Better than Prep: Experiencing Success In What’s Next

Last week I suggested that more than readiness, high school students should actually experience success in what’s next so they are able to plan next steps with knowledge and confidence.
Reading with comprehension, writing with clarity, and versatility in problem solving are critically important skills and are assessed in classrooms and increasingly by state tests. But secondary education is a period where young people are beginning to understand who they are and what they could become. More important than content knowledge, secondary education should help young people develop an innovation mindset through a combination of growth, maker, and team experiences.
These successful experiences could make up a series of badges required for graduation. Some of these would be taken up in a formal education setting, others could be completed independently. Some would be blended, some community based, while others would be online.
Students should leave the secondary system having experienced success in:
1. Postsecondary

  • Background: Some students have not benefited from a college bound expectation at home and may not visualize themselves being successful in college.
  • Requirement: Earn college credit or a job certificate.
  • Options: students could earn college credit online, or from a college instructor in high school, or on a college campus (the best option because it helps kids see themselves on a college campus). With HB5, Texas high schools will need to show every student how they could earn 12 or more college credits while in high school. Another option could include obtaining a job certification–Certified Nursing Assistant license, Emergency Medical Technician certification, or medical interpreter certification programs just to name a few.
  • Supports: Students should also have the chance to visit several college campuses and be supported in application to several postsecondary institutions.
  • Beyond: Early high schools create a path to earning an AA degree in high school. YES Prep requires students to gain acceptance to a post secondary pathway. College For America partners with Big Picture Learning to make competency-based AA degrees available to high school students.

2. Careers

  • Background: There’s no better way to earn job skills than on the job. Most schools could do a lot more to introduce kids to career options and facilitate work-based learning experiences (see Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness).
  • Requirement: Complete several work-based learning experiences including job shadows and an internship; gain reference letters and add some digital portfolio artifacts to complete the badge.
  • Options: Check out RoadTripNation and O*Net for resources to explore career options.
  • Beyond: students could create a mobile app, and/or start a business.

3. Community service

  • Background: Service learning and its cousins civics education and democratic schools are gaining popularity and are recapped in this ECS report; 42 states mention service-learning in state policy and 18 states award credit toward graduation for service learning.
  • Requirement: Complete an individual and team based service learning experience; add artifacts and references to digital portfolio

4. Visual and performing arts

  • Background: A growing body of research points to the important role of the arts in improving students’ achievement and preparing them for an economy that demands creative solutions to challenging problems. There is also evidence that the arts in education can increase students’ engagement in learning as well as their social and civic development. Many states have an art credit requirement. Schools like High Tech High integrate visual arts and STEM subjects in a compelling way.
  • Requirement: present individual artwork to the school community and participate in a group work (performance, choral, or visual); add artifacts to digital portfolio.

5. Problem solving

  • Background: In addition to problems that display multivariable problem solving and informed use of probability and statistics; a problem solving badge could include a half a dozen challenges including design thinking, coding, robotics, and maker.
  • Requirement: Demonstrate problem solving skills and versatility when faced with three routine and three non-routine challenges; place juried feedback in a digital portfolio.

6. Publication

  • Background: Young people are inheriting a social many-to-many world. They deserve the digital literacy skills to create and share video, blogs, and newsletters. They should also learn when more formal research and writing styles are appropriate.
  • Requirement: Produce and share a video and a blog series. Prepare and present the findings of a research paper (with APA citations).
  • Beyond: Participation in student newspaper or yearbook. (See feature on Palo Alto High journalism).

7. World language fluency

  • Background: According to the Global Competence Task Force, world language fluency is an important subset of global competency, the ability “to see and understand the world from a perspective other than one’s own, and to understand and appreciate the diversity of societies and cultures.” With online and blended learning, it is easier and more affordable to help every student graduate. (See The Next Generation of World Language Learning.)
  • Requirement: Demonstrate basic conversational fluency in a second language.
  • Options: Some districts may want to focus on a broader definition of global competency.

8. Team

  • Background: Nearly all young people will find themselves working on a team. Hewlett’s Deeper Learning definition adds, “Students cooperate to identify and create solutions to academic, social, vocational and personal challenges.” That also requires that they “communicate and understand multiple points of view and they know how to cooperate to achieve a shared goal.”
  • Requirement: Document successful contribution to six team efforts demonstrating ability to work with diverse team members and success in different roles.
  • Option: This requirement could be fulfilled in conjunction with any/all of the others.

9. Project management

  • Background: Management guru Tom Peters said, “What’s normal, on the job or off, will end up being craft, learning, adding value—i.e., the project.” Whether inside a big organization or working on their own, most young people will be managing projects after leaving school. High Tech High and Expeditionary Learning schools require students to manage projects and make frequent presentations of learning (see 20 Deeper Learning school profiles).
  • Requirement: Demonstrate management of at least six multi-step projects to completion including at least one interdisciplinary project with a public presentation presentation.
  • Option: In addition to project management, marketing will prove to be a valuable skill for most students. One of their projects could be managing a campaign (perhaps a cause-related campaign, running for class office, or a sales promotion for a student store).

10. Personal wellness

  • Background: Sports teams and clubs help some youth develop a healthy habits and positive team experiences but in big schools that’s a small percentage of students. In addition to fitness, wellness includes healthy eating and living habits. When students face Adverse Childhood Experiences, they should have access to counseling at school and online (e.g., PresenceLearning). Students that are doing well, feel happy, and sustain healthy connections to families and communities bring that lens to their work in their 20s and beyond.
  • Requirement: Demonstrate a sustained fitness routine as well as healthy living habits.
  • Options: Nexus Academy students have a personal trainer. They “develop a personal fitness plan for each student and lead small-group sessions in a variety of activities suited for all fitness levels.” Trainers “instruct students in the value of healthy nutrition, sleep, and exercise, and they provide personal attention so students can set and reach individual physical goals.” Quantified self apps are making it easier to track progress on multiple fronts.

Next Generation Learning Challenges and Presence Learning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Tom Vander Ark

See: Universal Skills All Learners Should Know How to Do

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