Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Career Readiness’

Letting Go of Certainty


cc licensed image shared by flickr user Denise Krebs

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Denise Krebs

Creativity, courage, and uncertainty is integral both to joyous opportunity and painful struggle in education and in life.

While uncertainty has always been part of life, the changing nature of work is cause for parents and educators to pause and consider potentially seismic shifts in the ways in which students in our schools today will one day experience work. Differences in generational attitudes toward work are already substantial.

To put shifts into perspective:

  • From about 1880 to 1980, having a good job meant being an employee of a particular company for many years, perhaps even for a lifetime. (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)
  • Generation X (people born between 1961 and 1981) have experienced the end of the expectation of a job for life. (Forbes, Where the Money’s At: The Fastest Growing Sectors for the Self Employed, Meghan Casserly, 8/22/2013)
  • 60% of Millenials (people born between early 1980’s and early 2000’s) are leaving their companies in less than three years and 45% would prefer more flexibility to more pay. (Forbes, Why Millenials are Ending the 9 to 5, Kate Taylor, 8/23/2013)


Many today aspire to a freelance lifestyle, qustioning the nature of having a traditional job at all. (Is the Era of Mass Manufacturing Coming to An End, Peter Acton, Harvard Business Review, December 5, 2014) A recent study by the freelancers union, a group promoting the interests of independent workers, suggests that 1 in 3 members of the American workforce (and a higher proportion of younger people) do at least some freelance work. (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)

Knowledge and creative companies, demanding ideas rather than labor and services, are subject to the same forces promoting freelancing as the industrial and service economies. Topcoder can undercut its rivals by 75% by chopping projects into bite-sized chunks and offering them to its 300,000 freelance developers in 200 countries as a series of competitive challenges. InCloudCounsel undercuts big law firms by as much as 80% using freelance lawyers to process legal documents for a flat fee. Innocentive has turns companies’ research needs into specific problems and pays for satisfactory solutions to them.  Quirky operates as a next-gen manufacturer and R & D firm whose global online community of about 800,000 people submit, vote and fine-tune potential inventions. Quirky then manufactures, packages and sells promising ideas at retailers such as Home Depot and Best Buy as well as directly on (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)

With all the uncertainty, there is creative potential difficult for members of previous generations to imagine. Vocation, avocation, work, and leisure combine and expansive options for crafting a life of joy and meaning, albeit with less security.

Among the most inspiring innovative endeavors for me is E-Nable, which I learned about at the World Maker Faire this past fall. Created by Jon Schull, a researcher at Rochester Institute of Technology, e-NABLE pairs children and adults with missing or deformed fingers, hands or forearms with makers who produce customized 3D printed prostheses. Making a huge impact with little more than 3D printers, open source product design, and the intelligence, passion, time, and good will of a growing cadre of volunteers, E-Nable has cut the cost of prosthetic limbs from tens of thousands of dollars to a mere $50 a limb. The organization went in 2014 alone from 200 members to more than 3200, and a recent $600,000 grant from google will enable E-nable to do so much more.

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For me, E-Nable models the potential for balance between knowing and doing; thinking and making, with a focus on being impactful in the real world. There are certainly many other models we can share with our students, assisting them to consider how they might contribute through vocation or avocation. In the words of organizers of the Maker Impact Summit, held in December, 2013, “We are on the cusp of an opportunity to more fully tap into our creative potential, driven by significant technological innovation that is democratizing the means of production and enabling connections between resources and markets. Realizing this opportunity will require rethinking and redesigning all of our major institutions innovating the way we work, learn and consume.

What are ways we might rethink and redesign learning experiences, supporting students to be courageous in letting go of certainty, finding creativity and meaning in the process?

Career Ready


cc licensed image shared by flickr user huppypie

cc licensed image shared by flickr user huppypie

With so much conversation about preparing children for the rapidly changing world they will inherit, I have wondered why there is so little programming yet available in schools related to careers or vocations. Yes, there are high schools with work study programs or vocational training, but very little in K-8 schools.

Striving to take  seriously a commitment to  making learning relevant, my school has designed a career related electives program for seventh an eighth graders, aimed at enabling our students to consider their possible future work lives in an interactive, engaging manner. Electives will be taught twice a week by teachers in our own school.  Each elective will involve students in collaborative projects utilizing skills needed for the particular career about which they have chosen to learn and will include a social action component helping students consider ways the skills of the career can be used to make a positive impact for others.

Our career related electives are (in alphabetical order): Business; Education; Graphic Design; Health and Fitness Science; Medicine; Psychology/Social Work; Technology: Making, Tinkering, and Innovating; and Theater/Entertainment Industry. Descriptions of each course are provided below.


This course will focus on the area of Marketing and bring in the financial implications relating to the goods and service being marketed. Marketing focuses on the methods,policies and institutions involved in the flow of goods and service from the producer to the consumer. Activities such as product development,research,communication,distribution,pricing and service are core marketing activities.During the school year we will study each if these activities. As mentioned the cost of the development of the product and it’s financial implication will be discussed. Students will develop an understanding as to why items are distributed and marketed the way they are. They will understand the challenges of competition in the marketplace.

The class will be divided into a number of groups for a project where each group will introduce a new product and they will develop the marketing plan for this product from the research and development stage through distribution.

Related subjects studied will include Finance, Advertising and Consumer Behavior.



Our own school will serve as our lab as we explore the field of education. Students will have the opportunity to participate in “learning walks”, a professional learning approach in which educators, in this case our own students, observe learning in classrooms and then reflect together on what they observe. Prior to the learning walk foci to explore are selected from a range of potential areas including student engagement, physical design of the classroom, opportunities for individualized learning, opportunities for collaborative learning, integration of technology, evidence of student learning, and more. Students will learn techniques of observation, reflection, and lesson planning. They will provide individual or small group support in classes with younger children and receive feedback on their work. Students will collaboratively prepare a lesson, using a professional learning approach called lesson study, which originated in Japan. Each student will then teach the lesson they have created collaboratively in one of our younger grades. Students will observe each other teaching the lesson and offer feedback to one another using a professionally designed protocol to promote respectful, professional reflection and learning.


Graphic Design

Graphic Design is about how you interpret your visual world.  It is problem solving and sometimes making something really cool in the process. Everything that is not made by nature is designed by an artist. Graphic designers produce the labels on every product from shampoo bottles to a carton of milk.   In this course we will design book covers, tee shirts, street signs, posters and logos, while incorporating color, form and symmetry in the designs. We will plan together ways in which our creations can be donated in order to benefit others.


Health and Fitness Science

Combining physical therapy, neurology, and martial arts, students will explore the way in which health and fitness science can positively impact the lives of individuals living with illness and disability. Students will explore therapeutic physical fitness, with emphasis on the martial arts. They will apply their learning through organizing martial arts therapeutic programming for children with a range of illnesses and disabilities.



This course will begin with the history of medicine, from ancient (Egyptian) times to the present, including the difference between today’s conventional medicine and holistic medicine. We will continue with a brief introduction to the two main areas of medicine we will be discussing (Nursing and Medical Physician), including the education necessary, different degrees available, and specialties. We will additionally discuss ways in which medical professionals make a positive impact in their communities and consider volunteer opportunities in the medical field.


The following are some of the items we will discuss:

Nursing:  LPN, RN, NP

Medical/Surgical Nursing, Psychiatric Nursing, School Nurse, Public Health Nurse, Private Duty


Physician: MD, DO, PA

Private Practice, Public Health, Doctors Without Borders


Specialties we will explore for both Nursing and Physician: Medical/Surgical,Trauma, Obstetrics, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Internal Medicine, Dermatology, Orthopedics, Hematology, Oncology, ICU & CCU, Pulmonary Medicine, and Psychiatry (and how it differs from Psychology).


Psychology/Social Work

This course is designed to provide students with an initial exposure to the field of psychology. Students will learn the diagnostic criteria presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V for several mental health diagnoses. We will use media, literature and other sources to assess portrayals of these mental health illnesses. Examples of this may include TV shows such as Monk, Seinfeld, and Private Practice as well as books. Students will assess the accuracy of these media portrayals. Additionally, we will discuss the mind-body connection and how one’s mental health impacts physical health/performance. This will include how it impacts learning as well as a section exploring the impact of psychology on athletic performance (sports psychology). We will use real life examples to illustrate these points and will bring in guest lecturers as well.


Technology: Making, Tinkering, and Innovating

In this course, students will have access to the latest hands-on technologies and the opportunity to invent something that interests them.  Students will be given the chance to transform from passive receivers of knowledge to real-world makers who are empowered to design, build, and share their own amazing artifacts. They will consider ways their inventions can be used to make a positive impact in the lives of others.


Theater/Entertainment Industry

 The industry has a wide variety of career opportunities including specific areas of theater production, performance and management.

 Theater production is collaborative work that brings together many different skills from the playwrights, performers, stage manager, directors, producers, and set designers including costume design, sound and lighting,

 This course will include theater history, a closer  look at Broadway and the many different theater career opportunities that exist today. This course will culminate in a collaboration of writing and producing an original short play that will be performed and enjoyed by an audience that would benefit from its presentation.

Making Learning Relevant

CC Licensed Image Shared by Flickr User Steve Heath

CC Licensed Image Shared by Flickr User Steve Heath

What is the purpose of K-12 schooling?

Think for a moment before coming up with an answer. Consider what you believe truly matters. Is it preparation for college? Preparation for a career? Support in growing to be an individual who is morally and ethically grounded? Is it guidance in the development of core skills and habits of being needed to successfully navigate the complex, rapidly changing realities of the world our children will inherit? Is it all of the above?

While I venture most educators would answer “all of the above” and even share additional goals, most K-12 schools seem in practice to focus almost exclusively on college preparation or perhaps college preparation and character development. While many schools are grappling with ways of personalizing learning to meet students’ individualized needs and supporting students to set and strive for their own goals, so much more is possible.

Early in the year, my first year as Head of School at Solomon Schechter School of Queens, a father of a child in our middle school challenged me, stretching my thinking and sending me on a quest to consider ways of making learning more relevant. Why is it, he asked, that schools don’t teach financial literacy? He explained that to him, the need for finanical literacy in any profession or vocation a child might choose is self evident. He questioned me as to why financial literacy skills are not a staple of K-12 education. I didn’t have a good answer or a ready solution. And so I began to explore, learn, and imagine. I wondered ways to prepare children for responsibly managing their own finances, and beyond that goal I wondered  ways of helping children consider and prepare for the complex, rapidly changing world of work. I wondered ways of helping children recognize their own strengths, talents, and interests and consider careers or vocations that might be meaningful to them. In time, I came up with what I feel is a start; a two pronged approach to making learning more relevant and taking “career readiness” seriously: a financial literacy curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade and a career related electives program for  seventh and eighth grade. The complementary programs aim to instill both the critical thinking and critical action skills essential to setting life goals, as well as the motivation, self-discipline, adaptability, resilience, and courage necessary to put ideas into action in order to achieve life goals. These two cornerstone programs are, I hope, just a beginning; first steps to implement, assess, evaluate, and build upon.

Financial Literacy Curriculum for Kindergarten through Eighth Grade
Our school’s Financial Literacy curriculum, to be implemented next year, is modeled after a program created at the Ariel Community Academy in Chicago through the efforts of then Chicago Public Schools CEO and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and John Rogers, CEO and founder of Ariel Investments, featured in Edutopia’s Schools That Work. Surprisingly, despite the tremendous success of the program at Ariel Community Academy, in the almost two decades since the program’s inauguration very few schools nationally have adopted similar learning experiences for their students.

While our school’s financial literacy approach is based on Ariel Community Academy’s experience, we have substantially modified the curriculum in order to meet the needs of our student population.  Our financial literacy curriculum includes five primary components:

  • Economics
  • Personal Finance
  • Entrepreneurial Skills
  • Investing
  • Philanthropic Giving

Students in kindergarten, first, and second grades will gain a basic understanding of economics and personal finance including earning income, saving, spending, credit, and money management. Their learning will be supplemented by an interactive classroom economy including jobs in which students earn “salaries” (consisting of play money), ‘bonuses”, have required expenses, and have choices of ways to spend their discretionary income remaining after their expenses have been paid. Philanthropic giving will be among the choices for spending discretionary earnings and students will be required to consider ways their earnings can make a positive impact for others.

Students in third and fourth grades will delve deeper into a foundation in economics. Third grade students will explore public finance, taxes, and ways that communities and municipalities make spending choices. They will have the opportunity to speak with local politicians about the ways in which public funding is utilized and they will determine a project in which they can be involved to enhance quality of life within the local community. In fourth grade students will learn about currency and monetary policy, exploring what the Federal Reserve system is and its role in helping currency circulate throughout the United States as well as the value of different currencies. Students will collaboratively determine a fundraising/social action project that impacts an international community of their choice.

In fifth grade, students will engage in substantive learning about investing. The grade will receive $20,000 in an imaginary portfolio, which they will manage through the end of eighth grade. We hope in the future to potentially be able to secure actual funds for the students to manage as is done at Ariel Community Academy. Students will be actively involved in making investment decisions for their portfolio and will receive mentoring from an investment professional. When the students are in eighth grade, they will analyze how their portfolio has done and collaboratively determine among themselves and with the school administration the way in which they would want their funds to be spent to enhance the quality of the school. If in the future, these are ever actual rather than imaginary funds, even in a smaller amount, the funds will truly go to the project designed by our students. Students will present their funding proposal, offering a compelling case for the ways in which their contribution will improve the school. They will also describe and analyze what is happening in the stock market, sharing what they have learned through the experience of investing  funds over the course of the four years of managing a stock portfolio.

Middle school students will explore world economic issues and engage in learning entrepreneurial skills. They will analyze current events of economic import and consider the impact of economics within local, national, and international arenas. Students will have numerous opportunities for ongoing learning about investment as they continue to manage their grade’s stock portfolio. They will also gain knowledge and understanding of entrepreneurial skills and will have the opportunity to create their own business plans. Each year of middle school, students will determine a worthy philanthropic project to which they can contribute based on economic needs they identify through their study of current events. Integral to their project will be a business plan outlining ways they will raise the funds they will donate.

Some of the resource materials we may use for our financial literacy curriculum include, but are by no means limited to:

Financial Fitness for Life

My Classroom Economy

The Secret Millionaires Club  financial literacy and entrepeneurship resouces and learning activities

Money As You Learn

Financial Education In The Math Classroom

Online Economic Lessons

Lessons To Include Financial Literacy In Math

Lessons on Entrepreneurship

A Mobile App Lesson on Financial Capability

Games To Support Financial Literacy

Free online and mobile games to improve financial capability, confidence, and knowledge

Financial Educational Games

Genirevolution: online Personal Finance Game and Genirevolution supplemental materials for teachers

Banking Game

Lesson Ideas and Games on Financial Literacy

Career Related Electives Program

Our school’s career related electives program will give our seventh and eighth grade students the opportunity to explore the world of work in an interactive, engaging manner. Each semester students will choose between a range of elective courses, focused on a particular career. In each course, students will learn about the career and participate in a collaborative project, completed during class time, incorporating skills needed for the career and focused on making a positive impact for others. Electives will be taught two periods a week. The courses will be pass, fail, or pass with distinction. Students can stay with one course for the entire two years, or switch each semester. Offering a range of course options will both enable us to provide a variety of choices for students to explore, while also keeping each course small thereby providing substantial attention and mentoring to each child. Our career related electives, are (in alphabetical order): Business, Education, Graphic Design, Health and Fitness Science, Medicine, Psychology/Social Work, Technology, and Theater. In the future, we will seek to add even more options.

The combination of a financial literacy curriculum and our career related electives offer an opportunity for our students to achieve far more than the foundation for success in high school and college. We hope these learning experiences will inspire our students to set potential goals for themselves, and to gain skills, understanding, and positive habits and qualities needed to achieve their goals.

What else might we consider as we seek to make learning ever more relevant? 


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