Experiential Learning for High School Students

In preparation for the year ahead, the TIE profs set up a short online summer module for us to go through with several articles and videos by TIE profs. In particular, one of the readings caught my interest.

In an article by Brown, Collins, and Duguid (“Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning”), the authors discuss the importance of situating teaching within a relevant and real-life context. Rather than traditional modes of teaching that emphasize classroom-specific knowledge (ie. learning vocabulary through dictionary definitions, memorizing historical dates and places, math problems that lack practical application), Brown, Collins, and Duguid point to the ways in which long-term and valuable learning occurs when the application and context of the concepts are made real. In order for abstract concepts to have salience and value, students must situate the concepts to real-life applications.

This got me thinking–we take it as a given that when theory is complemented with practice, the links between the two are made much clearer and what is learned stays with us longer. We also encourage college students (and in HGSE’s case, graduate students as well) to pursue internships, to better make those connections clear.

My question is, why do we limit experiential learning to college and graduate students?

What would it look like, then, if we had a high school (or even middle school) curriculum that incorporated internship experiences? 

What if every semester (or every year), students had to take one internship “class” or credit? Over the course of their four years, they would need to take an internship in one of four competency areas (say, communication, data analysis, performance, putting things together). They’d have the choice to determine what kind of internship would fit those competency areas and learn, early on, what kinds of skills they want to further develop and what kinds of work environments they work best in.

So, to fulfill the communication competency requirement, for example, student A could do an internship with a local newspaper, student B with a radio station, student C as a social media intern, student D at a senator’s office doing PR work. For the putting things together component, someone could learn how video game design works, another with an architect, a third with a fashion designer. And they’d have to keep a journal through the semester and reflect upon the ways in which they see the connections and meet with an internship advisor or small group of students every few weeks.

People might argue that why is it students can’t do this during the summer and wouldn’t this take away from valuable school-time learning. Sure, these are legitimate concerns, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could find a way to make the theoretical concepts behind math, science, English grammar, and social studies real for each student individually? No two students would emerge from high school with the identical experience–every student would come away having learned more about the world (and themselves!) in a completely different way from their peers.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Impossible? Most certainly not.

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