Byron's Babbles

“Sticky” Learning

Screen Shot 2020-08-26 at 11.35.50 AMI made the comment last week that relevance makes the learning “sticky.” This really caught on and caused quite a bit of discussion. As an old Agriculture Science teacher I have preached about using relevant and real-world contexts for facilitating learning for years. In fact, I even wrote a book about it: The Hand In The Back of  The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life. This book is all about how we (four agriculture science teachers at one school) went about teaching science in the relevant context of agriculture. The great part of the story is the statistically significant impact leading learning in a relevant context had on student learning. In other words, there was proof that relevance makes learning “sticky.”

41mQxC0XQNL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_In the book I state, “It has always been my belief that there are three worlds that a student exists and learns in; school world, real world, and virtual world. While these three worlds can be drawn as three separate circles, I believe that for true learning to take place we must, as educators, help connect the circles for them. This means finding a way to facilitate learning in a way in which the student uses real world contexts where the student plays an active role” (location 320 on Kindle). Right now, during the Global Pandemic (we are in day 165) we have some real opportunities to make use of these world colliding. I wrote about this yesterday in When Worlds Collide. I also argued in the book that, “…facilitating learning in a relevant context enables the work to be student centered and for there to be a connection made between the student’s real world and school world for learning” (location 331 on Kindle). This connection is what makes the learning so “sticky.”

“We have to make sure that all our students have access to these kinds of challenging and hands-on activities. Although much of the focus has been on the new technology that is fueling the maker movement, even more important are the values, dispositions and skills that it fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and “hard fun.” ~ Secretary of Education, John King Jr.

I proposed at time of writing the book and would still advance six ideas for improving learning (Ernest, 2016):

  1. Knowing what the end product needs to be before practicing the parts
  2. Study content and apply it to authentic real world predictable and unpredictable problems/issues
  3. Applied learning opportunities must be afforded to the students
  4. Students must participate in active exploration of real world problems
  5. There must be opportunities for students to make adult connections
  6. We must make schoolwork more like real work and real life.

If we intentionally use the six ideas, we will make the learning be what former Secretary of Education, John King Jr. called “hard fun.” The nature of using relevant contexts makes the learning more rigorous. I love the term “hard fun” over rigor. If our students are learning to adapt what they have learned by addressing real world situations they will be more motivated and the learning will stick with them.

The bottom line is that education can be inspiring for our students. I believe agriculture education has an important place in creating a real world context for our students to learn in. I also believe that there are many ways for cross-curricular collaboration to be done in all subjects. At the very least, we have an obligation to our students to find ways to give our students hands-on, real life lessons that answer the questions of the hand in the back of the room and make the learning sticky for our students.

 

❤️ Kids Having Ownership!

IMG_7814This past week I had the honor of doing a day long professional development for teachers from all schools corporations in Elkhart County, Indiana. I am representing Noble Education Initiative carrying out this customized professional development. This was part of an ongoing Project Based Learning partnership created by Horizon Education Alliance to bring business/industry and education together to best educate students. I love doing professional development workshops, particularly when they are on topics that I am passionate about. Project Based Learning (PBL) is one of those topics. It is also energizing to be with a group of educators who are very engaged. Groups like this always remind me and validate what Gallup® finds teachers value in question 12 of the Gallup Q12 Index©: “In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?” These teachers have been given this opportunity and very much value the opportunity, and are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow.

The group last week was both passionate and engaged. We started the day with what I called “Level Setting.” I had them work in pairs to talk about their PBL experience now that we were half way through the school year. I wanted them to talk about what they had learned, “wow” moments, what they still had questions about, and what they still needed help with. They were to represent this on a tear sheet and put it up on the wall. Here are a few of the tear sheets that were put up:

Did you see the comment “❤️Kids Having Ownership”? That’s what this is all about. The next few paragraphs will dig into that a little deeper.

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Aubri Mosness with her students

We then had everyone individually do a gallery walk and pick one thing that stood out to them. This was an awesome discussion when the group came back together. There were questions like, “who wrote… I would like to know more,” or “I had that same experience because…,” or “I am so glad you wrote that because that same thing happened to us, and we are still trying to figure out…” You get the idea. One comment really stood out to me during this discussion; It was by Goshen High School Teacher, Aubri Mosness. She said, “I have felt the transition from me doing most of the work to the students doing most of the work. At first I was a little uncomfortable because I felt like I was doing much, but then I realized how much the students were getting out of it.” I was so excited by this. This is such a revelation in teaching. Great teaching should have the students doing most of the work. She was truly facilitating with a student managed classroom and the students have student agency and choice.

Then, at lunch Ms. Mosness’ students presented to the whole group and business/industry representatives that had joined us, on their project and I led a little Q&A. The students were incredible. During the presentation Ms. Mosness commented, “When I give my students too much, too much information, too much guidance, I am taking away opportunities for learning.” This was a drop the mic opportunity as far as I was concerned. The students all concurred. I then asked the students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on the following question: “School work should look more like real work?” All six students gave me a thumbs up. Our students deserve to learn in an environment that is facilitated in a real world and relevant context.

61NlMeJ8eMLThese students were giving first hand testimony affirming the research I did for my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life.” In the book I talk about that the hand in the back of the room was mine, and probably yours too, that was raised wanting to know why I needed to learn what I was being taught. In other words school work must be connected to real life. This is why PBL is so great. Using PBL teaching principles will make school work look and feel like real work. In other words, the question from “the hand in the back of the room is answered as to why she needs to learn what she is being taught. When teachers are allowed to make student learning the ultimate test of facilitation of learning, then instruction improves to produce better learning. The results of my research showed improved achievement/performance in science when students are taught in a relevant context. For me that context was agriculture, but there many other real world contexts to be used. This is why the partnerships with business/industry is so important for our students. The challenge to all of us in education is to find ways to make learning visible by connecting school work and real life for the students we serve.

Durability of Expectations

IMG_5030In a meeting I was a part of this week we developed a phrase that has caused me to do a lot of thinking: “Durability of expectations.” Our work was in the context of thinking about student success, outcomes, and what the profile of an Indiana high school graduate should look like. I like to combine all of this and talk about student success outcomes. Success looks different for all students and some students have not really had an opportunity to have success modeled for them or even know what success can look like. I have often said that it is ludicrous, in some cases, to ask our students what they want to be or do in life because they have not had the opportunity learn what all is out there. That is why I believe it is so important to make sure we are doing a great job of career exposure, career exploration, and career navigation for all students. We need to career coach our kids.

Success: “Knowing what one wants in the world and knowing how to get it.” ~ Dr. Felice Kaufman

We must make sure we are giving our students the opportunity to innovate, be creative, and take risks. This will help them to persevere, adapt, and develop a growth mindset and begin to understand lifelong learning. We need to help our kids understand what is out there and that getting where they want to go will be a non-linear process in many cases. Most of the career paths those of us in the baby boomer age are characterized of having relative stability. The career paths for today’s students are now times of discovery, restlessness, and exploration. The last I read, boomers will switch jobs 11 times during our lifetime, but millenials and younger will not only switch careers but change entire career trajectories. Therefore, the modern career trajectory isn’t necessarily a climb to a destination, but rather a continuum.

illustration-playground-climber_superdomeWe will need to offer solutions to our students that help them understand and give them the opportunity to skill, re-skill, and up-skill as they embark on their non-linear career paths. This is why I am such a believer that we must begin to identify the transferable skills our students. These skills, according to employers, hold much more weight than the traditional way of looking at academic records or even work history. Life is not linear, it is more like a Jungle Jim, so we need to make sure we are facilitating learning for our students that gives them the transferable skills to have durable expectations of what they can do. In other words, our students can have a lasting expectation that they have the skills to start and understand how to stay skilled to make the desired career moves that become available. Even if our students take a non-linear path in life, if they have credentials and transferable skills they will have what is needed to provide the on and off ramps to whatever career moves come available. This will give durability to the expectations our students have as they move through life and professional careers.

The old adage that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards is true, but we need to give our students the ability to zigzag. By preparing students through career coaching, exploration, work based learning, and transferable skills and credentials we will add durability to the expectations of our students and their parents. We have an obligation to make sure our students are prepared to see and be prepared to seize the opportunities no matter how unconventional or surprising.

 

Using A Different Runway To Help Students Take Off To New Heights

This morning as I was trying to fly home from Charlotte, North Carolina, the pilot came on and said there would be a slight delay. Because of the storm that was Hurricane Michael, we were going to have to use a runway that they usually do not use. He told us we would be using the runway going to the northeast, whereas typically the north/south runways are used. They would need 15 minutes to recalculate takeoff speeds, routes when in the air, et cetera. I was cool with it as long as we got in the air, headed north, and away from the storm.

As you know, I love metaphors, analogies, and similes; so here we go: I compared this to how, as teachers, we must constantly be making adjustments. We are constantly having to recalculate for our students and use new runways. We regroup students based on data, we spiral in new material based on mastery, we develop ways to maintain the proficiencies already mastered. Adjusting and recalculating instruction also means providing more opportunities for students to learn successfully based on information you gather such as their interests, work habits, motivation and learning styles and academic performance. Doing this on a consistent basis helps refine instruction so they can succeed.

Great teachers are those who know their students abilities, know the students proficiency of standards, and then use that information to determine how and what they will teach. They use educational standards and differentiation to guide instruction, while constantly focusing on 1) what the students know, and 2) what objectives (or steps) they need to take) to fulfill their goals. They focus on what the students can do today. How about you; Are you recalculating for a different runway for the success of your students?

Employers Need To Know What To Expect

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 4.43.46 PMIn meetings this past week a theme developed: Employers need to know what to expect. This was referring to the fact that employers need to know what to expect that students coming to work for them will know. As I have continued my work, as an Indiana State Board of Education member and Chair of the Indiana Graduation Pathways, I am spending a great deal of time with employers, learning the employee skill needs. It is abundantly clear there is a skills gap, but I do not believe it is insurmountable. I believe the answer is to identify those transferable skills and competencies that every student needs. Additionally, the transferable skills and competencies needed for specific trades need to be identified.

Even though the study dealt with college students, The Chronicle For Higher Education reported on a study that dealt with the question of “The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates.” What the study found was that employers really value experiences outside of academics: Internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurriculars. I have to believe this would also apply to high school graduates. From the many employers I have visited with, I would have to say that these things do apply to high school students. Maybe even more!

Below is the graph of the results from what employers want:

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One of the pieces of our Indiana Graduation Pathways we were very explicit about was the need for Work Based Learning and Project Based Learning. Just so we are on the same page, Work Based Learning is an educational strategy that provides students with real-life and real-world work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop their employability skills in a relevant context. Work-based learning encompasses a wide array of learning experiences, from exposing high school students to careers through activities like job shadowing, to providing incumbent workers with specialized training. Work-based learning extends into the workplace through on-the-job training, mentoring, and other supports in a continuum of lifelong learning and skill development. I really want to highlight the point of lifelong learning. We really need to get out of the fixed mindset that the pathway everyone should take is to graduate high school and go straight to a four year college/university. This is not for everyone and Work Based Learning can help provide an avenue for our students.

Work Based Learning is at its most powerful when experiences advance along a sequential, purposeful continuum. Experiences along the continuum are increasingly personalized and aligned with specific industries and occupations, providing participants with opportunities to contextualize what they learn and build their skills and knowledge. This also can provide the employer with a pipeline of employees that have been trained in their own environment and on their own equipment. In this setting employers know exactly what they are getting.

Even beyond the Work Based Learning, however, employers need to know what to expect from the students that will become their future employees. We need to partner with employers to develop transferable skills and competencies that all students need to know. We really need to take a step back and fully develop what every high school needs to know when he/she graduates. Make no mistake, I am not saying students do not need math, English, and the other cores we always discuss, but that there is more. Employers need to know what to expect from the future employees, that are our students. We need to listen and make sure what employers expect is what employers get. Furthermore we must also make sure our students know what to expect they will be expected to know when entering the workplace.

 

Pathways to Success after High School

A high school diploma no longer is the finish line—it’s now the starting line. Job growth and trends over the past 10 years have shown about 95 percent of jobs require some education after high school.

Recognizing that Indiana must offer more than a one-size-fits-all standardized test, the Indiana General Assembly took action to provide meaningful pathways for Hoosiers’ success. In the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers directed the Indiana State Board of Education to modify Indiana’s graduation requirements, ensuring students are better prepared to enter a new economy. The goal was simple: offer pathways that provide relevancy for students and better prepare them for life after high school.

Later that year, the State Board approved what is now known as Indiana’s Graduation Pathways. During this process, the State Board collaborated with national and state experts while engaging students, parents and educators on how to effectively deliver lasting value to all students through their education journey.

To complete a pathway, a student must take several actions, including fulfilling Indiana’s course requirements and completing an employability experience by applying classwork to real-world situations. This could include completion of an independent research project, participating in meaningful civic engagement or having a part-time job, apprenticeship or internship. Students must also choose a benchmark that best suits their career goals, such as taking the SAT or ACT to attend college, completing the ASVAB to join the military or earning a state-and-industry recognized credential or certification to join the workforce. Selecting and completing a pathway ensures students are better prepared to transition from high school to college, the workforce or the military.

While Graduation Pathways won’t be a requirement until the class of 2023 – this year’s eighth graders – some Indiana schools are implementing Graduation Pathways right now. In these school districts, parents and educators can have conversations with their students about an individualized graduation plan that provides students a relevant education, prepares them for the global economy fuels a desire for lifelong learning. Parents should have conversations with their local school officials to determine the implementation timeline at their child’s school.

Using Graduation Pathways allows Hoosier students to transition from high school into life’s next steps. Together, we’ll raise the bar for our state’s future workforce, so that today’s students will graduate with the relevant skills needed to compete in a global economy.

Meaningful Learning On A Lobster Boat

This week while spending time with the family on the coast of Maine I was reminded how important, meaningful and experiential learning experience are – for both adults and young scholars alike. I had the opportunity to get us aboard a commercial lobster boat in Rockland Harbor, Maine. Yes, this was no site-seeing cruise, it was an actual experience on the boat checking, emptying, and re-baiting lobster traps. Even though we were on vacation, I always want there to be some family learning experiences. That same morning we had stopped and spent time in Brunsick, Maine at Bowdoin College learning more about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. You can click here to read my blog post about that experience entitled, Independence Day Leadership Lessons From Maine & Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Hope, Heath, and I all love lobster, but knew nothing about how they were harvested or the industry of getting them from ocean to table. I knew a little bout their life cycle and had blogged about it in Leading Like A Lobster, but other than that I was ready to be a sponge for learning. We started off by learning that the different lobsterwomen and lobstermen have an area assigned with their special license for harvesting lobsters, and in our case, our lobsterman had the ability to put out 800 lobster traps; or lobster pots as they are often called. We also learned that each lobster boat has their own buoy colors, much like horse racing silks, to identify his or her lobster traps. We were looking for white buoys with a black stripe, and orange fin (see picture) attached to the lobster traps. We really didn’t have to look, though, the captain had the all entered in his GPS.

Lobster traps are interestingly designed tools of the trade. The first “room” the lobster enters is the “kitchen” where lobster-enticing bait is hung. Bait may be fresh or salted fish on a line or tied in a hanging bag. After the lobster enters the kitchen, it grabs a piece of bait with its claw and begins maneuvering towards an exit. It is difficult to go out the way it entered due to the design of the funnel. As the lobster continues seeking an exit, it passes through another funnel leading to the “parlor” or “bedroom” in the rear of the trap. Here, the larger lobsters become trapped.

Once a buoy is located, the trap is pulled up using a motorized pulley system. Click play and see my video I made of this process below this paragraph. If lobsters are in the trap they must be measured using a special tool. Lobsters must be 3 1/4″ from the head to the base of the body (where the tail starts). Lobsters that are big enough are thrown in the holding cooler and ones that are too small are thrown back. The lobster trap is then re-baited and sent back down to the bottom. In our case we were using Herring that our lobsterman gets from his wholesaler who buys his lobsters. These are fish that have died or do not meet the grade to make to retail. Nothing is wasted out there.

The keeper lobsters, which are usually anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds with some weighing up to 2 pounds, then have their claws bands so they do not harm the other lobsters, or us. To see the banding process, click play on the video I made of being taught how to band the claws below:

It was so awesome to be out on the water learning this business. At the time we were there the lobsters were going through ecdysis (molting). To learn about this read my post Leading Like A Lobster. We learned that those lobsters beginning the process of losing their shell to go through another growth spurt have soft shells. To see if they are hard or soft shelled you hold the lobster between your thumb and forefinger like I am doing in the picture. The hard shelled lobsters are hard as a rock. The soft shelled lobsters are soft and pliable. These soft shelled lobsters are desirable to many because the meat is much sweeter. In fact at the retail lobster places they will ask if you want soft or hard shelled lobsters. Note that the lobsters we brought home were all soft shelled. And…they were outstanding!

The lobsterman then brought his catch back to the dock after checking the traps. Our lobster tries to check about 1/3 to 1/2 of his traps every day. Many check all traps every day. The lobsters can then be sold directly to customers that come to the docks to by directly from the lobster boats (our lobsterman comes in at specific times each day, so regular customers can come and check his catch) or to wholesalers who then sell to restaurants, stores, or retail lobster outlets. Many of the wholesalers have retail outlets up and down the coast as well. The tricky part is that lobsters need to be kept alive till they are prepared. This is why lobster is expensive to buy in a restaurant or retail outlet. There is a considerable margin between buying live lobsters direct off the boat and from a retail outlet. For example, live lobsters off the boat were going for $6.00 per pound and lobster meat in the retail outlets was going for $39.99 per pound. Live lobsters at the Maine retail outlet are $15.00-25.00 per lobster. Most of the retail outlets here in Maine have live lobsters and lobster meat that has been already taken from the shell (pulled) available.

We were able to select three lobsters out of the holding cooler to bring home for our dinner. Hope steamed them perfectly, and boy were they awesome. We literally had the ocean to table experience – first hand!

As you can see, lobstering is quite the industry. We were so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend the day serving as apprentices to the business. We learned so much more by actually being immersed (no pun intended) in the business. It is so important that we find ways for our students to have these kinds of experiences. Whether through true apprenticeship programs, or through internships, or through one day field trip type experiences like we had. Experiential and hands-on learning is so much more meaningful than any other way we can learn.

Learning By Playing Like Kittens

Those of you who know me well, know that I really value my time in the barn in the morning. For some reason I can be working along giving bottles to babies, milking cows, or washing heifers, and at the same time, be thinking and reflecting on a lot of things. This morning I became entranced while watching a new litter of kittens romping and playing. They would go from one end of the barn to the other and then became totally into playing on a feed pallet we had leaned up against a grooming chute. They would climb, jump, and knock each other off. Such fun!

I began to think about all the things learned while playing. I also thought about how important it is for us to make learning fun for both our student and adult learners. Here is what kittens learn from playing, according to iheartcats:

6 Life Skills Kittens Learn By Playing With Each Other

• #1 – How to hunt. Kitten play is full of stalking, chasing, and tackling to the ground. …

• #2 – Good social skills. In order to grow into social, emotionally-healthy cats, kittens need to be socialized. …

• #3 – Coordination. …

• #4 – Communication. …

• #5 – Confidence. …

• #6 – Boundaries.

Most of these are skills we need all need to have. I have to tell you I witnessed a large group engaged in fun learning this past Friday. I had the opportunity to keynote an event. Click here to read about it. During my keynote, that was about the critical need for relevant learning, I had the over 200 participants put together toy glider planes I had put on the tables ahead of time. Everyone at each table became a team and the participants developed team names and then wrote the team name on the wing of their plane. Four containers had then been placed at the corners of the room and boundaries marked off. The participants were given time to put the planes together, practice, and then given one try at gliding the plane into the container.

I have to tell you, every person was up and engaged. There were questions being asked, teams practicing, laughing, strategizing, and adults and students having fun. It was amazing! Check out this video tweet – it shows it all. Click here to watch. All the while, they were learning the importance of learning in a relevant and engaging way. And…let’s see here…they were learning social skills – team work, coordination, communication – giving advice and feedback to one another, confidence – rooting each other on, and boundaries.

So, just as we know play is the cornerstone of the kitten’s learning process in the first few weeks and months of its life; I believe it is also the cornerstone of learning for our students and lifelong learning adults. It is by playing together that we humans and kittens will develop both physical and mental abilities. But play is more than that: it is also good, rollicking fun, which in turn increases both the kitten’s and our social skills, technical skills, and sociability.

The Critical Need for Relevant Learning

IMG_3066This past Friday I had the opportunity to attend and keynote a tremendous event put on by the Horizon Education Alliance. The event was called “Pathway Showcase” and was held in the Crystal Ballroom at the Lerner Theatre, which by the way is an awesome facility in Elkhart, Indiana.  More than 200 local educators, business and state government leaders were there to see project based learning (PBL) projects that were created in partnerships between students, teachers, and business leaders. These projects were created in order to teach our students in a relevant context – a subject near and dear to my heart. There were more than 40 of these projects that took place this past year. I continue to be so impressed with the work of Horizon Education Alliance to bring the Elkhart County community together to collaborate for the betterment of education for our students.

During my keynote I talked about how we need to connect school work to real life. I told attendees that education exists in the larger context of society. Students need to know why they are learning what we are teaching and how the learning fits into his/her real world context. When society changes, so too must education, if it is to remain viable. We need to be teaching our students to use adaptation to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate to apply the learning to real world predictable and unpredictable situations. If we can achieve this level of relevant learning our students will be motivated and have the ability to creatively innovate and problem solve.

I was so inspired to spend time talking with the students, teachers, and industry leaders about their projects. What I found were students working in teams to experience and explore relevant, real-world problems, questions, issues, and challenges; then creating presentations and products to share what they have learned. What I found were engaged students who were great communicators and very passionate about the projects created for their learning.

IMG_3039All the projects were awesome, but a couple really spoke to me. Chamberlain Elementary School students walked me through how they had learned to create by developing a first draft, multiple revisions, practicing and receiving feedback, and then finishing the final draft. These Chamberlain Explorers were learning to iterate. The students would not let me leave without sharing the Chamberlain Habits of Scholarship. See photo below for the habits:

IMG_3038I also had the opportunity to meet students from Elkhart Memorial High School who had been doing real world/real time research on soybean phytopathology with scientists from Agdia, Inc. As a former Agriculture Science teacher I could not have been prouder of these students. We cannot make it much more relevant for our students than having them do actual research on real problems with actual scientists. This adult interaction is also a very important part of facilitating relevant learning.

IMG_3033At the end of the event I really got emotional and realized that the world is going to be o.k. as long as we continue to teach our students relevant skills in engaging ways. Here are my final thoughts on how to make learning relevant and meaningful for our students:

To learn collaboration  work in teams

To learn critical thinking – take on complex problems

To learn oral communication – present

To learn written communications – write

Thank you to all the schools in Elkhart County and to Horizon Education Alliance for inspiring me and what you are doing for students!

 

Excavating Lifelong & Engaged Learners

Today’s world absolutely requires collaborative and critical thinkers, creative and courageous innovators, and true lifelong learners. Then comes the question – how do we achieve having our students become all these things? First of all, I believe we must do a better job of providing career exploration opportunities for our students at a much younger age. This means so much more than just hearing about jobs or walking by a booth at a job fair and getting a piece of candy. It means really digging in (no pun intended) and learning about what career paths fit the interests and passions of the student. It also means facilitating the creation of a plan of how to get there. We need to be thinking about internships and pre-apprenticeship programs. If we get this right, I believe it brings relevancy to the students’ education and will improve student engagement. We do a pretty good job of mapping out the courses and plans for four year colleges (mainly because there is a list of courses needed to get accepted). But, when it comes to helping our students into other paths, we need to improve.

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William E. Dugan Training Center

I was reminded of this recently when spending some time with Mark Kara, Assistant Apprenticeship Coordinator for the International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150. While at the Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program‘s William E. Dugan training site, he made the comment that he would go to a school job fair and “…when I leave I suck everything that I told the kids or that they learned about us out of the room as soon as I walk out.” This really resonated with me because as I toured and learned more about this amazing training program and facility, I realized how we need to have our students realize these opportunities exist. We need both our students and parents understand the career opportunities that exist outside the normal four year degree track. The jobs associated with the apprenticeship programs I was witnessing were high wage/high demand and highly skilled. We owe it to our students to get better at this!

img_2920While at the training facility I had the opportunity to run a Caterpillar Excavator Simulator. Wow, what an experience! Apprentices start out on the simulators for so many hours before moving to the real machines. I’m not going to lie, the farm kid in me was coming out and they had to pull me off the thing. The cool part is that the Cat Simulator you see me on in the picture, for example, has hand controls that can be switched out for different CAT machines. In other words, the same simulator can be used to simulate all of the heavy CAT machinery. And, as new models come out, the new controls can be purchased and put on with software updates. The controls are the actual control panels from the machines. Bottom-line, however, is we need to be using real world experiences like this in some type of pre-apprenticeship programs to get students interested and then teach our courses in a real life context. These are just the kind of things I researched and discuss in my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room.

In my opinion, a rather clear pattern of practices has emerged as to what works for engaging students and certain “best practices” are recommended and should be put in place. Exploration and relevancy are at the top of this list. You can’t do much more exploring or be more relevant than actually sitting in the same seat using the exact same controls as the real equipment I would be using if I wanted to be an excavator operator – let me tell you, I could get my mind wrapped around that!

excavator-slew-ring-also-5230-caterpillar-excavator-with-excavator-for-sale-together-with-cat-390-excavator-bucket-sizes-plus-yanmar-b-50-mini-excavatorsOne common prerequisite for engaging learners is “relevancy.” Today’s learners ask that their learning apply to real-life scenarios whenever possible as opposed to being theoretical and text-based. Working with authentic problems or community issues engages students and builds a sense of purpose to the learning experience. Students, themselves, clearly want their work to be intellectually engaging and relevant to their lives.

Additionally, today’s learners ask for the opportunity to explore and to find solutions and answers for themselves. We need to be giving our students the opportunity to explore different careers by actually living them; just like I lived while running an excavator. Here’s the deal: Our students want to turn the thing on, get in there, mess around, and see what works; and, what does not work.

As we enter a time where we are making Graduation Pathways available to our students, we must increase and improve the opportunities for our students to explore different careers first hand and facilitate their learning by connecting school work to real life.