So if STEM is for our budding accountants and biologists, then what is set up for our future politicians and attorneys? As usual, I feel like the classroom and standardized testing – supposedly now geared specifically towards “career readiness” – are way out of sync. To begin, has anyone questioned why STEM clubs are after-school activities? These are the organizations and groups that will most likely ultimately inspire our children’s career goals, so why aren’t they built into their curriculum?
And what about those future Thomas Jeffersons and John Lockes? I even have a cute acronym all figured out for the sister club to STEM in the social sciences – PHLAG, which stands for Politics, History, Law and Geography. Get ready – hopefully next year’s SGO and PDP goals will be inspired.
First, let’s harness (and exploit!) these interests of our students, which we all aim to do on a nearly daily basis, especially with our older middle and high school-age classes. Let’s take interest inventories early in the year and use them to plan for the students’ independent reading and writing work. I envision all of their language arts projects to be cross-curricular, based on their unique interests. For example, my own son has been exploring everything in the water since he could walk. So, when choosing a person to study in his biography unit, he chose Steve Irwin, who to him, had the dream job. But what if we mandated this kind of focus? What if we held the kids accountable for their book choices and essay topics? My son could also do a non-fiction piece comparing Floridian to Alaskan marine life. He could draft a how-to on seining in Chincoteague Bay. The point is all of his reading, writing and critical thinking is geared toward his career-readiness interests. It is not “extra,” but rather a requirement. Have students read “deeper” into a topic. For example, if a child loves baseball, reading requirements could be fulfilled by reading a baseball player’s biography, an informational on a baseball team and a how-to on batting or pitching.
Secondly, let’s further investigate PHLAG for our social sciences. We all have heard of mock trial teams and mock United Nations. Once again, these are considered extracurricular, but what if they were just curricular? Isn’t that true “career readiness?
Let’s find the next great orators and debaters and attorneys. Let the students read and write about some of the great explorers and geographers. I am appalled at the lack of geographical knowledge our students have. A colleague of mine recently began an online activity with her class called “Mystery Skype.” The teachers set up a time to Skype and the kids have different roles to be actively researching and formulating questions to guess where the other class is in the United States. How awesome would that be for New Jersey’s fourth-grade geography classes? And high school world cultures classes?
Speaking of cultures, what about endorsing and supporting our next ambassadors and missionaries? What do we do to encourage world travel, geography sense and cultural knowledge? Surely we could harness social media and device-driven communication to deeply broaden cultural horizons. But that takes time and devices and, yes, sometimes money. But wouldn’t that be true career readiness for some of our students? We need to put the money where we say we are testing. If public education is finally serious about career-driven curriculum and assessment, we need to revamp what is considered extracurricular to actual curricular.
Finally, we need to address the scheduling dilemma that is making our students from K-12 science- and history-starved. A recent meeting in my history department began with all of our elementary schools confessing the time allotted for science and social studies. It ranged from 35 minutes twice a week to 45 minutes several times a week. If there is that much discrepancy within one district, imagine across the entire state! Math, science, law, politics and technology ARE the future careers of our students and we need our scheduling priorities to reflect that, or the PARCC is just another hypocritical piece of education. This doesn’t just include juggling these STEM and PHLAG courses to the front of the scheduling line, but also scheduling in time for us, the educators, to collaborate and plan between departments. Sound like PDP to anyone? It’s true that the public won’t always believe what you say – they will believe what you do, and what education needs to do in this century is readjust the focus and depth of students’ curricula to better reflect the 21st-century work force. Who’s all in?