Cogswheels & Gear Trains: Career Education Activities for Middle School

A cogwheel is a rotating machine part having teeth, or cogs, which mesh with another toothed part to transmit torque. Two or more gears working in a sequence (train) are called a gear train or, in many cases, a transmission. Gear arrangements as described, can produce a mechanical advantage through a gear ratio and thus may be considered a simple machine.

I know what you are thinking,

What does all this have to do with career education?

Career Education for Middle School @EvaVarga.netAs parents of students in middle school, one of our roles is to help our kids understand how their current educational and personal choices will affect their future life roles. In particular, their choices for a career.

In many ways, you can think of the variety of careers as a cogwheel. Each cogwheel is a career option and the individual teeth or cogs are the skill sets required for success in that given field.

Over the years, we have taken advantage of numerous opportunities to explore career options as a family. We’ve reached out to our friends and family members – encouraging the kids to ask questions to learn more about their chosen fields of work.

We talk regularly about their dad’s role as a hospital administrator and their uncles’ careers as a pharmacist and microbiologist. Coincidentally, though their career choices differ (the cogwheel), they all work in health care (the gear train).

Each cogwheel works closely with one another in a larger system – the gear train. Together, the system has an advantage.

Youth are more likely to think about their future careers, and believe that they have a variety of career options, when they have families that help them learn about career choices and support their efforts to prepare for a career. Given an opportunity to evaluate career information and compare and contrast a variety of careers is also important.

Exploring the many varied career options when students are in middle school will help assure they have a greater grasp of what skills they will need as an adult.

One of our newest additions to our library is Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You. We have had a great time investigating the careers the kids are interested in with this resource guide.

{Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

More than 400 career options are described in this book, color coded and divided into fifteen categories (or gear trains): health and medicine; arts, crafts, & design; and science & research are just a few.

Each job has a career path journey graphically laid out with important aspects including what actions one would have to take to be successful in this career as far as personality, interests, type and quality of education and the life/work balance you’d like to achieve among other criteria.

Career Education for Middle School @EvaVarga.netThe Role of Parents of Middle School Students

You can encourage middle school children to plan for a career in several ways:

  • Talk to your children about your own work, and/or the jobs of friends and relatives, so they will learn about several work alternatives.
  • Ask your children what they like to do and help them look for ways that their interests can be reflected in a career choice.
  • Help your children get information about middle and high school courses they can take to better prepare them for college or a post-secondary training program.
  • Plan a “career day” for your homeschool co-op and invite guest speakers (or parents).
  • Take a trip to local employer and employment agencies.

Exploring Options

I have written a few posts describing how we’ve used the interests of our children as a guide to explore career options. I will be adding more in the future.
Hydrology
Entomology
Private Pilot

What interests and passions do your children have? What careers are they likely to pursue as a result? Take time to sit down with your kids and begin exploring the many career options available to them today.

Mentors & Role Models: The Positive Influences of Adults

According to research, for parents trying to raise a young man in our current culture, there are numerous obstacles: changes in the educational system, video games, ADHD medication, endocrine disrupters, and a lack of positive, masculine role models. 

boys_mentors

Years ago, upon recommendation by our pediatrician, I read the book Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. The ideas presented in the book still resonate with me today.

Experiential Learning

In his book, Sax claims that boys need to have more experiential or hands on learning experiences, they need more contact with nature, they need to read a variety of books for fun, boys excel with competition, they need to interact with good male role models, and they need hands-on training in working and serving. Lastly, Sax explains in depth why video games are especially addicting to boys and the reasons why they are so harmful to their motivation and progress.

In our home, we try to balance video games with time outdoors and thrilling, real-life experiences. Though we certainly can improve, I feel we do a good job being consistent in this regard. The area I want to discuss today, however, is the importance of role models. Most of us would agree that children learn from role models and imitate behaviors of those they admire.

Mentors

It is thereby important to provide children with positive role models and mentors, men who exhibit the qualities you want your son to emulate. Role models are highly important, helping to guide us through life during our development, to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives, and to help us find happiness in later life.

When we are growing up, we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. A good role model should be someone hard working, creative, free thinking and moral.

We had a chance to catch up with one such mentor a few months ago, a friend who works for the city’s public works department. We stopped by one afternoon as he was putting away the equipment. My son was delighted to get to climb on board.

What are the qualities of an effective mentor? In this followup post I explore the key characteristics in a mentor who is ultimately able to make a difference in the lives of youth.

I was impressed that during our visit, my son even asked numerous questions about his work. “How did you get started working here?” “What kind of training or studies are needed to do this type of work?” “What do you like best about working here?”

A few weeks later, my son was sharing an anecdote about this visit with his Mandarin teacher and referred to him as a friend. I love that as homeschoolers, he doesn’t feel constrained by age and is comfortable carrying on discussions about topics of interest to him.

Because of the influence of this mentor, my son has also had a life-long interest in model trains. On Saturday, I will share with you The Science & Math of Model Railroads.

Science Career Options: Hydrogeology

Since she was little, when asked what career she might like to pursue, my daughter has always proclaimed with glee, “I want to be an engineer!”  Upon participating in Wow! these past couple of years, she has learned of the variety of engineering fields and her answer evolved, “… an environmental, architectural, electrical engineer.”  To be honest, I am not quite sure she knows for certain, but I love that her interest has never swayed.

To help her to understand the diversity of career options, we recently had an opportunity to visit an acquaintance who owns a hydrogeology firm locally. Today, I would like to share with you some of the things we learned during our visit as well as explore the career options in hydrogeology.

hydrogeology careers

Hydrogeology

Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust (commonly in aquifers).  Hydrogeology is an interdisciplinary subject and as such, it can be difficult to account fully for the chemical, physical, biological and even legal interactions between soil, water, nature and society.

Essentially, hydrogeologists study of the interaction between groundwater movement and geology. Groundwater does not always flow in the subsurface down-hill following the surface topography.  Groundwater flows along gradients from high pressure to low pressure and hydrogeologists need to understand several diverse fields at both the experimental and theoretical levels.

During our visit, the engineers shared with us the tools of the trade and anecdotes of specific jobs they had had experience with recently.  We were surprised to learn that much of their work (at least at this office) was related to landfills.

Hydrogeology Careers

While geologists in the energy and mineral industries face are generally susceptible to rise and fall of the economy, those who study the movement and chemistry of water seeping through rocks and sediment find demand for their expertise steady.

“I can’t think of any unemployed hydrogeologists,” says Roy Haggerty, an associate professor of hydrogeology at Oregon State University, Corvallis. Water is essential, irreplaceable, and, as populations and economies grow, increasingly in demand and endangered.

hydrogeology

The work of a hydrogeologist can vary considerably according to the sector, employer and area of specialism.  Hydrogeologists can oversee the cleanup of spills and contamination. They work with experts who specialize in geology, wastewater, water supply, waste management, soils, and organizations that know how to clean up pollution or contamination. They may also help with designs for new facilities to help prevent future contamination.

Environmental consulting companies employ about 80% of hydrogeologists in the United States. New niches open regularly as hydrogeologists collaborate with scientists in other disciplines to tackle huge environmental challenges, such as forecasting how changing climate will affect water resources and aquatic life.

Our visit to the hydrogeology office was memorable.  As we drove away, my daughter exclaimed, “That was really interesting. I had no idea that a hydrogeologist’s work was so important.”  Our guides encouraged us to continue to explore geologic sciences in school.  They also emphasized the importance of good communication skills, particularly writing.  Geologists in all fields need to be able to communicate complicated information to others and write a variety of reports and letters.

In addition, “People skills are invaluable, which is why I say that the most important things I did as a graduate student was go to professional society meetings,” stated Leonard Kornikow, a hydrogeologist with the US Geological Survey.  At the middle school and high school level, talking in depth with adults in fields of interest is equally important.

Salary

Average salary range: $42,000 to $67,000 per year

If you are interested in further exploring geology with your children, there are many activities and curriculum materials available.  I have developed a complete earth science curriculum called Our Dynamic Earth.  It is a ten-week curriculum that incorporates more than 20+ activities and the lesson plans are fully outlined for you.  Background knowledge, notebooking pages, and suggestions for extension activities are included.

Our Dynamic Earth