What is Learning Through Internships?
Learning through internships (LTI) is a unique educational strategy aimed at making education more relevant and engaging. Unlike the job-training placements of prior reform generations, the Big Picture Learning approach to LTI experiences is not intended to consign students to a vocational track that steers them away from college. Part of the growing movement to prepare all students for college, careers, and civic participation, LTIs seek to engage youth in rigorous project-based learning within a “real-world” 21st century learning context.
While the primary purpose of a student’s LTI experience is to build knowledge, understanding and skills in the context of authentic work, fundamental to the Big Picture Learning approach, is that each student learns through pursuing his or her own interests and passions. LTIs offer a framework for teachers to gain awareness of, acknowledge, and validate the learning that occurs around these interests outside of school. By extending the educational process beyond the walls of the classroom, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and become inspired life-long learners.
Few learning experiences in schools apply the well-established power of integrating hand, heart, and mind learning and real-world contexts, but the Big Picture Learning approach to LTIs aims to give every student and teacher the tools, materials, and thinking to be designers, tool users, and creators of their world. Every student completes project work that is relevant and useful to the internship site; in this way, the experience benefits the mentor and internship site as well as providing “real-world” experience for the student intern. The role of the school-based educator is to assist the student intern and mentor in developing authentic project work so that learning becomes visible.
LTI creates the framework for adults and young people to get to know each other, to develop close relationships, and to learn from each other about the messiness of real world planning, critical thinking and problem solving. However, LTI is not simply about the product that is created or the service that is rendered. On a deeper level, it is about children and adolescents learning to become mature, thoughtful adults.
LTIs & The Classroom
Although LTIs can be configured in a number of ways, at Big Picture Learning Schools it is not an add-on to the instructional approach used in the classroom but rather a process at the center of students’ learning experiences. LTI is a way to activate curiosity and increase students’ engagement so that they have a more concrete understanding of the relevance of core conceptual knowledge and critical 21st century competencies, including dispositions such as curiosity and life-long learning as well as collaboration and creativity. These are all vital capacities that are increasingly demanded by the highly competitive careers of the 21st century and embraced by the Common Core State Standards.
What most people miss in education is that just focusing on “skills” (academic and career) are not enough to get students through college and work. An LTI provides the context for social emotional learning and the development of social capital. Rather than a purely instrumental approach that seeks to train students with a particular set of technical skills that might enable them to fulfill the requirements of a particular low-level entry trainee position in the workforce, LTI experiences help students become “work-ready” though prolonged and repeated experiential learning and production of authentic products that are of value to the site where the LTI occurs. It also helps students develop beyond improving their own individual mind-set, and build community-minded awareness and connection.
LTI promotes curiosity and creates lifelong learners
Although it is true that the question, “What is the purpose of K-12 education?” will always be a rich topic for discussion, it is generally accepted that broadly speaking it is to prepare young people to flourish as adults. LTI can play an invaluable role in this because it enables students to explore, develop their interests, discover their talents, and hone their skills in order to be able to pursue their passions into adulthood. We have seen time and again that this is the way in which young people develop into the positive, productive adult leaders of our communities.
Fundamental to LTIs is that students are not assigned willy-nilly to particular internship experiences, but are guided through a process of interest exploration, are required to do the “heavy lift” in terms of identification of possible sites, and are given significant voice and choice in the ultimate selection of the LTI site. By starting with the interests of students, they feel validated and engaged in the learning process.
It is important to realize that LTI does not imply that students stay myopically focused on one particular interest, but rather it is the role of the educator to continually create opportunities for the student to push and stretch the focus of their work so that they become aware of the interconnected nature of knowledge and so that their initial interest is leveraged to broaden their academic investigation and intellectual development. At Big Picture Learning Schools it has been our experience that the most effective way to promote intellectual curiosity is to grant significant student voice and choice in the selection of LTIs.
LTI is an opportunity for collaboration with adults in “real-world” settings beyond the classroom
LTI triangulates a relationship between Teacher, Student, and Mentor that builds social capital as well as deep understanding of professional relationships and collaboration. Entering into an LTI generally always requires that students work closely with a mentor, and usually involves working with others as part of a team. Working with others and weighing different viewpoints builds students ability to empathize, ultimately refining their social-emotional intelligence.
Students learn to consider and value the input and ideas of people who may be quite different than themselves in the service of working to benefit the LTI site. While it sometimes can be challenging for students to learn to enter into this type of uncertainty, learning to manage conflict in productive manners and reach enough resolution to move forward is an in valuable skill to develop that benefits overall problem solving ability. Additionally, students learn the appropriate methods and styles of communication present in the environment of the LTI. They document their learning through verbal, written, and visual communication such as frequent reflective writing and periodic public presentations which offer opportunities to solicit constructive feedback.
LTI requires students to co-create the criteria for assessment and evaluation
When students enter into an LTI experience, there generally is not a clearly identified “product” that they are expected to produce. Rather, over the course of the first weeks of their time there, they observe the roles and responsibilities of the various people at the site and create a list of possible ways in which they might be of assistance. Similarly the supervisor/mentor at the LTI site creates a list of possible projects that the student might assist with. The role of the teacher then becomes to conflate these two lists and facilitate a conversation between the student and the mentor that leads to the identification of project work that the student can engage in that will be a benefit to the host site organization/business and also be an opportunity for learning and growth on the part of the student. A portion of this goal setting is an explicit discussion about what will constitute high quality work. In this way, an LTI experience becomes a “high stakes” assessment that increases students’ ownership over their work.
The Learning Through Internships Process
It is important to note that in the Big Picture Learning approach to LTIs, the educators don’t “match” students to internships. Instead, educators gain a holistic understanding of each individual student to guide them through a variety of self-reflective processes and exploration activities in order to elucidate their interests and passions. Students are guide through the process of searching for prospective sites where they are interested in conducting an informational interview, and/or shadowing for a day.
Simultaneously, educators work with students to develop the technical skills necessary to present themselves professionally. Students learn how to write cover letters and resumes, engage in appropriate email etiquette, and how to make follow up phone calls to schedule appointments. In preparation for informational interview, educators facilitate role-plays, and scaffold the processes of background research and question generation. Additionally, students learn how to follow up with timely thank you notes and follow through on next steps for securing an LTI experience.
Step #1 Interest Exploration and Research
In preparing for an LTI, all students begin with interest exploration, which can take many forms. It includes interest inventories, interest expeditions, interest activities, and “Who Am I?” projects. It involves self-reflection, peer and family input, teacher observation, and exposure. It is the time to both dig deep into the past (“What was your favorite thing to do when you were 3 years old?”), to look to the future (“What is one thing you want to accomplish in the next 10 years?”), to explore a moral compass (“If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?”), to metaphorically try on as many shoes as possible (“Find 10 careers you know nothing about.”).
After interest exploration, the student should be able to identify 1-3 interests to pursue as an LTI. The next phase is research. Now the student needs to go deeper in understanding the careers associated with those interests.
- What types of organizations hire those people?
- What organizations are dedicated to those fields?
- What current events are impacting those fields?
- What are people in those fields concerned about? Talking about?
During this phase, the students will use as many traditional research tools as possible (internet, periodicals, career books, etc.) At the end of this phase, the student not only has a knowledge base about the industry or career, but also has a list of informed questions to ask professionals.
Step #2 Informational Interviews and Shadow Days
During this phase, the student will identify potential local organizations and people to interview. The list needs to be reviewed by educators at the school for approval. It is important that some adult educator in the building vet the list to insure accuracy and to cross-check it against a list of sites that other students are pursuing. The next step is for specific sites to be approved for pursuit. Educators work closely with students to support and evaluate ability to communicate professionally via media such as cover letters and resumes, email, phone calls and through in-person role-playing. The educators closely scaffold, observe, and support as students begin to reach out to contact organizations and individuals for informational interviews. Students are encouraged to have multiple interviews as an extension of interest exploration.
Even more valuable than informational interviews are opportunities for students to spend a full day at a worksite shadowing with a professional. The day is most often spent observing the work the professional does and participating when possible. The goal is for the student to get a feel for what a typical day is like at the organization and what the professional’s job entails. It is also a critical time for the student to get to know the professional and vice versa. Again, students are encouraged to have multiple shadow days before identifying an LTI site and mentor that they think will make the best match.
Step #3 LTI Set-up and Project Development
Securing an LTI is only the beginning. Now the real work begins. From the first conversation with the potential mentor explaining the LTI experience and how it fits into the students’ learning plan, consistency, and support are key. Once the professional has agreed to be a mentor, a Set Up Meeting to discuss expectations and responsibilities needs to be completed before the student can begin the LTI experience.
A few weeks after the Set Up Meeting, the educator needs to meet with the student intern and mentor again to have a Project Set Up Meeting. Clear goals and communication between the two meetings is essential for these meeting to go smoothly. Tools and tips for how to structure these critical meetings and the “honeymoon” time in between are provided as links in this toolkit. Remember, this is the time to be as clear as possible; this is when the tone of the LTI is set and the mentor is most impressionable about the program and the student.
Step #4 Project and Monitoring
Once the LTI has been set up and the project defined, work intensifies. The student will be processing a new culture and struggling to understand its systems and expectations. Keeping the ball rolling and keeping everyone informed become top priorities. In addition to periodic visits, it may be helpful to have regular brief phone calls and/or video-chats. Additionally, check-ins with educators at the school around progress and regularity of contact can make a world of difference. Sample agendas for mentor orientations as well as meetings with advisors and principals are included later in the handbook. Strategies for supporting advisors with the structure and follow up of LTIs and LTI projects are also included.
LTIs and the Standards
Learning Through Internships – LTIs are personalized learning experiences where a student works closely with an industry mentor over an extended period at the mentor’s place of work. In order to keep the internship, the student must meet or exceed the professional standards of that workplace. Every student has a highly personalized project at his or her internship, which is designed to help both the mentor/workplace and meet the educational needs of the child. All internship projects require the student to:
- Conduct an in-depth research project;
- Write a research paper to compile and analyze the research he or she did; and…
- Give an extended oral presentation of this research to a juried panel consisting of the student’s family members, workplace mentor, teacher(s), and schoolmates.
At the conclusion of the presentation, the panel then gives the student feedback and support to help him or her improve over the next quarter. Because a research, writing and speaking component is required for all student LTI projects, each student addresses the ELA CCSS in a variety of ways over the course of every one of his or her internship experiences.
Moreover, many internships projects also meet CCSS in mathematics as well as the NGSS standards. In order to accomplish these goals, the student’s instructor must work closely with the workplace-mentor to carefully plan a project, which includes the requisite standards. Consequently, student LTI projects that meet CCSS in mathematics or the NGSS are highly-personalized and closely aligned to the needs of the student and the mission of the workplace. Therefore, not every internship project may have a connection to the CCSS in mathematics or the NGSS.
Common Core: Language Arts
Since every student is required to conduct an in-depth research project that contains a research paper at his or her internship, all students address a wide array of the CCSS in English Language Arts every quarter. Outlined below are an array of standards and a description of how a student at a Big Picture school addresses these standards in her internship project.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Every student at a Big Picture School must conduct a sustained research project at his or her internship. The student meets regularly with her workplace mentor and teacher to outline a research question and refine and assess the ongoing work in his or her research project. All internship-based research projects require the student to use multiple sources and assess the reliability of those sources. Some student research projects have included: An assessment of possible racial bias in the civil courts of Rhode Island, effective strategies for teaching literacy skills to pre-school children, and reimagining the volunteer training program at a local hospital.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
As each student conducts her research at her internship site, she must read and understand a variety of texts, which may include: manuals, articles from the popular press, trade books, academic articles/publications, governmental standards or regulations or professional journals. Each student keeps an annotated bibliography of the texts she uses in her internship-research to use in discussions with her mentor and teacher as well as to document her use and assessment of these texts over time.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 9-10 here.)
In the course of her research, each student must write a research paper to accompany her internship project. The student must develop her research question with the help of her workplace mentor and teacher, develop an outline and several drafts of the paper before submitting the final paper to her mentor and teacher for review. Past research papers include:
- An assessment of the attendance patterns at a community theater and recommendations to increase attendance by revising the marketing strategy of the organization
- The development of graphic design standards for an advertising firm
- An investigation of drop-out rates of students in three local high schools with recommendations on how to improve student retention over time
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
A student may find that in the course of her research, written text is not sufficient to address the context of her research questions. Consequently, she will expand her research to include data analysis, video/film, websites or advertising copy. Student projects that have included diverse media have covered topics such as:
- An assessment of fast food marketing to children
- An overview of the health effects of hypertension and diabetes in the African American community
- Changing attitudes towards body-image in high fashion
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
At the conclusion of each quarter, every student in a Big Picture school must present her findings to a panel consisting of her peers, her family, her workplace mentor and her teachers. In order to accomplish this presentation, she must outline her research question, present her thesis-statement, her research and her conclusions over the course of her 30-60 minute exhibition. Many of these presentations are given at the mentor’s workplace so that the student can present her findings to her mentor’s colleagues who may have an interest in the findings of her project.
Common Core: Math
Each student at a Big Picture school has a personalized plan for math, which the internship project is but one component. Each internship project is unique. Consequently, every student’s project-based math is highly personalized based on her educational needs and the goals of the workplace. Outlined below are a variety of the CCSS in math with a description of the kind of project work a student may do to meet this standard.
CCSS.Math.Content.HSS.ID.A.1 Represent data with plots on the real number line (dot plots, histograms, and box plots).
There are times at an internship where a student must collect and analyze data as part of her project work. When this occurs, she will sort the data and determine the best way to represent these data. Sample student projects include:
- Tracking and analyzing temperature, dissolved oxygen, and nitrate levels at a local fish hatchery to improve the yield
- Collecting and analyzing customer survey data at a local restaurant to improve the customer experience
CCSS.Math.Content.HSS.ID.A.2 Use statistics appropriate to the shape of the data distribution to compare center (median, mean) and spread (interquartile range, standard deviation) of two or more different data sets.
At other internship sites, a student may need to collect and analyze data and highlight the shape of these data and the standard deviation. Sample student projects include:
- Tracking BMI and obesity rates of children by neighborhood for a local public health initiative
- Reviewing and analyzing sales data for a local clothing store to improve marketing efforts
CCSS.Math.Content.HSG.MG.A.3 Apply geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios).
Some internship sites are in the trades or in design fields. When a student has an internship in this kind of a field (or has a project with a design component) she will use applied geometry. Samples student projects include:
- Designing and building a pergola for a homeowner
- Designing the layout of a kindergarten classroom for optimal use of space
- Building scale models at an architecture firm for use with clients
CCSS.Math.Content.HSF.BF.A.1.b Combine standard function types using arithmetic operations. For example, build a function that models the temperature of a cooling body by adding a constant function to a decaying exponential, and relate these functions to the model.
A student at a Big Picture schools will also use applied algebra as part of her project work. When a student does this, it usually involves spotting trends and attempting to develop a model that may describe or predict this trend. For example, student projects have included:
- Developing personal fitness plans and tracking client progress to develop “improvement curves” or “lines of best fit” that model these data
- Analyzing data at a local store to model sales trends and link these to a variety of variables: advertising dollars, average temperature, time of day etc.
Next Generation Science Standards
Like the math standards, each student’s application of the science standards is unique to her goals and needs and the goals of the internship. Outlined below are examples of some science standards and the ways that a student project may address these standards.
HS – ETS1-2 : Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
Some examples of student projects that could address this standard are:
- A student working at a bike shop designs and then builds a customized bicycle for a client.
- A student working at an auto repair shop diagnoses customer repair needs and then works with her mentor to fix each car.
HS-LS1-3 : Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.
- A student working at a gym keeps a personal fitness log and tracks these data to see how her strength and endurance changes over time. She tracks her resting heart rate and temperature compared to these data from training sessions to demonstrate growth over time, but track her own homeostasis.
- A student takes care of animals at a local pet store and monitors the animals’ health by measuring the weight and heart rate of the animals in the store.
HS-ETS1-1 : Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
- While working at a local oyster farming business, a student learns sustainable oyster “farming” and compares these techniques to other unsustainable fisheries management practices in the US.
- While working for a local environmental non-profit, a student develops a PowerPoint presentation that his mentor uses to teach the public about local, regional and national recycling initiatives. The student then compares these efforts in the USA with those of other developed nations worldwide in order to rank the leaders and laggards in effective recycling policy.
HS-ESS3-1 : Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
- While working at a local non-profit, a student develops a protocol for growing eelgrass (a key marine species) in tanks in order to transplant the grasses into the ecosystem. In the course of this investigation, he studies the destruction of eelgrass beds in the state and the implications of this loss of habitat for the local fisheries.
LTI Project Example 1
School Name | The San Diego Met High School
Location | San Diego, CA
Total Time | 6 hours/day x 2 days/week x 10 weeks => 120 hours per quarter (Please Note that not of all that time was focused specifically working on this project, however, this also does not account for time spent working in the project either as homework nor during the school day.)
Subjects | Science (Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Science), Math, English Language Arts
Grade Level | 10th grade
See below and watch this video for more.
Noah has been working as an unpaid intern for class credit at San Diego Coastkeeper since January 2011. His main responsibilities are stocking kits for water sample collections. Volunteers then take these samples and test them for E. coli bacteria. Noah gathers the data and using Microsoft Excel enters it into the database. Water quality analysts then use this data to promote cleaner water in San Diego County. Noah occasionally tests water samples for nutrients and/or bacteria using standard lab procedures. This provides supplemental data for the analysts. His duties also include sanitizing bottles used for collection kits.
Because of Noah’s concern about the world he will inherit, he wants to be part of the solution to ensure a healthy coastal ecosystem. “The world is one big ecosystem, and one little change can disrupt something half a world away,” says Noah. He wants to learn how to make a positive impact on a decaying global environment. The San Diego Coastkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County.
One of Noah’s academic internship projects has been to test and compare household waters from tap to “clean” toilet bowl samples. When comparing household water samples to those from California rivers and streams, he has discovered that household water is basically clean and pure, containing no bacteria or nutrients at detectable levels.
Another project Noah spearheaded was designing an auto sampler which is used by San Diego Coastkeeper to test rivers and streams during the rainy season. He then collects data tracking pollutants in order to better characterize a water shed; which is the collection of bodies of water: rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. The water shed is connected to the global water system, as rivers and lakes shed into the oceans.
Noah is considering a double major of mechanical engineering and computer science when he begins college in the fall of 2014. His top three choices are Harvey Mudd College and Stanford University in California, and Olin College in Massachusetts.
LTI Project Example 2
School Name | The Met High School
Location | Providence, RI
Total Time | 6 hours/day x 2 days/week x 30 weeks => 360 hours (Please note that not of all that time was focused specifically working on this project, however, this also does not account for time spent working in the project either as homework nor during the school day.)
Subjects | English Language Arts, Science (Biology), Math, Graphic Design
Grade Level | 10th grade
Wear Aspirin’s™ co-founder, Christian Rijos, is a sixteen year-old high school student at The Met High School in Providence, RI. While participating in a school-based entrepreneurship program he developed the initial idea for Wear Aspirin.
He quickly realized that he would need a variety of expertise in order to develop his product and bring it to market. He connected with PW Enterprises, LLC, a Rhode Island advanced materials company with astounding product and packaging solutions, and landed an LTI with its generous CEO, Roger LaFlamme, who devoted countless hours and solid experience helping to shepherd Christian’s original design to a second stage.
In addition to the physical design, Christian new that he would need to hone the concept and so he connected with Jim Warner, Chief Design Officer + Principal of JimWarner3D, LLC, provided holistic strategic and creative input for Christian’s program in the areas of branding, consumer insight, brand identity, package design, product design and development, and production liaison. Jim believes it is important to help support young, passionate entrepreneurs and future problem-solvers like Christian. Although Jim is based in Chicago, he was able to connect with Christian via video chat and it was especially gratifying for him to be working with a student who lives near his hometown in New England.
Perhaps most important was the challenge of getting the word out. Christian worked with professionals from a prominent New England advertising agency, Duffy and Shanley, who strategized with him and helped him develop a high energy, area-wide public including utilizing indiegogo, a crowdfunding site. (For more information see – https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wear-aspirin)
In combination Christian has collaborated with a number of mentors and remains passionate about this project, learning a variety of entrepreneurial skills along the way. Christian has championed this project for over a year and has emerged as a leader in his high school’s and the state’s social entrepreneurship efforts. He devotes some part of every day to Wear Aspirin™.
LTI Project Example 3
School Name | The San Diego Met High School (http://www.sandi.net/met)
Location | San Diego, CA
Total Time | 6 hours/day x 2 days/week x 10 weeks => 120 hours per quarter (but please note that not of all that time was focused specifically working on this project, however, this also does not account for time spent working in the project either as homework nor during the school day.)
Subjects | Science (Physics, Electronics), Computer Science, Math, English Language Arts
Grade Level | 9-12th grade
Number of Participants | 1
Hannah’s story shows how a school with the appropriate organizational structure, culture, and tools can create a contextualized learning environment where students earn academic and graduation credit, and how the school, outside organizations, and the family all work together to support the student in an integrated manner – see below
In Big Picture Learning schools, few students make headlines, but thousands of them have extraordinary tales to tell about the learning that they do through the LTI projects they engage in outside of the classroom. Hannah Brown is a mathematics whiz; it’s always been her passion. She overcame verbal apraxia in elementary school but still appeared to be quiet and shy. She wanted to attend the San Diego Met High School — a Big Picture Learning school — because of its internships and access to college courses. Hannah’s first major internship, in a corporate engineering firm, lasted a year. She learned AutoCAD and produced a PowerPoint presentation showing the process of designing a road as her internship project.
Hannah then did two education-oriented internships, the first as a teacher’s assistant in a Regional Occupational Program (ROP) high school engineering course, the second at San Diego State University in a Projected Geometry course. She learned she didn’t want to be a teacher, and she became interested in robotics because her ROP mentor asked her to learn a new robotics program for the engineering class and write an easy-to-use instruction manual as her internship project.
While searching the internet with her mother, she discovered a nearby start-up robotics company. She worked with the schools LTI coordinator and was able to schedule an interview, which led to a brief trial period, and ultimately an extended internship! During her LTI Hannah tested circuit boards used to automate the flight paths of hobby drones. Although she drew on skills learned in her first three LTIs, this was her favorite, and she stuck with it throughout her senior year.
Hannah earned high school credit each semester for her internships. She earned a substantial scholarship to LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas and intends to declare a double major in computer science and mathematics.Next: 2. Get Started