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Career Project Integrates Curriculum, Technology Skills

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Participants in Linda Loonam's careers project learn about a variety of careers -- some of which they have never even heard of. In the process, the students learn to use a wide range of technology tools and techniques -- from search engines to digital photography. Learn how your students could benefit from a project that integrates curriculum objectives with technology skills. Included: Online resources offering career information and activities for kids.


Memebers of Linda Loonam's 5th Grade at Bay Haven School in Sarasota, Florida, last year still might not be sure what they want to be when they grow up, but they sure know a lot more about the possibilities than they did before. The students took part in a project in which they researched careers in the field of science and created Web pages and posters about those careers.

The students who participate in one of Looman's Career Explorations learn about a variety of careers, "some of which they have never even heard of," Loonam tells Education World. They discover what people working in those careers actually do, how they are educated, what their average income is, and what the job market and outlook for those careers is. In the process, the students learn to use a wide range of technology tools and techniques -- from search engines to digital photography.

In fact, Loonam says, students are initially "hooked" on the project by the technology component; they're first introduced to browsers, search engines, Web sites, Internet language, and URLs. Then, taking advantage of that technological excitement, Loonam walks students through the actual work that is expected of them and makes them aware of the career-related Web sites, text materials, and library books that are available for research.

Eventually, all those research resources are used, according to Loonam. "Research is done with print resources, such as career encyclopedias, and with online resources found through search engines. The best of those is Ask Jeeves for Kids. Students also use Bridges, an online subscription site paid for by our county. The service has fabulous career information for student research. In addition, some students interview community members working in their selected career areas."

The students work on the careers project in pairs. During the research phase, each pair keeps a folder or notebook and uses graphic organizers to record their results. The graphic organizers help students keep track of the information they're required to include in their project.

After completing the research, students create posters about the careers they've researched. Then they use a computer template to organize the information for Web page display. During this phase of the project, students learn to work with Photoshop, Claris Homepage, and digital photography. Finally, they use HTML to publish their work -- including text, photographs, and posters -- to the Web.

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR ALL

"Our first Career Exploration project was done in 1999-2000," Loonam says, "with a heterogeneous fifth-grade class that included learning disabled, emotionally handicapped, and speech and language students." The project was very well received, and the students had the opportunity to present their work to the school board."

Despite the project's initial success, Loonam and Schmidt have made some changes that help the project progress more smoothly. "In the first project, students investigated and reported on a broad range of careers," Loonam says. "Now, the choice of careers is limited to the science field. I found that the student research and writing could be -- and was -- better organized. My graphic organizers are much better, and I've designed a rubric for clear assessment. The first project was very much a learning experience for both students and adults. We became much more comfortable the second time around!"

No matter how much experience they have, teachers who attempt this kind of project must be prepared for problems, Loonam says. "Technology is a challenge; there are days when classroom computers do not cooperate, the Internet is down, and little goes smoothly."

In addition, Loonam points out, "Ten- and eleven-year-olds have a difficult time conceptualizing such ideas as 'education requirements' and 'related fields' and, of course, bibliographies are always a difficult concept. Students who participated in the first project had the additional challenge of trying to visualize the finished product. Students in subsequent groups could see what previous groups had accomplished."

In projects such as this, Loonam says, "Another adult provides both physical and emotional support as you frantically attempt to troubleshoot everything from partners who are not getting along to crashed disks. I had the luxury of Dee -- a certified elementary teacher and technology wiz -- who had all the Web knowledge I initially lacked. She's an integral part of the planning and implementation. That kind of support is invaluable in projects such as this one."

Was it worth it? "Absolutely!" Loonam says. "The feedback from students indicates that they learn a great deal about the kinds of careers they might choose as they grow up. Some even find out what they would never want to do."

"I see the exposure to a variety of career opportunities as the biggest benefit," Loonam notes, "but I believe the students see the technology as the biggest benefit!"

RELATED CAREER LINKS:

  • Career Information and Planning
    College Link provides links to career-planning information and activities for students of all ages.
  • Career Planning Resources
    The career planning resources recommended at this site have been evaluated for relevancy, credibility, and design.
  • America's Job Bank
    This job search engine is part of a suite of career-related sites developed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • BLS Career Information
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information about specific career opportunities for "kids who like" music and art, science, physical education, math, social studies, or reading.