Thomas Armstrong

Consultant

Cloverdale, CA

Interests: Brain and learning,...

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6 Ways to Provide Real World Experiences for Students in Middle and High Schools

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I’ve just released video #12 of my 12-part video series based on my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.  In this video, I look at ways in which schools can get away from the artificiality of the traditional academic secondary school classroom and provide more real world experiences for adolescents who are hungry for life experience.  The video presents 6 ways for schools to provide real world experiences, including:

1.Have a Job Shadowing Day

2.Create an Internship Program

3.Use Community-Based and Service Learning

4.Encourage Entrepreneurial Enterprises

5.Affiliate with Apprenticeship Programs

6.Establish Career Academies

You can watch the video by going to my blog, or  you can read a transcript of the video below:

‘’Hi, I’m Dr. Thomas Armstrong, and this is Video #12 in my video series based on my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (published by ASCD).  As part of this series we’re looking at eight practices that middle and high school teachers can implement in the classroom which are in line with recent research concerning how the adolescent brain develops.  In this video, we’re going to focus on adolescent brain-friendly practice #8:  real world experiences.

Adolescents are hungry for real world experiences. By the time students reach middle school or high school, field trips and career days no longer cut it as authentic ways to connect to the world outside the classroom.  Students want to go beyond the school grounds and be part of the action. As we’ve seen in previous videos, the neocortex goes through a process of progressive maturation during the teen years with cortical maturation moving from the back of the brain to the front over a period of years.  Coincident with this maturation, society has seen fit to empower adolescents with increasingly responsible roles within the culture.  Teens, for example, can open retirement accounts at 13, get a driver’s license in some states at 14 or 15, marry with parental consent at age 16, and vote or join the military at 18. Some municipalities have even elected teenagers as mayors of their communities. But one of the ironies of secondary school life is that society allows adolescents access to all these privileges, yet if a teen needs to go to the bathroom in a typical secondary school he must raise his hand and get permission.

It’s the artificiality of the secondary school classroom, the fact that it bears virtually no resemblance to life in the real world, that makes it increasingly unsuitable for the needs of individuals who will become full-fledged adult members of society in just a few years.  We need to focus much more attention on giving middle and high school students opportunities to get away from that artificiality and become involved in learning experiences that reflect the complexities and diversities of the real world.

A big downside to keeping students away from real world experiences is that while the classroom may support teens in gaining academic knowledge, it does little to give them the skills they need to function as independent individuals. This can have negative consequences. Research has suggested, for example, that between the ages of 15 and 16, students can provide very reasoned arguments for why drug abuse and unsafe driving habits are dangerous and should not be engaged in, (a condition called ‘’cold cognition’’), but if these same kids are plunked down into a real-world situation where there’s emotion, complexity, and peer influence (a condition referred to as ‘’hot cognition’’), the teen’s rational world view all too often drops away and is replaced by impulsivity and reckless behavior.

This lack of sufficient reality testing among adolescents suggests that students need to do much more of their learning in environments where they are challenged in real situations where real feelings and real consequences are involved.  And there’s no better place to do this than outside of the classroom in the real world, which is exactly what Bill Gates discovered when he dropped out of Harvard and got involved in the early stages of the personal computer revolution. A major focus of middle schools and high schools therefore should be on creating ways in which educators can provide as many kinds of real world experiences in school as possible so kids don’t have to drop out of school to become multi-billionaires.  In this video, I present six strategies for doing this.

The first strategy, and an easy one to implement, is to create a job shadowing program at the school.  This can be arranged with businesses in the community where students are assigned to employers or employees and have the opportunity of following them around during their work day, learning by example, asking questions about the job, and getting the inside story about specific occupations.

The second strategy is for the school to create opportunities for internships. These can be established through affiliations with businesses, universities, and other organizations so that students can spend an extended time, from weeks to months, getting on-the-job training in one or more career fields.  Such experience can even provide students with an entrée into a specific occupation after they graduate.

The third strategy for real world learning is to have students take part in community-based projects. Habitat for Humanity, for example, provides students with the opportunity to become involved in the construction of low income housing.   Other projects might include a schoolwide garden to provide food for needy individuals, or, volunteer experiences at nursing homes, daycare centers, or hospice facilities.  In many cases, these experiences can be tied directly into project-based learning as a part of specific academic coursework.

The fourth strategy for giving students real world experiences is to support entrepreneurship in the schools.  Students can develop a product or service, create a business plan, establish a publicity campaign, and then actively promote their business in the school or the broader community.  These activities help students develop math and writing skills, social acumen, as well as hands-on knowledge that can prove to be invaluable in adulthood.

A fifth way to support real world experiences in middle or high school is to affiliate with apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships were the way in which most adolescents learned in the days before public education.  A student would essentially sit at the foot of the master while being taught a specific trade.  European countries have incorporated apprenticeships into schools far more than the U.S. has.  Seventy percent of teenagers in Switzerland, for example, divide their time between a workplace, a sector organization such as a professional or trade association, and school, earning a monthly wage that ranges from $800 to $1,000.  Interestingly, youth unemployment in Switzerland is only 3.1 percent, compared with the United States’ 10.5 percent.

A final approach to incorporating more real world experience into a middle or high school is the establishment of career academies within the school.  Some of the careers that schools have adopted for their school-within-a-school academies include health services, media and communications, business, finance, architecture and construction; education and child development; energy and utilities; hospitality and tourism; marketing, sales, and service; and fashion and interior design.

If you’d like more information about creating real world experiences at the middle and high school level, or want to know all eight interventions that are adolescent brain-friendly, get my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain, available through Amazon or other online sources including the publisher ASCD.  You can also find the other videos in this 12-part series by going to my blog on my website or to You Tube.  For more information about my work, go to my website:  www.institute4learning.com, or contact me at: thomas@institute4learning.com.  Thanks so much for your attention.  I hope this information helps you appreciate the need of adolescents to break out of the artifical boundaries of classroom learning and into the wide world of opportunities that surround them.’’

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