Schools want to provide opportunities for students to develop the skills and competencies to prepare them for a productive future. Such opportunities include connecting with students’ lives and interests, and engaging them in solving relevant and authentic problems. Project-based learning, maker learning, and community based learning opportunities can be challenging to implement. Additionally, partnerships with local businesses and other community partners can provide service learning, internships, and apprenticeships for students but can be difficult to organize, sustain and scale. For all of these rich real-world learning opportunities, it can be difficult to ensure that all students have equitable access.
In the Words of District Leaders
“We’re trying to leverage internships for our students, which I think are super beneficial for kids to get on-the-job experience. We’re trying to pressure some of our local businesses to put some skin in the game. Like most places, business communities are quick to criticize public education and some of the lack of skill sets that our students have leaving, but they’re not willing to put any skin in the game. We’re holding them a little bit more accountable and asking them to give back. If they truly want to create an employable workforce, then what are they going to do to help create opportunities for these students to learn on the job as well?”
Ideas from the Field
- Many districts are pursuing partnerships either with local business development groups or other state/local organizations that offer apprenticeships. These partnerships allow students to visit, explore, or engage in longer-term apprentice-type programs. Opportunities span a wide spectrum, from students engaged in research with post-doctoral students to students gaining EMT certification to students visiting robotics, optics, fisheries or other local economic drivers.
- Another district has used summer as a time to provide real-world learning opportunities, growing their summer school program from 3,000 to 12,000 students with a partner experience every week in each elementary classroom.
- Virtual reality is also providing new opportunities for students; while a more costly approach, districts find that exposing students to real places and possibilities through virtual reality beyond the place they live and have grown up opens their minds to all sorts of new options.
Check out the following research-based resources for more information about supporting real-world learning:
Project-Based Learning topic page – From Digital Promise, this page provides an introduction and key findings from the research on PBL outcomes and implementation, including links to additional resources.
Maker Learning Leadership Framework – From Digital Promise, this framework helps school leaders create sustainable maker learning programs.
A School Rooted in Real-World Learning – From Edutopia, this blog describes a K12 school focused on arts and sciences to foster students’ passions and prepare them for future success.
The Value of Internships: A Dose of the Real World in High School – This article from Mind/Shift illustrates how secondary students can benefit from authentic internship opportunities.
Real World Learning Network – The Real World Learning Network explores questions like “How do we learn about the world around us?” and “Can we deliver better learning?”