Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: Leveraging Program Data, and a Student-Centered Approach to Drive Program Success

Case Study Data

Taunton Public Schools, Taunton, Massachusetts

The Taunton Public Schools STEM and Career Exploration program for middle school learners is in its second year at Friedman and Martin Middle Schools and we will begin implementation at our third school, Parker Middle, next fall. Each student takes the STEM class as part of the arts rotation at each school and the curriculum is based on Project Lead the Way’s Gateway curriculum (Computer Science for Innovators & Makers, and Design & Modeling). This is a new program that was developed to meet our district’s goal of enriching STEM learning experiences for middle school students with the hopes of increasing the number of students who pursue STEM education and careers as part of their postsecondary pursuits.

Initially, the planning team included district curriculum leaders and school leadership. Now, the wind in our sails comes from student voices. As the Science Curriculum Coordinator, I work closely with the teachers at these schools, examining data from student surveys, classroom observations, and grade level meetings to understand what aspects of this curriculum meet students’ motivational needs and can create bridges between the STEM class and other subjects. The intent of these connections is twofold. First, they show students that STEM impacts their daily lives. Second, it gives all educators license to speak about how their disciplines factor into students’ future careers in limitless ways. We found that fluidity is important. Nothing in middle school should exist in a bubble; being responsive to students’ changing educational landscape and their evolving needs has helped us nurture a motivating learning community. This type of class is fertile ground for relationship building and, therefore, teachers are able to have goal setting discussions with students and plan opportunities for students to learn about careers in a differentiated fashion. We currently measure our success through student surveys and with traditional measures like grades and engagement. Soon we will be tracking students as they enter high school and seeing if they enter into one of the career pathways outlined at the high school.

A difficulty we face is that administration wants to add more initiatives, curriculum, and programs to this class. While an understandable goal, being protective of the class structure has given the teachers the space and autonomy to continue focusing on career exploration. This class now prepares students for career pathways at the high school level because they have a stronger sense of what they want to and do not want to explore. We have also had a difficult time planning career exploration opportunity with students because, due to the nature of remote learning, students are hesitant to attend events outside of school time. We hope that when we return to normalcy, we can reach out to families, local universities, and our industry partners to talk to our students and, hopefully, provide mentoring opportunities. We believe that students must talk about their futures early and often in order to truly believe that they are capable of reaching any career or educational goal.

My advice for other schools embarking on this journey would be to put students first. There will be people who want to add to your program in one way or another, and you may feel this takes your program in a different direction. If you stay focused on students’ motivational needs, your program will be a success.

Visit the AMLE/ASA Career Exploration Resource Center for additional case studies, templates, research, and more.