will be faced with these types of challenges or obstacles at some point in their school career or adult lives. That is why I teach my students to use the Engineering Design Process. The process works like this:
- I present students with a problem or ask them to identify one;
- They work collaboratively to brainstorm possible solutions;
- They work as a team to design, create, and test these solutions; and
- They make improvements, if necessary, before sharing their ideas with others.
Students learn how to rely on each other for ideas and think critically to find the best possible solution to their problem. As a result, they develop 21st-century life skills, which better prepare them for a successful career.
While I would love to take my students on a plethora of field trips to actually show them careers in action, it’s not realistic. Instead, I use informative videos to give them a quick overview of a wide variety of real-world careers and an understanding of how science concepts are applied in those jobs. After watching the videos, students participate in performance tasks, where they take on the very roles in the video and work toward finding a solution to a real-world problem using science, engineering, and math skills. For example, students may work as aerospace engineers one performance task and as architects during the next task.
Teaching our students how to use their knowledge to solve problems is essential to their overall success as adults. By the time our elementary students graduate, there will be a tremendous number of STEAM careers available to them. It is our job as teachers to prepare them with the skills and mindset required to take on jobs that don’t even exist in our world today.