The bell sounded, signaling the start of another class period. I hear the girls behind me talking, purchasing an Air Heads candy from a classmate who secretly sold them. My favorite was the white Air Heads, and I was a loyal customer; savoring its sweet flavor was my only saving grace during math class. The teacher, as usual, was seated at the front, her desk strategically placed by the chalkboard, as she pivoted her body to write on the board without leaving her seat. She would call on my classmate Yanique to receive validation that she was, once again, crushing it as a teacher. As long as Yanique responded, “yes, miss,” we were charging onward with the curriculum.
Math was not my favorite subject. However, I was always an intrinsically motivated overachiever, aiming for straight A’s on my report card. But on this day, something snapped. I was willing to sacrifice that beloved ‘A’ because receiving anything lower than a B meant the possibility that I would be transferred to remedial math where it was rumored the teacher had a more fun and innovative approach – including using music and games to teach mathematical concepts. As sure as I was that my advanced math peers and parents would receive the news of me being transferred to remedial math negatively, I was equally confident that this would bring sweet music to my ears.
This was the day that I fell out of love with math.
Why was I willing to give up who I was at my core? Why was I willing to sacrifice my desire to be a high-achieving student? One word: connection. I had no link to the curriculum or my teacher, making it so easy to walk away. Now this is in no way aimed at bashing teachers then or now. Instead, I hope to shed light on something we often only acknowledge once a year. That is, being intentional about building curriculum and personal connections with our students.
Rachel Marshall says in her article, Career Days: Helping Children Learn What They Want to Be, that “career days give students an up-close-and-personal view of an array of occupations, especially ones they have never heard of. It can broaden their perspectives beyond classic, familiar jobs such as teacher or firefighter. They also can learn what skills and education are required for the industries and fields they have interest in and potential aptitude for and have the opportunity to ask questions.” Insert thinking and confused emoji here, shouldn’t this be the goal, every day?!!!! Shouldn’t we strive to establish that what our students learn today is connected to tomorrow?
Why are we only intentionally calling out connections between curriculum and professional goals on career day? Yes, we have our objectives/ SWBAT(students will be able to…) plastered on our boards and in our textbooks (heck, some of us even require our students to record them in their notebooks). But do they truly understand how these objectives correlate with their future aspirations? Every day should be career day if schools are the catalyst for our students’ future occupations.
Hold on, I know what you are thinking; where will I find the time to make every day career day? With the summer slide and COVID learning disruptions, why spend time on this? Instead of hosting a career day in isolation from the curriculum, I propose instead infusing components of career day daily within the curriculum. Here are a few tips to help you accomplish this goal.
Identify Connections and Call Them Out
Make College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) more than just a buzz phrase; make it a part of your daily lesson plans. According to The Florida Department of Education, where I teach, “Students are considered college and career ready when they have the knowledge, skills, and academic preparation needed to enroll and succeed in introductory college credit-bearing courses within an associate or baccalaureate degree program without the need for remediation. These same attributes and levels of achievement are needed for entry into and success in postsecondary workforce education or directly into a job that offers gainful employment and career advancement.” We know that with assessments and evolving curriculum, we provide students with the knowledge and academic preparation they will need to be college and career ready. However, are they provided with enough opportunities to fine-tune the skills they will need in the workforce? What are these skills?
According to an Overview of States Definitions of College and Career Readiness, twenty-one states’ definitions of “college and career readiness” mention concrete knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students must demonstrate mastery of to be prepared for postsecondary success. These skills fit into six categories:
- Academic knowledge,
- Critical thinking/ problem solving,
- Social-emotional learning/collaboration and or communication,
- Grit/ resilience/ perseverance,
- Citizenship and/or community involvement.
- Other actionable activities, including the use of technology.
One of my favorite skills in the sixth category, specific to Hawaii, focuses on responsibility to the environment and family—past, present, and future generations. Does your lesson plan template provide a framework that guides you in ensuring that you address these CCRS daily?
Use your Human Resources
Remember those friends and parents you call each year for career day? Call them up now! Look at the lessons that you will be covering throughout the year. How can they assist you in bringing life to your content? For example, you are teaching a lesson on blood pathogens and your sorority sister is a phlebotomist. Jackpot! Think of the insight and impact she can bring to your class, possibly exposing your students to a career they have never heard of.
What about your parents or community partners? How can they be leveraged during your instructional block? Community partners are a great way to strengthen the school-community connection while bringing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) into the classrooms. Your local pizza shop, for example, can be a great asset when teaching students about mathematical concepts such as measurements, fractions, or even profit and loss. Students will, without a doubt, be authentically engaged in these delicious lessons.
Incorporate Project Based Learning (PBL)
They don’t call me the PBL Diva for nothing! PBL is one of the best ways to ensure that you connect curriculum to career. PBL Works, one of my go-to sources for all things PBL, defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” I couldn’t agree more. PBL brings learning to life. It catalyzes student success through time-warping standards-driven learning experiences with end products that give them a glimpse of who they could be and their impact on their families, communities, and the world.
As a reading teacher, I have used PBL to show students the connection between the reading skills and strategies they were learning in my class and the real world. One memorable experience with PBL occurred as we read an article about oceanic pollution. It led to my 7th-grade students inquiring about red tide and possible harm to their families should they consume sea creatures from red tide-infested waters. The result was a powerful lesson in which students authentically engaged with the text to extrapolate information to answer THEIR why. Clears throat and gives a loving side-eye to you, my reader; need I point out how PBL addresses the CCRS skills previously mentioned in this article?
There are many ready-to-go PBL lesson plans available online. Find one that you can use to help students connect to their why.
Integrate Technology or a Career Development Program
The pandemic has taught us that we can remain connected without being in the same room. Use this to your advantage, and reach out to friends, parents, community members, and even people on social media to be SMEs. If your school has some wiggle room in the budget and you still need to invest in a career development program such as Pathful.com or Three-Dimensional Education (3ED), this is an avenue that you should explore. Pathful.com provides students with college and career readiness planning, assessments, and exploration tools. They have videos already curated featuring more than three thousand career advice and job shadowing videos.
Junior Achievement USA is responsible for the fantastic career-aligned curriculum and field trips to JA Biz Town and Junior Achievement World that my students take in 5th and 8th grade. Now they’ve added Three-Dimensional Education (3DE) and I absolutely love it. 3DE “re-engineers high school education to be more relevant, experiential, and authentically connected to the complexities of the real world to more fully prepare today’s students for the demands of tomorrow’s economy.” This is achieved through their 3DE model, which takes the expertise of business partners and pairs it with the rigor needed for interdisciplinary learning through tasks like case challenges, business start-ups, design and launch, and so much more. All while providing ongoing support for teachers through curriculum and professional development. Their model is growing and can be found at several school sites nationwide.
Incorporate Time for Reflection
An easy yet highly effective way to build a curriculum-to-career connection is through reflection. As educators, we know about Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and how writing can assess students’ learning and establish rigor. Having students write about a topic covered and how this knowledge influences society or their future goals is a sure way to be intentional about making every day career day. Veteran teachers, I won’t bore you with this best practice, but I wanted to bring it back on your radar in case you haven’t used it in a while. New teachers, a quick Google search on DOK, and reflective writing will help you wet your whistle.
Double Plan for Success
You will need to use double planning to see your lesson from your students’ perspectives. So often we write our lessons from the teacher’s perspective. Double planning pushes us to switch places with our students, creating a complementary lesson plan for what our students will do at each phase. Using this approach and being intentional about calling out career connections along the way…think of the automaticity and transformation that will occur in your lessons as a teacher.
This shift in linking content to career will take some work, but it will be well worth the investment.
It’s human nature to want to know why? Let us take the first step at helping students identify their “why” by approaching each day as if it were a career day. By intentionally linking the curriculum and career connections in whatever subject you teach with your students, you may rekindle or even ignite a love for that subject or open their hearts to a career path they never considered.
Dr. Simone T. Lewis, an esteemed educator and visionary leader, revolutionizes classroom experiences through innovative approaches such as project-based learning, empowering students and transforming classrooms with her expertise in instructional leadership. She can be reached on Twitter @DrLewis_PBLDiva.
- About | 3DE Schools.” 3DE Schools, www.3deschools.org/about.
- Aungst, G. (2014, September 4). Using Webb’s depth of knowledge to increase rigor. Edutopia. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/webbs-depth-knowledge-increase-rigor-gerald-aungst
- Florida Department of Education. (n.d.). Florida College System: College and career readiness. Tallahassee, FL: Author. Retrieved from http://www.fldoe.org/fcs/collegecareerreadiness.asp
- Mishkind, A. (2014, September). Overview State Definitions of College and Career Readiness. Washington, DC; College and Career Readiness Success Center at American Institute for Research.
- Marshall, R. (2017, November 14). Career Days: Helping children learn what they want to be. – Capital Adirondack New York Magazine for Women. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.herlifemagazine.com/albany/mothers-perspective/career-days-helping-children-learn-what-they-want-to-be/
- What is PBL? PBLWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl