Real Solutions for Kids and Communities: Experiential Learning
We believe in providing all children the opportunity to learn by doing. Experiential learning, including career and technical education, engages them in deeper learning, provides them with real-world, real-life skills, and boosts academic achievement. Career and technical education is experiential learning at its best, and it prepares students not only for traditional trades programs but also for in-demand careers in healthcare, information technology, skilled manufacturing and more.
Blogs and Articles
Trudy Christ, an interior design professor at Suffolk County Community College, says the hands-on learning experience she builds into her classes engages her students in a way worksheets and quizzes could never do. At the same time, she has helped her students connect to their community as they work to design warm and welcoming spaces in residences for survivors of domestic violence. “I am constantly seeking new opportunities for students to apply their skills in actual physical spaces — and to make a real difference in our communities,” she writes in this AFT Voices post.
Federal money is set to pour into the manufacturing industry in the U.S., but a big question looms: Who is going to do all this work? Why it matters: The tight labor market poses a challenge to what Axios' Neil Irwin calls the coming manufacturing investment supercycle.
From IT to plumbing, education to culinary arts, career and technical education provides pathways to learning for so many students—and a workforce for the communities where they live. Learn more about why the AFT is making experiential learning and in particular career and technical education a foundational element of our Real Solutions for Kids and Communities campaign.
When Linda Romano was a teenager, her mother’s illness required a lot of home care, school just didn’t seem important, and she racked up so many absences she nearly gave up on school altogether. Then she discovered the nursing track of the local career and technical education program, and everything changed. Her studies were more meaningful, she could see a career for herself, and she became a nurse immediately after graduation. Now a health science educator, Romano passes that inspiration on to her high school students. “This sort of experiential learning doesn’t just build a skill set — it builds confidence,” she says.
Vinny LaVerdi is bridging the gap between training and industry at the automotive technology program he runs at Erie Community College in Orchard Park, N.Y. Joshua Baker and William Dergosits designed a new engineering and robotics course, and they’re creating new facilities for eSports study and makerspaces at Berne-Knox-Westerlo Secondary School in Berne, N.Y. John Stratton and Leif Sorgule won prizes—including funding for their schools—for their work as automotive technology and engineering teachers. Learn more about how these AFT members are engaging students every day, in this New York State United Teachers collection of CTE profiles.
In response to these persistent disparities, there is an emerging consensus is we can reach more students more effectively by weaving career exploration and work-based learning — often referred to as “career-connected learning” — into the high school experience.
A healthy democracy depends on active civic participation—but participation depends on believing your voice matters. During “Every Day Is a Civics Lesson These Days,” a Lunch & Learn session at the TEACH conference, presenters demonstrated how to incorporate experiential learning and action civics into a well-rounded curriculum and show students that they can make a difference.
As students continue to face the steep cost of college and inflation challenges family budgets, vocational education is becoming a more and more attractive pathway to a wide range of stable, engaging careers that can start immediately after high school graduation. In Germany, CTE—called vocational and education training, or VET—introduces students to a variety of vocations early so they can choose which is the best fit.
I was introduced to career and technical education (CTE) when I was a high school senior questioning what I wanted to do with my life after graduation. I wasn’t sure college was an option, but I’d spent most of my junior and senior years looking for jobs with no success. It seemed nothing was turning out right for me.
There is a growing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) units and projects in the early childhood and elementary years.1 As former teachers turned researchers, we welcome this nascent movement, but because of our experience we suggest reflection and caution—particularly regarding the role of math in STEM education.