PBL differs from traditional teaching in many ways, but one of the most foundational differences is the equal credence it gives to both skill and content development. Students don’t just acquire knowledge and demonstrate understanding of subject matter, they also focus on developing success skills, sometimes called “soft skills” or “21st century competencies”. Depending on a school’s mission, these skills can be defined differently. Some districts use the popular “4 C’s” model while some have more customized lists that they developed during visioning exercises where they picture their ideal graduate.
Some school that I have worked with have CTE programs focused on skills that are relevant to their career pathway, and I began to wonder how these skills were selected. With my current project, I wanted to develop a similar skill profile that connected the obscure focus to more common competencies so that more people could be willing to engage with the content, but I needed a method.
The career field that I chose to focus on for this was public land management. I wanted to create a success skill model tailored directly to common responsibilities and job requirements that professionals in the field were expected to perform. But since I had only an outsiders knowledge of managing, protecting, and providing access to national and state parks, wilderness areas, and national memorials, I knew more professional experience was required.
Step One – “What They Do” Brainstorm
To begin, I connected with some folks in the industry to create a massive list of all the things that they do. It included tasks I expected such as collecting campground fees, maintaining facilities, keep gawkers away from wildlife and so forth, but also included things I wouldn’t have thought of like creating empathy between visitors and the park, setting controlled burns, working with non-profit groups to establish a budget, and critical thinking problems like balancing access vs. impact (sure you can build another parking lot for more cars, but what will the impact be in terms of pollution?) I put every one of these tasks/skills/jobs/requirements on an individual sticky note for a grand total of 108! You’re welcome, 3M!
Step Two – Critical Thinking Time!
Clearly, 108 “success skills” was far too many, so I began trying to group them in categories using the 4 C’s as my starting point. I was originally hoping to be able to link each one with a “strand” but soon realized that many of the tasks public land managers performed connect to more than one. Creating a new exhibit for a visitor center, for example, is a combination of communication (making sure that complex concepts are understandable to all ages) and creativity (the use of design, language, media, etc.) This required me to shift and create what I called “career competencies” to take the place of the core competencies captured by the four C’s. After a few revisions and some help wordsmithing the definitions, I was able to come up with the following;
Visitor Experience: Ensuring that the general public is aware of and can enjoy all the park has to offer. This is not just limited to sharing the recreational offerings of the park when people arrive, but also has to do with education and advertising for prospective visitors. It can also include making sure that underserved populations, such as minorities or those with physical handicaps, are shown ways of enjoying the park as well.
Interpretation: Ensuring that the story of the park is well represented to all those who visit. Creating a sense of empathy between the visitor, the park, and its resources. It includes well- researched, articulated and unbiased engagement that promote interaction between park staff and the public. Involves informing the public as to the importance of the park so they will support it. Utilizes the SET model (story, empathy, truth) model when developing programs, educational resources, and other interpretive elements.
Management: The administrative overseeing of the park. Ensuring that the infrastructure needed to support the mission of the park is sound and sustainable. Includes management and leadership practices that build a strong and resilient park. Making sure staff are supported and well-trained, creating sustainable models for growth that balance access with preservation in a logical way. Forming strong partnerships with community groups, volunteers, and non-profits to help sustain the park.
Stewardship: The protection and preservation of the parks and its natural, cultural, and historic assets. The data-informed scientific management natural resources using sound data and science. Preservation of historic resources in a way that protects them while still allowing access. Ensuring that parks with rich cultural heritage respect the people that hold them sacred. Engaging in legislative actions that protect the park from encroachment and development.
Step Three – Alignment
After a lot of work and revision I had a strong career-focused skill profile, but one “I wonder” I had regarding the model I developed was, “I wonder how much resonance this will have with those who aren’t passionate about this specific career pathway?” If you’re not interested in being a park ranger, then why would this still relate to you? I needed to connect the model to more familiar skills in order to ensure the broadest acceptance for the materials I linked to it. For this reason, I went back to the original, more universal four C’s and decided to align them to the career-based competencies that I created focused on.
After a little creative graphic designing I had a solid and fairly straightforward model;
The benefit of this type of process is threefold. It connects the projects students are doing to real-world tasks that build valuable experience. It also creates clear connections between school and career in subjects sometimes plagued by problems with authenticity and relevance. Finally, it is useful for schools who are looking to find their “niche” in an educational landscape where more and more schools are branding themselves with magnet or CTE programs.