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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Balancing Life Skills with Academics

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

In my last Edutopia.org blog entry, I talked about project learning at Envision Schools, and the ways kids are motivated to master difficult subjects by interacting with peers in an interdisciplinary environment and tackling real-world issues.

That's not to say that life skills should always take center stage in the classroom. For example, writing a résumé in English class does not warrant a large investment of class time, nor does studying the history of the car in a social studies classroom. Although these subjects are relevant to the real lives of students, they should be viewed as springboards into more rigorous study.

Let's take a closer look at the car for a moment: At Envision Schools, students study world history at the time the car was invented by examining the Gilded Age and the events leading up to the Industrial Revolution. We use project learning to study these events in three classes: history, English, and digital media art.

Each student must do a historical analysis of these two important milestones, read a book on colonialism, and write a research paper.

The students then form groups where they study a particular country before World War I, as well as create a Ken Burns-style multimedia documentary with photographs from that country during that era.

Finally, the groups attend a mock world conference where they show their documentary, present what they've learned about each country, and defend the content. As a culminating requirement for the semester, each student must also defend his or her work individually before an audience of parents and peers.

As educators, we must help our students not only master academic content but also acquire the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for success in the global economy. These are the kinds of real-life skills that students will need in the 21st century.

What projects have your students accomplished where they acquired both life skills and academic content?

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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Amy Thomas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My students did a project in 9/10 grade Geometry this semester where they had to design the layout of streets in a fictional town. The project was connected to our study of the angles formed by parallel lines and transversals. They were required to place different buildings in the town at, for example, alternate interior angles.

On day two of the project, the students were given "building code changes" from the "city council". They had to hold to the same deadline, but had to adapt their design to these unexpected changes.

Once their projects were complete, they had to write individual letters to the city manager explaining the reasoning behind placing the streets and buildings precisely where they chose. They also had to address the "city budget cuts" by telling who from their team should be "fired" and why. They walked away from this project with so much more than just an understanding of the geometry involved!

Anna Glass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this article interesting. I think in todays society that it is very important that students have life skills. I also think it is very important for students to be able to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life activities. Sometimes students are more interested in something if they know they can apply it to something they have.

Susan Trachsel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this information interesting, and I feel that it is important for students to see how they can apply what they are learning in school to thier own lives. It is essential for educators to prepare their students to meet the real world problems that do exist. Unfortunately, this might not always be what is evaluated on a standardized test.

Kim K.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Family History

I have created family history projects in writing class. I like it because it "forces" students to talk to their parents and family members. For some teenagers, civilized conversations with their parents are difficult, and it is definitely a life skill.

Kim K.

Ian Kaiser 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello everyone I am the Career Pathway Consultant for the Vallejo City Unified School District. I oversee 6 academies, Bio Tech, Hospitality, Media Graphic, Public Service, Engineering and Business. Vallejo is at the bottom of the chain when it comes to test scores and drop out rate. Its a wonderful place to be because I am drawing on best practices around the country to offer our students project base learning models attached to real life applications. We are transforming a lost generation. Our grant money requires Advisory Boards from the private sector and also design teams. Our media graphics needs structure and vision. I am been focusing on networking and connecting to innovation outside of the Bankrupt Vallejo.

I solicit you ideas, connections and just plane friendship building

Thank you

Ian Kaiser
Career Pathway Consultant
Vallejo City Unified School District
707-342-3569
iunlimited@juno.com

Kopgel's picture

My students did a project in 9/10 grade Geometry this semester where they had to design the layout of streets in a fictional town. The project was connected to our study of the angles formed by parallel lines and transversals. They were required to place different buildings in the town at, for example, alternate interior angles.

On day two of the project, the students were given "building code changes" from the "city council".Genel Forum - Kopgel.net They had to hold to the same deadline, but had to adapt their design to these unexpected changes. Genel Forum - Kopgel.net

Chrystal's picture
Chrystal
High School Biology Teacher

I teach in an urban setting with students at a low socio-economic status and everyday I see more and more of a need to teach life skills in the classroom. The majority of my students do not come home or family environments that put an emphasis on teaching these children the basic skills that will make them independent, productive members of society. As much as I want to see each one of my students succeed and accomplish all of their dreams, the reality is that many of them are not college bound, for one reason or another, and so they must find or be taught another way to live independently. I can't help but sometimes think that we, the world of education, puts too much focus on our children passing standardized tests because if we are being realistic and perhaps stop being so "politically correct", we could see that not every child has what it takes to become the next engineer, lawyer, or doctor and to say that is okay. And I'm not saying that all children are not smart or privileged enough to do those things but rather it takes more than intelligence and opportunity to reach those goals. It takes a desire to learn and an intrinsic drive to push forward and to strive for more in a child to reach that kind of success. I believe that some children are born with those things and will overcome any obstacle but for most, those ideas and values must be instilled in us by an environment that fosters this way of thinking. And unfortunately, for some children, this environment is not present in their lives and so they fall victim to the mindset that "school/education is not for me" and this cycle will continue until we make a change in educaton. There is nothing wrong with teaching a child that has no desire or motivation to go on to college, a vocational or trade skill that will make him/her a very productive, independent member of society. If only our educational system could see that for some students passing their standardized tests or not does not matter; what truly counts is that we are educating them for a successful life, despite what those futures may be.

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