Pop Culture Music Clears Career Cluster Confusion

By Mary Vitro

Career teachers find it a daunting task to help students understand the concept of career clusters; the groups of jobs that are related to each other by skill, education, or training. When asked to define the term, students mirror the look of a deer caught in the headlights! Career teachers are not alone in the difficult task of introducing students to unknown technical concepts. Teachers of other disciplines often report similar experiences when relating new material to their students. Music has been used successfully across other fields of academia by connecting new, foreign content in a medium the student already understands and enjoys.

For years, music has been thought to have an influence on learning. Cutler (2009) recognizes the role music offers in helping students discover their career path. Cutler encourages career counselors to begin by asking students “why” a particular song moves them. This helps the students to connect to the emotional meaning of the words in the song rather than connect to the artist or the beat of the music. Cutler indicates this approach, if utilized properly, will help students grasp the theories being taught and help them explore associated values and interests to find their passion.

Bransford and Hays (2010) echo Cutler’s sentiment about music and learning. They note that if the objective is to engage the students, teachers could use music to introduce difficult concepts during class presentations. This will pique students’ interests by adding an element of playfulness to the learning process. The activity introduced below is designed to help bridge the learning gap by using pop music; making this and other career related concepts more fun, understandable, and acceptable to students.

Pop Music in the Classroom
Have you heard of the song sensation “Watch me whip, Watch me nae nae?” It’s everywhere! A talented rapper, Silento’, debuted his single “Watch Me” in 2015. It’s a catchy tune that includes rather simple choreography. Students loved it! I have noticed students, without warning, break into a sequence of the “Watch Me” dance moves! Students find the music zany and fun! Fittingly, I borrowed from their “play book” and used the “Watch Me” song as a tool to teach students the multi-faceted concept of career clusters and pathways. I created an activity that would help students understand that a career cluster involves many related jobs by using the “Watch Me” rap song and dance.

The first step of creating this lesson was to come up with several jobs and careers that were used in making the music video for the song. This introduced the career cluster pathways related to video production occupations. The jobs associated with this particular cluster fall under the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, & Communications career cluster. They include: choreographer, musician, dancer, costume designer, set designer, entertainment lawyer, make-up artist, videographer, etc.

Executing the Project in the Classroom

  1. Students were divided into groups of three.
  2. Each group was assigned a career cluster to research that was involved in the making of the music video “Watch Me” as noted above.
  3. Students used the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (bls.gov) to research their assigned careers in the assigned cluster.
  4. Instructions to each group included selecting the following job roles:
  •  Team leader to ensure the job is done well and on time. The team leader is also responsible for presenting group findings to the class.
  •  Secretary to record and put the findings of each research group into presentation format (PowerPoint, Prezi)
  •  Research analyst to look up the information on the internet. The analyst is in charge of making sure the researched occupation includes required information such as education, average annual salary, tasks/duties for the job, and any other relevant information necessary to make the presentation complete.

Outcome and Lessons Learned
The students loved the music-based presentation and begged for more! I’m not real hip nor am I current on pop culture. However, through the simple act of paying attention to the current interests of my students, I was able to design an engaging and relevant activity. Lessons designed to teach other career clusters failed to receive near the excitement this one did. In this session, students were connected to the subject matter and were motivated to learn. To assess learning following the presentations, the entire class (including the teacher) got up and danced to the music video “Watch Me” while shouting out career pathways and jobs they researched. Students couldn’t believe their teacher had moves! They talked about how much fun this activity was for the rest of the semester.

Bradford and Hays (2010) encouraged teachers to “hook the audience” with the help of music. This approach helps students become interactive with the lesson. Using music to help high school students with their career exploration will definitely engage them in the learning process (Cutler, 2009). As educators, we often feel as though we have to do a “song and dance” to keep our students engaged and focused. With this particular activity, that “song and dance” takes on a new meaning and has both a physical and mental impact. This was evident through the students’ level of engagement in the lesson. Learning ensued, fun was had, and memories were made.

Bransford, D., & Hays, J. (2010, October). Who are you? Integrating popular culture into career development. Career Convergence. Retrieved from www.ncda.org

Cutler. H. (2009, November). Music as a career development tool. Career Convergence, Retrieved from www.ncda.org

Mary VitroMary Vitro, MSE, is a high school business and career & technical education teacher at Lakeside School District in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She has completed 12 years in education, teaching courses including: Environmental & Spatial Technology (EAST), Computerized Business Applications, Digital Communications, College & Career Readiness, and Career Development. In February 2016, she received her Career Development Facilitator Certification following 120 hours of course work and training. Mrs. Vitro is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early and Young Adults in Career & Technical Education. She earned her BSBA from Henderson State University and her MSE from Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, Arkansas. She can be reached at Mary_Vitro@Lakesidesd.org


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Ginny Ruder   on Saturday 04/02/2016 at 10:15 AM

Mary, I've use the example of "Dancing With the Stars" in a similar exercise with college students and even adult career changers. I don't have them do the research but to simply think about all the possibilities and open their horizons. This is a gift you are giving these kids.

Herky Cutler   on Saturday 04/02/2016 at 04:25 PM

Mary, what a wonderful idea! Thank you for trying something new and unique with your students. It sounds like the activity worked really well!

I also appreciate the reference to my work. Continued success to you!

Mari Simmons   on Sunday 04/03/2016 at 03:19 PM

This us a wonderful article, Mary! Thanks for sharing. I am sure the students loved it!! Congratulations on publishing, too!

Theresa Steinlage   on Sunday 04/03/2016 at 11:19 PM

What a great way to introduce the Career Clusters model. Thank you Mary for a great article that describes a fun, timely activity!

Brittany Lawrence   on Tuesday 04/12/2016 at 11:21 AM

Great article! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge! I hope many benefit from your thoughts.

Larry Robbin   on Thursday 04/21/2016 at 10:34 PM

Thanks for the great article. I have often thought that so much career work is sterile and lacks a cultural dimension. This article proves how culture can be used as an important tool in our work. I have used art, poetry, theater as well as music to teach career concepts. When these tools are used people experience career work on a much deeper level than when only traditional lecture is used.

Dottie Wells   on Tuesday 04/26/2016 at 01:47 AM

An excellent, informative, and yes, entertaining, analogy of how our culture can learn new and better ways of thinking, learning and sharing with the youth of today, as well as the leaders of tomorrow.

As your mother, I would be remiss in saying how very proud I am of the steps you're taken in establishing yourself in a career that can only afford you future growth.

Susan marable    on Thursday 07/26/2018 at 11:31 PM

Mary, although I'm retired from elementary teaching, I used music constantly to teach different concepts. I made up a song to teach subject and predicated, the continents, as well as math and many more concepts. My students learned the concepts and could recall them quickly. I even had a fifth grade teacher come thank me for teaching the continent song. The students remembered the song from third grade!

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