Absorbed in the Real World

A group of students clustered around an ultrasound monitor, totally absorbed in watching the grainy images of the fetus moving inside the womb. A doctor hovered nearby, explaining what they were seeing, and then answering a torrent of questions about what happens inside the maternity and obstetrics ward. 

Earlier that day, the same group of students was wandering the Google campus, in awe at the utopian vibe of the place, employees chatting in park-like areas and playing basketball. More than few eyes opened wide when our host explained that when Google searches for new employees (as every student in that moment wished to one day become!), it's not enough to be smart - they look for collaboration skills, or "teaming" as they put it. Hmm! So it turns out that students' challenges in collaborating with their peers during our Quests may be more worthwhile than they had realized.

This was just two snippets from one day, out of five days in which our students fanned out around the Bay Area to visit a wide variety of workplaces. Earlier that week they were engrossed by jeweler Emi Grannis, explaining how she creates unique pieces of metalwork, and what her path has been like as a solo entrepreneur. They visited two "B Corps", Mafia Bags and Fireclay Tile, learning about this new type of hybrid company that strives to make a profit and do good. Others heard from technology executives and software engineers, were rapt with attention in a professional kitchen, and witnessed a documentary film being made. The list goes on...

This was our weeklong intersession on Workplace Exploration, following our developmental model of exposing middle school students to the "real world" beyond the walls of their school. What do adults actually do all day? How do they discover passions and apply them in the world? What's worth doing? How does this connect to my academic work?

After a week of constant movement, we were all a bit tired, but aware that important seeds had been planted. I think back to seeing one student utterly absorbed in a presentation from architect Olle Lundberg, showing a level of focus and engagement that many would believe is not possible at this age. Another student, sitting in a delivery room at a hospital, literally leaning in and beginning to ask what seemed like a never-ending line of questions, curiosity bubbling over. This odd age of middle school is when kids for millennia began to do meaningful work for their communities, and in so doing began to feel valuable and to understand how they could be members of a community. In our more privileged society, our students do not have to work yet, but they still need to understand the world of work to satisfy their deep curiosity about how value is created and how their studies relate to the world around them. After this week, some new connections are forming in their minds, and we'll see where it takes us...  

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