Integrating Careers into Elementary Education: A “Nu” Approach
"By utilizing narrative and project-based learning (PBL), young students can learn problem-solving skills while playing with the actual content that will be essential for their future."
The future of work continues to change, with innovations disrupting entire industries and reshaping what it means to work alongside technology. With so much change, many experts in education use this as a platform to focus on “preparing students for careers that don’t even exist yet” (IFTF, see Forbes, 2018). This pith is loosely translated to mean a focus on problem-solving. While there is a benefit to focusing on the process of problem-solving, there is no reason to wait to give elementary school students a chance to explore potential career paths. By utilizing narrative and project-based learning (PBL), young students can learn problem-solving skills while playing with the actual content that will be essential for their future.
Narrative and project-based learning (PBL) have been shown to be effective ways of teaching students because it engages them in creative problem-solving while encouraging collaboration among their peers. When given the opportunity to explore a topic through a narrative or PBL approach, students are able to think critically about potential solutions and develop decision-making skills that align with their individual interests. For example, adults know that cities are projected to grow by 50% in the next 30 years (Worldbank.org)-- a statistic that may give us cause for alarm; however, these numbers are meaningless to a student if he or she is not provided with proper context. To help provide relevance, have students create a city with a few roads and a few cars. Then, when they think they’re done, have them suddenly “put on their urban planner hat” because the number of cars is doubling. “How can we fit all the cars?” the good teacher asks. “Are there solutions that don’t require cars?” Through the lens of a burgeoning career, students naturally consider various options such as trains, taxis…or maybe human catapults (true story!).
In addition to traditional subjects such as math and English, elementary school students should also have the opportunity to explore an integrated curriculum that focuses on trending careers that may not have existed when their parents were in school. However, be careful! The power lies in the approach. A direct lesson about splicing the human genome may fall deftly on the ears of 5-year-olds (believe me, we tried!) However, introducing biomedical engineering through fun activities such as coding with Scratch can help younger students understand how gene editing can be used to design treatments for diseases like asthma or poor eyesight. In one of our classroom activities, students changed and altered the string of Scratch code in order to help their avatar overcome common ailments (see NuMinds curriculum unit, Future Worlds). This type of lesson encourages critical thinking while allowing the student to learn about future careers that blend technology and science.
Biomedical Engineering analogy taught using Scratch.MIT
"School administrators and curriculum designers should consider how they can incorporate these practices into their curriculum so that all elementary school children have access to a well-rounded education focused on preparing them for the future!"
Integrating trending careers into elementary education can benefit both teachers and students alike. Narrative and project-based learning (PBL) curricula offer a unique way for young students to engage with career-focused content while developing problem-solving skills necessary for success in these future roles. Through exploring topics such as urban development or biomedical engineering using engaging activities like coding programs or designing models, teachers can ensure that today's learners gain essential knowledge without sacrificing creativity or fun! School administrators and curriculum designers should consider how they can incorporate these practices into their curriculum so that all elementary school children have access to a well-rounded education focused on preparing them for the future!