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Preparing Students for the Future: Lessons from STEMpath's Industry Collaborations

by Rose Gaylen


How are your students preparing for a modern workforce? What effective communication skills are they developing, which industry standard productivity tools are they using? How are they collaborating so that they can succeed in the future? 


As an educator, how can you answer these questions? 


Preparing students to join a modern workforce remains a key point of contention for many educators. Often the discussion is centered around what 'skill sets' to teach students. The World Economic Forum predicts that 85 million jobs in roles like data entry, accounting clerks, and secretaries are likely to be displaced from 2020 to 2025, 97 million new jobs are likely to be created, such as artificial intelligence specialists, data scientists, and information security analysts. That means there are 97 million new possibilities that require at least one, if not all these skill sets to be successful. 



Education and industry collaboration is incredibly important because educators need to know what they’re preparing their students for, and how to do that. Industry needs qualified candidates which according to multiple reports by Bain and Company; many, many companies are not finding qualified candidates with whom to fill these important positions. Externships bridge that gap. Additionally, a 2022 Skills Gap report by Bain and Company states that, “Career-connected learning is a three-phase journey: awareness, which includes experiences that expose students to the range of career options out there; preparation, which entails classroom or work-based experiences that prepare students to be successful in the workplace; and launch, which combines deeper work experience and aligned classroom learning that leads to an industry-valued credential and access to good jobs.” 


This year’s STEMpath cohort learned a lot during their externships. Participants took away valuable knowledge to increase their productivity, student engagement, and their ability to prepare their students for a modern, collaborative and technology forward workforce. Externships offer tools and skills, leading to fundamental changes in how educators teach, how students learn, and what industry is teaching education about what it means to be prepared for the modern workforce. These skills are very important for students to master. 


One educator acknowledged that a common mindset in education is, ‘...this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we’ll continue’. However, during STEMpath, and especially her externship, she realized that it’s important to try new things and improve processes and methods. A mindset of change is a good thing. What these educators learned during their externships goes beyond the classroom to include new ways for teachers to collaborate, on-board colleagues, and integrate industry practices into their schools to modernize and update practices as well as make said collaboration more effective. 




STEMpath is a yearlong STEM and Computer Science certificate program, offering any K-12 educator 24-credit graduate level credits. STEMpath combines course work in areas such as equity centered design and information science with a 6-week externship with one of MindSpark’s incredible industry partners. For the past five years MindSpark Learning has partnered with industry to offer 6-week externships that have transformed districts, mathematics curriculum, classroom processes, teaching methods, and student career literacy. 


Here are three areas that transformed classroom practices and process and changed the 2023 cohort’s student learning for the better. 


User Experience (UX) – User Experience is how an individual (user) interacts with and experiences a product, system or service. It includes a person's perceptions of utility, ease of use, and efficiency. Educators not only learned about UX during their externships, but immediately got ideas about how to adapt its principles for the classroom. User experience included the student experience itself, not just that educators would simply teach students about UX (which is also important). In addition, user research methods help teachers get insight into student needs and preferences allowing for more effective instructional strategies. 


One elementary educator and Sphero extern is exploring new ways of fostering a cohesive and inclusive learning environment in her classroom, and she sees the benefits of team-based learning in developing crucial life-skills which prepare students for the future. She addressed her students’ user experience by adjusting how she designed group project work to include processes and functions learned during her workdays at her externship. In her classroom, group projects became more about each student’s strengths and how they could contribute to the group that way, rather than the more common expectation that every student does everything well for each project.  


In the workplace, a team project can include a designer (instructional, art, product, engineer), a project manager, an engineer, a product marketer... Depending on your industry of course, this group varies, but the point is that everyone has different strengths, different areas of expertise, and they all bring something unique to the table (or the whiteboard or the Zoom call) to achieve a goal, sell a product or solve a problem. 


So why, when students are assigned group work, are they all expected to have the same skill sets, strengths and collaborative styles? If group work in school was more like teamwork in a real work setting, students would be more realistically prepared for what awaits them in the future, and more prepared to succeed. This is a perfect example of why, and how, the cooperative efforts of industry and education together are so vital. 


Digital Communication Tools – Often overlooked out of ‘safety’ concerns, these tools such as Slack or Trello could be consciously and thoughtfully introduced so that they benefit both educators and students. Rather than being dismissed, schools could reap the benefits of these digital tools for effective communication and collaboration. Digital communication tools have continuous application in the real world which can, and should, be applied to the classroom. These tools aid in organization, communication within groups about team projects for example, and allow students to marry project management skills like leadership and planning to boost productivity while preparing for success. 


During their externships, educators found that these digital communication tools kept them better organized and boosted productivity. Perhaps more importantly, they could also support students in effectively developing skills for the future.

 

Project Management Skills (Agile Methodologies) – During their Sphero externship, one educator explained how important a role organization, communication, planning and leadership abilities played during his time, and how vital it was that he introduce his students to these skills. For example, incorporating UX principles into classroom material design, websites and digital learning platforms enhances usability and accessibility for students.  



This educator stated that ‘embracing iterative processes, regular feedback loops, and continuous improvement allowed me to adapt quickly to evolving requirements and deliver high-quality results efficiently.’ Learning project management skills enhances student engagement and promotes critical thinking. They bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application because they’re about working in a team which is common in today’s workplace regardless of the field or industry.

 

The 2023 STEMpath cohort's journey through their externships with industry partners has illuminated the transformative potential of modern education. The educators' experiences have underscored the importance of embracing change, challenging conventional methods, and integrating industry practices into the classroom. The newfound insights into User Experience, digital communication tools, and Agile methodologies have empowered these educators to transcend the confines of traditional teaching, fostering an environment where students can thrive in a dynamic and collaborative future workforce. By infusing these principles into their classrooms, educators are laying the foundation for a generation of learners who are not only academically prepared but also equipped with the skills and mindset to excel in the ever-evolving landscape of the modern world. The partnership between education and industry exemplified by STEMpath embodies the spirit of innovation, adaptability, and continuous improvement that is crucial for shaping the leaders of tomorrow. Through their willingness to evolve and learn, these educators are championing a new era of education that embraces change and propels students toward a future of endless possibilities. 


Are you ready to transform your teaching approach and prepare your students for the ever-evolving workforce of the future? Join the STEMpath journey and unlock a world of opportunities for both you and your students. Take the first step towards enhancing your teaching skills, embracing innovative methodologies, and connecting with industry partners who can revolutionize your classroom. Don't miss out on this chance to be a part of the change in education. Enroll in STEMpath today and pave the way for a brighter future for your students and yourself. Together, we can shape the leaders of tomorrow.

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