As a lifelong educator, I love that young students, throughout the various stages of their development, have moments of “When I grow up, I want to be a …” . Whether they dream of becoming a doctor, a firefighter, a scientist, or a teacher, these aspirations are authentic and are often fueled by an open, energetic curiosity.
Middle school is the perfect time for educators to guide and harness students’ energy and creativity to help them get in touch with what they love, feel good about what they’re doing, and build the skills needed to turn their dreams into reality.
Early entrepreneurship education paves the way toward early self-awareness around skills and competencies. This can lead students to develop important life skills they’ll actually want to learn. But, first things first: Harnessing all that energy and passion!
Finding Answers to Life's Toughest Questions
Encouraging middle schoolers to explore various career paths can introduce questions that weigh on all of us: Who am I? What do I want to do with my life?
I believe middle school career exploration is more about shifting the mindset from career-finding to problem-seeking. This is an idea I heard about during a conversation with former Chief Education Evangelist at Google, Jaime Casap, and something I've found to be very powerful with students. It shifts the exploration to be super-personal and motivating, stripping away any potential pressure or preconceptions about various careers.
“Don’t ask students what they want to do when they grow up, ask them what problems they want to solve.”
As we all know from recent studies around the 'future of work', many careers that today’s middle school students will take on don’t yet exist. SO, all the more reason not to ask students what they want to be when they grow up, but instead to ask them what problems they want to solve.
A New Lens on Career Exploration in Middle School
Instead of focusing on the end-game— a career plan, encourage students to observe the world around them, and identify problems to be solved, and what really bothers them that they are motivated to change. Then, empower them with the mindset and skills to create unique ways to solve them. Through this process, interests and skill preferences may be revealed, and over time, connections to careers can be discovered and made. What does your student admire about people who have that job? What traits and skills do they see? Do they feel comfortable and competent in those skills? If not, how can one develop in those areas?
As program manager for our elementary school entrepreneurship program, freshINCedu, and our middle school entrepreneurship program, mxINCedu, I try to embrace this in my work, and it fits in so well with the message of entrepreneurship: Seek to solve a problem. Then, try to solve the problem, and it's ok to try and fail and learn, and then try again, in fact that's when development happens!
Why Middle School is a Good Time to Introduce Career Exploration
Now, let’s take a trip down Memory Lane. Do you remember when you were in middle school? Do you remember how you weren’t afraid of anything? Chances are, you were willing to try things, and didn't feel as inhibited as you may have felt in high school. That’s true of today’s middle schoolers, too.
Middle school students crave discovery. They’re curious, creative, and willing to face the unknown—which makes them excellent entrepreneurs, as well as the perfect candidates for early career exploration. Just imagine what our students might discover if we not only encouraged them to be brave in their learning, but also showed them how to take calculated risks and learn from their mistakes. All while collaborating and problem solving. This is true 'life skill' development.
"Imagine what students could discover if we encouraged them to be brave in their learning, take risks, and learn from their mistakes." @incubatoredu @unchartedLRNG
~ Angie Sutherland, Program Manager, mxINCedu & freshINCedu
Career and Technical Education in Middle School
Career and technical education in middle school is a natural place for career exploration and skill development.
Middle school is becoming an increasingly common starting point for career and technical education (CTE) programs, and entrepreneurship curriculum is often a stand alone pathway, or integrated in coursework.
In recent years, many states have begun to invest more resources and support to expand CTE and career exploration opportunities in middle school, thanks to Perkins V, or The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, as it gives states the opportunity to use Perkins funding to support CTE as early on as fifth grade—hooray!
We know that middle school CTE adds relevancy to students’ learning experiences by exposing them to real-world options and connecting their academics to future pathways. Successful CTE programs equip middle school students with the transferable 'life' skills and hard skills they’ll need to succeed in high school and well beyond.
Early Career Exploration Can Advance Life Skill Development
ACTE and Advance CTE provide rich materials and research findings around the power of CTE in middle school. Some outcomes they identify (below) of successful implementations of CTE and career exploration in middle school spotlight the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, agility — skills that can be developed through entrepreneurship education.
Kick Start Students for Life
Early career exploration is a perfect opportunity for educators to encourage a shift among students from, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” to “What problem do I want to solve?” And once they’ve identified the problem they want to solve, educators provide the support to identify (and build) the skills they need to solve that problem. Then, over time, students learn how to align those skills with a future career.
At Uncharted Learning, our mission is simple: Kick start students for life by exposing them to early career opportunities and helping them develop the skills of successful entrepreneurs. Skills needed not just to meet future work requirements, but to thrive and shape the future of our economy.
Remember, Perkins grant funding may be available to you—and more than 70% of our member schools have applied for and received such funding to support implementation of mxINCedu. Learn more about bringing entrepreneurship to your students today.