A Partnership for Success: Work-based Learning and STEM
by Susan Gubing, CareerSmarts, Change Agent for Education 3.0
The success of preparing our future workforce relies upon strong career pathways which include the following elements:
The first two elements are in the hands of the classroom teacher. Proper student preparation in the 21st century skills such
as critical thinking, communications, research, solutions finding, and creativity will ensure the student is ready for the next
step in the career pathway.
- Element 1: A rigorous and relevant curriculum
- Element 2: Project-Based Learning
- Element 3: Work-based learning experiences
The following work-based learning examples from the National Academy Foundation show us how work-based learning can make a major
impact upon the preparation of our students for college and career readiness.
Schools who wish to host a quality work-based learning program should contact the NYS professional association of work-based learning
coordinators at www.nysweca.org. Work-based learning Coordinators need to complete
two professional development courses for the NYS certification requirements. For more information about these courses, contact
By experiencing the workplace and working alongside professionals, students deepen their understanding of STEM's relevance
to their career aspirations and postsecondary plans. This kind of work-based learning can take many forms. Mentoring and
job shadowing introduce students to offices, laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and a wide range of working professionals.
Even many of our most advantaged students have little or no contact with working adults or much awareness of the range of career
opportunities in STEM fields. And for disadvantaged students who have rarely ventured out of their immediate communities,
a downtown high-rise office of an engineer or architect might just as well be located on another planet.
But work-based learning is about much more than career awareness. As it evolves into more sophisticated experiences for students,
it begins to involve them in real work under the guidance of industry professionals. Internships, paid and unpaid, are the best-known
examples of this kind of opportunity. However, internship opportunities are difficult to provide for large numbers of students.
Geography often poses major challenges, as do the logistics of finding and managing large numbers of internship opportunities.
Creating new forms of virtual work-based learning offers one promising strategy for making these opportunities available to many
more students, regardless of the locations of schools and industry partners. For example, Acme Animation, an early pioneer in
"virtual apprenticeship," uses the web and videoconferencing to connect students in animation classes with professional animators
at Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, and other motion picture studios. Students work on a carefully structured design challenge (for example,
animating a bouncing ball), which professionals then critique to industry standards.
Building on Acme Animation's approach, ConnectEd is collaborating with Chevron to develop a series of engineering-related
and energy-related design challenges for students in academies of engineering and for the growing number of green technology
partnership academies in California. These design challenges may involve different kinds of pipeline valves, for example, or
LED displays monitoring fuel flow through land-based pipeline systems. Through ConnectEd Studios, students will be able to
post their work in online portfolios for review by both their teachers and industry professionals at Chevron, and teachers
will receive support in online project planning.
Another promising work-based learning strategy is school-based enterprise, student-led business or community service initiatives
in which students design, produce, and deliver real products and services. For example, in collaboration with a local utility,
students engage in energy audits for local homeowners and small businesses. Alternatively, schools may team with a local economic
development agency to undertake environmental impact analyses. School-based enterprise can be especially useful in schools with
limited access to industry partners and other work-based learning opportunities.
With any kind of work-based learning initiative, the biggest challenge is ensuring that the activity promotes structured,
challenging learning that relates to the classroom and reinforces explicit content standards and learning objectives. Otherwise,
work-based learning can quickly devolve into little more than a series of low-level work experiences that are not good uses of
students' or teachers' time. As with other forms of project-based learning, sound work-based learning depends on being explicit
about the academic and technical learning objectives the experience is intended to support. The curriculum mapping tool can
help teachers clarify learning objectives and specify the assessment strategies they will use to determine whether students
have met these objectives.