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Above: Oakland High School students in the UCCI course, Engineering Geometry with Physics, apply the concepts of geometry and physics to class engineering projects.
Linked Learning prepares students for college and career - not just one or the other.
This statement is from the Linked Learning Alliance press release congratulating the California school districts selected to participate in the Linked Learning Pilot Program. I chose the quote to begin this blog post because it so succinctly captures why I love the work we do at the University of California Curriculum Integration program (“UCCI” for short), and why I am always so excited about the courses teachers create at our Institutes.
For much of the lifespan of public education in America, we have drawn a clear division between academics—the work of the mind—and what used to be called “vocational training”—hands-on work that prepared students for a particular trade. This division created a variety of problems, among which were the following:
The Linked Learning movement does away with this dichotomy. By integrating academics with career training, our courses—and others that take a Linked Learning approach—give students options. The young woman who once thought that her penchant for making things trumped any interest in math might, if given the chance to take a class like Geometry by Design!, realize that she also has a natural affinity for—and interest in—geometric and algebraic equations. The student whose regular “outbursts” in English class seemed the symptom of his boredom might find that a course like Language Takes the Stage indulges his love of performance in a way that also correlates with a love of reading and writing.
This idea of uniting these two spheres of education still seems radical to many people, despite the fact that we do exactly this in our colleges and universities. Once students enter the courses for their major, their academic development occurs through the specific lens of their chosen discipline. Why shouldn’t this be the case in our high schools as well?
In UCCI courses—as with other Linked Learning curriculum—academic study takes on an immediate relevance. A course like Applied Medical English challenges students to read and understand complex texts, to think critically about what they are learning, to express their ideas clearly and convincingly in writing—all while they explore a career path that interests them.
And all of these courses—Geometry by Design!, Language Takes the Stage, Applied Medical English—offer students the chance to explore Career Technical Education without having to make a choice between CTE and “college-prep.”
I am often reminded of Matthew Crawford’s wonderful piece, “The Case for Working with Your Hands.” Crawford, who is a motorcycle mechanic, came to his job only after earning a B.A., an M.A. and finally a PhD. Among the points he makes in his essay is that we are mistaken when we assume that because something involves “manual labor,” it is work that does not involve much thought. Crawford explains that the work he does fixing motorcycles is steeped in metacognition. Each day in the shop involves “stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate.”
In other words, there is an intellectual rigor to this work. But for Crawford, there is also a satisfaction that he didn’t find when he was working in more typically “intellectual” environments.
Linked Learning courses, in offering a project-based learning approach to academics, can provide students with that level of satisfaction and intellectual stimulation. What’s more—they allow our students more options than a tracked system that separates academics from the “real world.”
"A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world,” Crawford says in his essay. I would argue that a good education requires the same. Linked Learning courses offer opportunities for students to “put their best capacities to work” in ways that are meaningful to them. In doing so they emerge not just ready for college and career, but able to choose the path that makes the most sense for them.