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Simulated Work Experience

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There is only so much that students can learn about the nature of work through such vicarious experiences as reading, observing, and listening to others. Like learning to swim, learning to work must be experienced in order to become personally meaningful to the student. Increasingly, elementary school children find it difficult to experience work in settings outside the school. Knowing that work values will be developed during the elementary school years, more and more elementary school teachers are attempting to help their students experience work through some kind of simulated activity that takes place largely within the school setting.

The simplest and most traditional approach is to create a series of specified "jobs to do" within the classroom, and assign students to each job on some kind of rotating basis. Such "work tasks" as passing out workbooks, taking roll, directing traffic within the building, supervising playground time, picking up class assignment papers, and keeping the coat closets neat and orderly are examples of kinds of work that are typically assigned elementary students.

Where this approach is used, there is little direct time taken from instructional activities per se. While some elementary teachers have viewed this as an advantage, it in fact represents a potential danger. That is, simply to assign work tasks in no way guarantees that students develop any real concepts regarding the nature of work. They may simply feel that the teacher is taking advantage of them. Thus it is important, if this is the approach to be used, that the teacher take time to make sure that students understand that they are demonstrating, through their actions, such basic work concepts as the social significance of work, the interdependence of workers on one another, the necessity for workers to cooperate with one another, the importance of completing assignments on time, the principle of worker responsibility for carrying out assignments, and the way in which each worker contributes to some broader objective than can be seen from viewing only the specific work tasks assigned to him. The skillful elementary school teacher will find many opportunities to emphasize and reinforce such basic principles again and again during a school year. How frequently they should be emphasized depends upon how often students appear to forget them as they perform (or fail to perform) specific work assignments.

A more sophisticated approach to simulated work experience is the "product outcome" technique oriented around a "company" formed by the students. This approach asks the teacher to help the children think of a product or a service they wish to produce or offer, organize the management-worker system required, assign various students to different roles in the "company," actually "manufacture" the product (using assembly-line techniques), package it in some form, and then make it available either to students within the school or to persons outside the school. Such an approach is not only more authentic but, in addition, allows students to explore the nature of a wide variety of occupations.

Examples of "products" that have been "manufactured" in projects of this nature include puzzles, wall plaques, artificial flower arrangements, note pads, doll clothes, silk screened posters, and games of various sorts. In some cases, special industrial arts equipment, including hammers, saws, drills, and planers, are required. (There are a number of companies now producing such equipment, with a variety of safety devices built in, that come in portable units for use in elementary schools.) In such "companies," students play a wide variety of work roles, including those of both management and labor.

Students on the assembly line may actually experience the boredom and frustration that comes with repetitious tasks. The personnel management staff can actually see how the making of various personnel decisions affects worker morale and plant productivity. All students can recognize the interdependence of one worker on another, the importance of completing assignments on time, the rewards associated with quality production, and the waste that accompanies slipshod work. In some schools, this type of project has been carried to the point where "stock" is sold, with the various "stockholders" receiving dividends on their investment at the end of the project-depending upon the success found in marketing the product. Where several teachers in a single building are using this approach, competing companies may be established that add a still further note of realism to the entire simulation effort.

Many other hands-on activities for elementary school students increase career awareness and sometimes self-awareness, as well as enhancing human relations skills and aiding academic skill acquisition, even though not directly simulating work activities. Children in West Virginia construct "experience" charts of one working adult in their family after taping interviews at home. These charts depict the sequence of career choices that an adult has made through either the free drawings of the child, snapshots from the family album, or a magazine illustration of that activity being done by another adult. The year that the family member was born is noted, as are the dates of subsequent career changes. Children then begin to construct their own charts, noting their current interests and hopes on the dates they occur, adding understanding to both a single career pattern and increasing self-awareness.

A career awareness program built around the stimulus provided by a television series created and shown locally in Memphis permits children to react to broad career clusters of health, transportation, construction, etc., as they are accurately-represented in the local community. Each tele-lesson guide provides gaming situations, vocabulary development through spelling bees, crossword puzzles, riddles, or mathematic applications derived from the work of familiar adults in the community, thus providing career awareness and academic skills acquisition. Included also is the recognition and use of simple tools in role simulation activities which can be accommodated in the classroom.

In Nebraska, children build a wall mural depicting their "models" for community workers who by using snapshots of people whom the children recognize and who are involved in these roles. The children string "lines" from the snapshots to local addresses or telephone numbers which are taped beneath each photo. A byproduct of the hands-on experience is self-awareness as well as career awareness.

Primary grade teachers attending a Maryland State Education Conference on Career Education were urged to scout the community for the contents of "prop" boxes containing the clothes and tools of parents or other known adults working in broad career areas within the accessible community.1SUsing discarded beer cartons to hold the identifiable costumes, they could secure the assistance of both those workers and the students in filling and decorating each box for role-playing in the classroom. Topping of each box were self-addressed postcards and telephone numbers of each worker the prop boxes represented. These individuals were later used by the children to authenticate their classroom dramatizations.

A multilingual population of elementary school children in New York City are communicating with each other and with the working adults who live around them through the agency of career awareness learning modules published by the New York Times, at the request of a Bronx school district's Career Resource Center. Each child is able to respond to adult autobiographies, exercises in the estimation of the worker-personality characteristics requisite in real and local careers, practice in the reading, writing, and vocabulary skills related to success in broad skill areas, questionnaires whose results will be later published in the same modules, and opportunities to express themselves through cartooning, "advertising," poll-taking, poetry, etc. Each "lesson" utilizes all the languages with which the child is familiar while combining career awareness and academic skill acquisition.

After sixth grade Maryland students have visited a nearby hospital's pediatric wing, or an institute for handicapped or disturbed youngsters, they plan with their teacher and the resource people in the feeder junior high school to create four items which will brighten the surroundings of these children. Girls and boys work together in the nearby junior high school's home economics and industrial arts laboratories with their experienced older peers who are already involved in a career studies program. For three hours a week, they work on brightly colored stuffed animals and pillows, wall plaques, yoyos, blocks, colorful pop-art posters, etc. "Delivery" day is the beginning of a continuing relationship with children less fortunate than they. The project combines self-awareness, career awareness, and human relations skills.

There are two prime difficulties encountered in a project-oriented, work simulation approach in the elementary school. The first is the necessity for equipment and materials to produce the desired products. Given a clear knowledge of the kinds of things that will be available, the good teacher can devise and plan a project that will usually get around this difficulty. The second and more serious difficulty is in devising project activities in which the basic academic skills of reading, communication, social studies, math, science, art, and music can all be increased as a natural part of the project. That is, unless conscious and conscientious attempts are made to avoid this difficulty, it is easy to wind up with a situation where the project appears to be a goal in itself. This is not consistent with those goals of career education related to increasing academic motivation. The teacher must plan the total project in ways that each of the skills is taught at an appropriate time and place at various points in the total project. It is also valuable to emphasize these activities which relate service to product; e.g., the manufacture of soft toys for infants could be the beginning of a school's adoption of a foundling home nearby.
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