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Examples of Academic Learning through Career Awareness

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The elementary school's self-contained classroom allows numerous objectives to be pursued simultaneously. Several of career education's components can be combined with the subject matter of a number of academic disciplines in a single project. Since examples of what does or could exist are limitless, a few will suffice. The most successful will be those a particular teacher develops or adapts to the needs of specific students in their environment.

A Georgia project seeks to combine the subject matter of health, math, and English with the career education goals of career awareness and academic skills acquisition. For instance, children are video-taped while role-playing the simulated activities of admitting tonsillectomy patients to the hospital. With a "set" established in the classroom, children make blood tests and take x rays, chart vital information and prescribe medication, calm and reassure patient, prep for operation, discuss with fellow "surgeons" a plan by indicating location of surgery on anatomical charts. Actors proceed through recovery room to the patient's room where parents and toys are waiting. Every child has a part to play... in pre-drama research, building sets, obtaining "tools," enacting roles. They show the tapes to other classes and to their hospital "advocate" team for critique and validation.

In Maryland, teams of two students each selected a two-person team of workers (in the school these could be found in the office, in the boiler room, and in the cafeteria; in the home, these could be found in the parents who are involved in repainting the living room, laying carpet tiles, paying monthly bills, etc.) located in school, home, or larger community (here the students could visit local businesses, banks, and warehouses). One student would record each evidence of a math skill or concept being used or discussed, while the other student would record each evidence of occupationally related vocabulary (e.g., blueprints, ledgers, bank statements, carburetors, etc.). Their report to the class summarized the proportions of math and vocabulary skills "used" in each occupation.

After observing the people working in a local bank, Maryland children returned to set up a classroom prototype which rotated them in specific roles of teller, loan officer, accountant, president, security officer, etc. They established a "token" system based on task completion, and used the bank as a repository. The children were instructed on the use of a checkbook so that they might keep records of deposits or withdrawals. Tokens withdrawn were spent on class "privileges" such as independent projects, visits to library or other classrooms, voluntary assistance to school personnel on the grounds or in buildings. Children wishing to draw tokens from an "overdrawn" account were interviewed by the loan officer who, with the "president's" signature, loaned tokens in exchange for a promissory note stating a specific future service by the borrower.

The values of language, art, math, and drama can be combined with career awareness, academic skill acquisition and human relations skills by asking children to communicate in silence for one full day by using cards of various colors and shapes to request things of one another and the teacher. On the next day, have the children imagine that they are in a foreign country and do not speak the language, yet are forbidden to pantomime their needs. Present a panel of a commercial artist, a sign painter, a cartoonist, and a portrait artist and let the students question each of them as to how they would help "strangers" find what they wanted. Follow up by having students conduct a silent day for the entire school, using directional signs, numbers, colors, and free art. Write results and send copies to the state roads commission, hospitals, recreation and parks department, locally franchised motels, and newspapers.

An Iowa project drew upon family living for its potential in relating school and work behaviors and skills. Fifth and sixth grade classes were divided into families of three to six members who assessed their own social and skill incomes over a six-month period. Each family was given a proportionate monthly capital from which to operate. From this, the family members determined actuarial minimums of fixed expenses (e.g., housing, taxes, utilities, insurance, etc.) and varying expenses (transportation or car payments, food, recreation, clothing, etc.). Research determined appropriate costs while teaching computation and such concepts as averaging. Capital was deposited in the class "bank" which was operated by four students on a two-month rotating basis. After payment for fixed expenses was made, student families made decisions on how they could allocate varying expenses, spend surplus (if any), and supplement "income" if it was insufficient to support the lifestyles of its members. Monthly income was increased as a reward for desirable school behaviors.

Deficit spending was arranged to occur through one or both of two circumstances; e.g., overspending of baseline income and the teacher-imposed crisis or problem of hospitalization, emergency repair, etc., drawn from a stack of cards indicating cases. Families had then to decide whether to create a product to increase income, to perform a "service" for which other families could write a check, or to increase the rewarded behaviors.

The direct association of this suggested theme to all subject matters, to authentic illustrations of future social and economic realities, and to numerous careers which must be investigated in order to establish minimums of survival and maximums of leisure and recreational options has tremendous implication for the elementary school curriculum. Perhaps even more important is the unpredicted learning which will occur when classroom "families" faced with bankruptcy ask their neighbors to respond to creative new services or products. The response of these neighbors-whether conserving through refusing, bartering, suggesting a family merger, or perhaps even overextending their sympathies-can be the occasion for much student insight and learning.

Valuing, knowing, and changing the environment has been the approach found most useful to the staff and students of an elementary school in rural Maryland. Teachers who were assigned to a new open space school emerged from a summer workshop experience with specific statistics about their new student body. They learned that these youngsters perceived themselves as situationally bound to inherit the occupations of their parents, and that these occupations were limited, with a few exceptions, to a handful of agribusiness careers. The teachers also learned that the open school concept requires an almost total readjustment of instructional methodology. In combining these factors with their commitment to an investigation of career education's implications for total curriculum, they resolved upon the logical extension of the open school into the physical environment around it.

Behind the school ran a sizable stream whose banks were rapidly eroding. Not only was the safety of the children a primary concern, the natural beauty of the setting was being threatened by months of neglect. When school began, so did the "Stream Bank" project, which was the genesis of the students' motto: "Stabilize, improve, and learn from the natural world." The plan was drawn up by a task force of teachers, students, and representatives from both local and distant businesses, agencies, and environmental protection groups. From the beginning, students were involved in the design of an outdoor ecology center which was to be the visible result of year-long effort. While other children studied blueprints obtained from the local board of education and were instructed in survey techniques by a local firm, younger children took pictures of the grounds from all angles in order to present a slide-tape to the first PTA meeting scheduled for the fall term.

Meanwhile the state's soil conservation agency representative made recommendations for priority activity in the stream bank's stabilization. Each of these activities was bid upon by the student groups. Options were carefully designed to be appropriate for the maturation levels of the groups, as well as coordinated with the use of basic academic competencies being addressed. Math, science, language arts, social studies, health, physical education, art, and music assignments were all melded around the environmental project. Career awareness and human relations skills were also emphasized.

These beginning activities were jumping off points for students and staff. As the year progressed and concluded, the vision of a major environmental change was indeed realized. But it is important to note that a visitor today would find more than physical changes around the school. Students who are able to see and touch the rewards of inquiry and involvement in curriculum decisions are also capable of extending their horizons beyond an immediate community's configuration of future career roles. Every school and every teacher who opens these doors for young people must also accept the consequence of their going through them-for few will wish to go back.

These approaches can be effective motivations for children, but might pose a problem for those teachers who fear that extensive curriculum modification would have to precede them. To virtually "scrap" existing curriculum guides-and some of these are extremely well done-may be anathema to some teachers. To others, the challenge of customizing existing curriculum to the needs and interests of their students-while still retaining primary focus on the acquisition of basic skills-may represent a welcome freedom from the national norms used by textbook publishers. However, it will be the teachers' own projects, combining elementary education and career education objectives, which will provide that challenge. For that, the process of building career education curriculum must be explored.
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