2 Steps to Embedding Career Pathways into the K-8 Curriculum



How can teachers easily and effectively incorporate career experiences into their existing curriculum?

As school districts across the U.S. move towards a career readiness focus, teachers and administrators are tasked with exposing students to career pathways.  This can be overwhelming to most teachers who are already strapped for time engaging students with existing curriculum and standardized assessments.

Here's a 2 step solution to including career exploration in a way that enhances units of study:

1. The first step in moving toward a career infused curriculum is to incorporate career pathways into units of study. To accomplish this, you can compare the essential knowledge and skills connected to each pathway with the important academic content and skills highlighted in each unit. The website Careertech.org  can be used to help determine what essential knowledge and skills students must have to be successful in pathways from any career cluster.

For example, within the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources cluster there is a Natural Resource Management Pathway. In this pathway, the following essential knowledge and skill statements are included:
• Identify natural resources
• Identify impacts by humans on natural resources
• Recognize weather related dangers
• Describe different types of maps and interpret map features and legends

The content and skills mentioned here could be connected to elementary units of study across a variety of grade levels and subject areas, including, but not limited to: a map unit in Social Studies, an environmental science unit or a weather unit.

Similarly, within the Architecture and Construction cluster these points are a few of the knowledge and skills identified within the Design/Pre-Construction pathway:
• Calculate areas and volumes of structures
• Calculate ratios, fractions and proportion measures
• Develop design alternatives that address a given problem and select the most appropriate solution
• Build models from drawings or sketches and verify the accuracy of each model

The content and skills referenced here could potentially be connected to middle school math units on geometry or ratios and proportionality. Additionally, the pathway could connect to engineering, including the practices that engineers engage in to accomplish their work.

2. Once connections have been identified between existing curriculum and occupations within a career cluster, the next step is to plan how the career exploration will be woven throughout a unit. This will look different in every classroom, however ideas include introducing and exploring the pathway at the beginning of a unit, engaging students in formative and culminating work that mirrors the work in specific occupations.

Introducing a career pathway at the outset of the unit and providing some time for student exploration is beneficial in two ways: 1.) It provides an overarching real-world connection for all of the learning that occurs within a particular unit and 2.) Your  use the information to help underscore the importance of the connected unit of study. The US Department of Labor website is an excellent resource for students and teachers to use as they explore careers.

Asking students to do the work that professionals do can create more engaging experiences that are focused on the application of content and skills. This can be done as formative or culminating work in a unit. Perhaps this looks like elementary students doing the work of “conservationists” as they observe and list ways that humans are impacting plant and animal species in their community. Or maybe it is middle school students creating an “architect’s” scale drawing of plans for a new gym that may be constructed at the school. The online resource Defined STEM helps teachers find performance tasks that mirror the work of professionals and connect to content standards. You can see good examples of how teachers are incorporating real world content into their curriculum on their “Teacher Experiences” page.

Including career focused content into your existing curriculum is worth the effort!  Your students will become engaged and excited as their lessons become more relevant.  The knowledge and skills they build in this process will give them better opportunities for success in college, career, and life.


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