Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Value of Hands-On Learning

Meredith Bogush, Siever Dietmer (company owner),
Pekka Kämäräinen (ITB Researcher), and Ansberto
Vallejo during the visit to the Siever + Knuppel
company in Bremen.
July 13, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Meredith Bogush.

During my teaching career, I was frequently asked "Why are we learning this?" Sometimes my response was quick and easy, "We are learning to tell time so that you won't have to depend on your parents to tell you when your favorite TV show is." Other times, ​connection between the lesson and the application were not as easy to convince to students​ . "We are learning how to find the circumference of a circle so that... so that...." ​That could be a tough one! Without that application, that connection, that purpose, knowledge seemed to go in one ear and out the other. One of the MANY valuable experiences of being here in Germany has been the ability to see theory and practice being used to effectively educate students. This has been a unique and motivating experience.

While visiting the Technical Education Center (TBZ Mitte) in Bremen I was able to see students engaged in vocational training courses. Once class that we briefly observed had students engaged in nearly an hour lecture/training on a new electrical problem. These students met two days a week for lecture and hands on application. During the lecture/training, students were provided background information and a purpose for solving the problem. They were then asked to stimulate the exact electrical model and "make it work." Not only did the students "make it work" but they did this while not becoming distracted by nine non-German speaking USF students who were peering over their shoulder asking questions. Additionally, students were able to explain their task and how they were to solve it-- in English! Talk ​about student engagement!

I walked out of that classroom thinking, "In the USA, students would be very inclined to choose a class with such great instruction, application, and purpose." To my surprise, that was just the starting point of the application-- to be more precise, that was just two-fifths of it.  The other three-fifths (three days) of the school week, students were out in facilities as apprentices learning the trade. Thus, they were taking what they were learning in the classroom and applying it to real world/ on the job situations!

The USF CWE group and I went on to visit Siever & Knuppel Elektrotechnik, a small company where we spoke with the owner, Dieter Siever. Siever gave us a tour of the small company that is run by just 12 employees. Even though the company is small, Siever sees  ​the​ benefit in supporting apprenticeship. Siever explained that he has two apprentices that are utilized to their full potential to accomplish company responsibilities. The apprentices responsibilities can include any and all of the following: acceptance of orders, planning, and implementation.

I thought to myself, "That is a lot of faith to have in a student." This is something that Siever was (obviously) well aware of, but it does not deter him from supporting apprenticeships. He expects apprentices to make mistakes because they are not masters of the field and "no one is perfect." When Siever was asked about what qualities he looks for when choosing an apprentice, he stated, that because he places a great deal of responsibility on apprentices, he expects the level of communication to be very strong.

I couldn't help but notice Siever's reaction to our questions. He didn't seem burdened by the responsibility of training an apprentice. He seemed proud.  He did not seem overwhelmed with the training of the apprentice. He knew the 11 other staff members at Siever would help in the training and growth of the apprentice. I viewed Siever as a great contributor to the success of the German Education system; yet, it appeared as he viewed his inclusion in the apprentice system as a win-win-win for him, the apprentice, and the future of Germany. It was this collaborative effort between the schools and community that allowed students to see the true purpose to what they were learning. As a result, I found that instead of students asking the teacher, "Why are we learning this skill?" students were answering the question themselves.
Meredith Bogush is Coordinator of the  SCATTER Tutor-a-Bull ​ Program​ at the University of South Florida (USF)
in Tampa, FL. She is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at USF.