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3 ways to make career exploration cool again

3 min read


In many schools and districts, career education has gotten a “bad rap.” Sometimes, vocational- and career-exploration activities are only offered to students who aren’t attending college. Due to this, career exploration can carry a negative stigma that seems silly and even detrimental.

But the common core’s focus on career and college readiness may change all that. Schools and districts across the country are revamping their internship and career exploration programs with awesome results. A recent study published in Phi Delta Kappan found that students participating in career exploration activities generally were more likely than nonparticipants to graduate from high school and to prepare for and enroll in postsecondary education. Further, the 2011 Harvard GSE report, 2011 Citizen’s League Student Speak Out Project, and the 2007 Project Tomorrow efforts have all reframed school-wide conversations about careers.

As educators, we must use this momentum to make career exploration cool again. Trying out different careers and roles early in the educational process can increase student engagement at school and improve learning outcomes.

Not sure how to begin? Try these practical tips.

1. Share OOCHING with kids and parents. In their new book, “Decisive,” Dan and Chip Heath describe OOCHING as doing small experiments to test a hypothesis. The research on OOCHING shows that it’s a great way to make better decisions about college and career. Interested in being a pharmacist? Then shadow one for a month. Want to be a stylist? Shampoo hair at a salon for a few weeks. These smaller investments of time and energy can actually save time and money in the long run by helping students look before they leap.

2. Create tasks that ask students to take on real roles and engage with real audiences. Many of the tasks that we design for learners are actually quite contrived without an audience beyond the teacher. Kids sense this immediately, motivation plummets, and projects fizzle. To fix this problem, build tasks that ask students to take on authentic roles where their work is evaluated by professionals in the field. For example, have students work with an architect to redesign your classroom cafeteria. Hold students to similar standards as set forth by the American Institute of Architects and solicit feedback on student work from local architects.

3. Use Google Hangout or Skype to seamlessly integrate professionals into your classroom. In many cases, professionals in many fields are more than willing to donate time to visit your classroom virtually. Use Google Hangout or Skype to provide opportunities for students to ask questions and learn from people in all different walks of life. This can make learning more relevant and offer students diverse perspectives.

As we all know, the careers available to our students may look very different from the careers in existence today. However, if students better understand the types of work they enjoy, they’ll be better positioned to help design our world’s fresh crop of jobs. Let’s help our students to closely examine all the possibilities that lie before them. The sky’s the limit!

Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader and teacher. She is a the senior educational technology leader for BrightBytes and a founder of the Edcamp movement. Swanson is also author of “Professional Learning in the Digital Age,” a Google Certified Teacher, a Twitter teacher and an Edublog Award nominee.