Byron's Babbles

Matching School Work To Real Work

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Leadership, science education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 7, 2015


Andy’s Baling Equipment

Last week I had the annual pleasure of being at the county fair showing dairy cows with my son. The other great part of the week is being able to visit with friends and former students. One visit I look forward to every year is from former student, Andy Clark and his family. I had him in Fundamentals of Agriculture Science and Business and Welding Technology the first year I was at Lebanon starting the Agriculture Science program. Andy is a 2005 graduate of Lebanon High School. I love catching up with him each year and hearing about all of his successes, family, and latest learning. 

I have to give a little background on Andy for context. He is, and was as a student, extremely intelligent. The challenge for Andy was that he did not find most of school relevant. He grew up on a farm and is now a partner in that family farm. Andy is one of the reasons I have done so much research on teaching science in the relevant context of agriculture. Andy’s mother and I had many a conversation about her concern for Andy graduating. That concern had nothing to do with ability, and all to with him not finding relevancy in school. He did not want to be there! He wanted to be home getting on with his life as an agribusinessman.

In contrast, Andy excelled in the classes I had him for. In fact, on a final presentation about welding, Andy said he and his partner could go into such detail he could take the whole 90 minute block class to do the demonstration. I told him if he could, and the content was great, I would give him an automatic “A.” Well, you guessed it, he got the “A!” He and his partner even bought Reese Cups to give out to classmates for correctly answered questions – now that’s student engagement. Interestingly, teachers would ask how I could get him involved and so engaged in class. It really didn’t have much to do with me, but more to do with the fact that school work in my classes matched real work in Andy’s world – Agriculture. Again, as I said earlier, Andy just wanted school to be over so he could get on with his life of farming.

Andy was not alone. Most students need the relevant connection of their real world, their school world, and their virtual world. Education exists in the larger context of society. When society changes – so too must education, if it is to remain viable. The latest movement to college and career readiness attempts to do just this. Although the phrase “college and career readiness” has become increasingly popular among federal, state, and local education agencies as well as a number of foundations and professional organizations, it can be challenging to define precisely. In today’s economy, a “career” is not just a job. A career provides a family sustaining wage and pathways to advancement and requires postsecondary training or education. A job may be obtained with only a high school diploma but offers no guarantee of advancement or mobility. Being ready for a career means that a high school graduate has the English and mathematics knowledge and skills needed to qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e., technical/vocational program, community college, apprenticeship, or significant on-the-job training).

The point of this post is that Andy has gone on to become a successful businessman. Of course, readiness for college and careers depends on more than English and mathematics knowledge; to be successful after high school, all graduates must possess the knowledge, habits, and skills that can only come from a rigorous, rich, and well-rounded high school curriculum. I would also add work ethic and a commitment to lifelong learning to the list. I know that Andy works very hard every day. I also know Andy is committed to learning and professional growth. I was so proud last week to hear him say, “Knowledge is power.” Andy went on to say he was shocked at how much time he spent studying on his smartphone. He said, “I’ll sit down at night and start reading about something I want to study and the next thing I know it is 4:00 in the morning.” I just wish we would have done a better job tapping that learning behavior while Andy was in school. Once again proof that we must continue to connect school work to real work for optimal student engagement and career readiness.  
 I was just blown away by the detail of our conversation about Andy’s latest venture in the alfalfa hay business. Growing alfalfa is intense. For maximum returns, alfalfa producers must strive to: 1) establish good stands, 2) maintain high yields, 3) maintain quality forage, 4) determine optimal stand life, and 5) use efficient marketing practices. Recognizing these goals is one thing, but making it all happen on the farm is not for the faint of heart. We talked in detail about each of the five areas and the conferences, workshops, consultants, and smartphone learning that Andy was taking part in to become the top of his craft. I’ve got to tell you; I am so proud of this young man! He is an exemplar of student success.

Really, I wish we would just talk “student success” as opposed to just college and career readiness or any other terms that people want to add. Student success is a better way to look at it because the ultimate goal is to have our students learning to learn. We must recognize that youth will choose their own paths in life, with some young people charging forward on a traditional four- year college pathway and others moving equally quickly to pathways that are more technically or occupationally oriented. For a student to be successful, they must be able to learn, apply, and adapt in all subject areas. In order to engage the Andy Clark’s of our classrooms we must integrate higher-order thinking skills and real world problem solving into core subjects making learning more rigorous, relevant, and engaging. Both core subject knowledge and skills are necessary for readiness in college, work, and life. Preparing all students with content knowledge and essential skills will empower them to meet new global demands. Thus, setting our students up for SUCCESS.

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  1. […] I blogged about last year’s visit in “Matching School Work To Real Work.” Click here to read that […]


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