Written by John Taylor: John Taylor, MEd is the Director of STEM Education at ETHOS Innovation Center. Building on his discussion on what motivates learning in the ETHOS Blog, he ventures into the world of Pathways.
The idea of merging school and the workforce has been around for quite awhile. In my scant quarter century as an educator, I saw the likes of Tech Prep and then Project Lead the Way. Those before me related to me the power of Kennedy's "We choose to go to the Moon.." speech and its impact on education in the 60's. I kept their textbooks on the shelves of my classroom as a reminder of lessons learned, and often grabbed from these when designing lessons.
(Career centers across the U.S. have formed effective, but separate entities to make great things happen - connecting youth with gainful futures. Although, I don't plan on elaborating on this point, there are some great lessons to learn from the programs offered at these (often) regionally located facilities, generally used to support the trades.)
Often in the past, the effort to bring traditional school and work together has been about merging separate education entities to function side-by-side and support each other. It could involve a science class and an industrial arts (tech) teacher. I've been a part of a physics + math + industrial arts effort. 'Even traded classrooms to support the cause. For schools that were more adventurous, you added in a language arts (English) teacher. But, it was always a fight to make it work; always seemed like a good idea; but felt like something was missing.
I feel fortunate my grandfather was born in 1903. He had seen so many things come into normalcy. The same things we take for granted. Of course, TVs and radios were a big deal, but I was always fascinated by the more subtle,..
My mother relayed an occurrence to us when Grandpa shared a recollection with us about farming. She talked about the tractor and the new bailing machines. For those who don't know: straw and hay are used to feed livestock (cows, horses,..). It is grown in the field and then cut down and stored for use throughout the year. It is basically tall grass. When the first bailer came into the area, it was an item and shared between some of the farmers. This was a large amish community, so the tractor (at the time) was of no use to many of the (amish) farmers. Anyways, before the bailer, the cut grasses were cut and brought together in what are called shocks (google it - very beautiful sight on a hillside). With the bailer, you could hook up a wagon and go straight from field to barn with these new rectangular shaped hay bails. Great idea.
There was a problem with perspective.
After the first use of the bailer, everyone had a laugh at these fields with bails of hay stacked up throughout the field in shocks. They hadn't thought to attach the wagon. They made a easier job, many, many times more complicated by not seeing the bigger picture.
When it comes to school pathways, imagine a car and an engine being seen for the first time by some country bumpkin a hundred years ago. He could try to hook the two together with the engine on the outside, and even get it to move the car down the road. It might even look pretty cool. But it is a much better idea to put the engine inside the car.
Language arts (aka English) is the substance of a Pathways school.
Let's say that one again. Language Arts is the substance of Pathways. Although a science teacher, I will even say it is the most important component of each school. Next would be mathematics. But, don't strap the English courses onto the pathways schools. And, don't strap on mathematics, either.
One of the best implementations of Tech Prep I was able to experience, connected the tractor, the bailer and the wagon. In education speak, they put a science (physics), industrial tech, mathematics, and English teacher together. The math teacher developed mathematical principles with the students, which they used in their science and industrial tech class as part of a lab, and then the English teacher helped them write up the lab report. These students continued through these classes in a cyclical fashion in addition to specific assignments from each teacher. In theory, anyway.
This was a great effort at something new. Teachers reported the students even felt like they were really doing science. Sounds decent. Sounds like cross-curricular education. Sounds a bit like pathways. And, I'm sure it produced some great students. But, is the engine on the inside of the car or the outside?
I think the teachers in this arrangement might argue the science class was the most significant component, driving all other (supporting) activity. But, as a seasoned science teacher, I'm convinced English and math are the most significant components of any pathways school, in that order.
How can Pathways be different?
I added "can," because many will adjust the old practices to the new name. We may soon have a few different things called "Pathways," and in a worse case scenario: very few schools actually making the real dive into this new scheme.
Or rather, what is the potential of Pathways? Okay. Let's not open pandora's box, yet. Instead, look at a specific point: Perspective.
If a group of students are going to engage in a Project Based Learning (PBL) experience, we have to ask, "Why are we doing this?"
A student may respond, "To learn Biology." or "To cover English standards."
Well, yes. But, let's go a step farther.
"To be the _______ and make a significant push or impact on the world around us."
Pathways focuses on a high, key motivational level in students - Identification.
And schools are wise to push this farther to Service to others (to keep from pushing out a bunch of self-absorbed youth, rather produce productive young adults). And, service to others is a higher engagement.
So, the students are the engineers able to design new vehicles which roll down the hill at a constant velocity, as a safety feature - not slowing down or speeding up.
Which instructional coach has the largest impact on this team and their novel design attempts? Their English teacher. Communication is the most valuable commodity. For any modern engineer, you gain value if you can communicate. Their documentation should begin from the first thought. They may discover the cure for the common cold, but if they do not communicate it, they have accomplished nothing. Communication creates opportunity to develop value. Students need real experiences, and they need to know how to create real contributions.
Next? Mathematics. It is the motor driving any process they will engage in - and actually is in the mechanics of the communication piece (i.e. word count, spacing and layout, meter and dimensions,... - all math). It produces validity, allows predictions, develops trends,...
Oddly, the science and engineering are just the candy coating. The packaging of an engineer. In the 110% of the benchmark, they are the infrastructure for the substance of the English, and fuel for the motor of the mathematics.
For the budding future investor working on a project for the business pathway schools? #1 English. #2 Math. Applied to the science of business.
Health and occupation school? Same. #1, #2, The science of...
_______ (Fill in the blank with the school). Yep, the same.
Now, if you really want something special, then recognize the art! And, work to pull out, push in, and mix well the artistic parts of the student effort. Art in all forms makes any effort really worth doing.
I am a big fan of the work of Nathalie Miebach. She represent hurricane and other data through art. She is able to dynamically communicate the storms. What she does is in line with what I have seen from the best and brightest in high energy physics and astrophysics. But, she seems to do it better. I wish every scientist could take time to learn from Nathalie. Why have we allowed art to be a stand alone? In my opinion, it should be a component of every school of study as an understood way to enhance communication.
Add art to a business proposal and it takes on meaning and life. Integrate it into a composition for a health plan and it sings and becomes effective as a part of a marketing effort.
I would like to see Pathways done well. We owe it to our kids. And, we have to remember the big three: Language Arts (Communication), mathematics and art. And, we have to rethink the role of each in the future. Put the engine inside the car.
Here is a thought I often share to capture the essence of the Pathways school. What if, for most of their upper elementary and secondary school career, our students should stop taking English and Math classes. Rather, they took every year courses in Business Communication, Integrated Health Coding, Engineering Statistics and Applied Calculus, Art Applied to Enhance Health and Public Safety, or Presenting Natural Resources and Environmental Data Artistically.
It's time to rethink teaching content through separate subject "islands." Rather than separated course we would wish to integrate, let's put the "Why?" in education up front and consider this new paradigm shift.
At ETHOS, we work to support STEM efforts in the schools in our Region, and are excited by the move of local schools to meet the State push for Pathways schools. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.