Training High School Students for High-Tech Opportunities

How districts can integrate technology to prepare students for 21st-century careers.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leslie Strong

“If we teach as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

CREDIT SkywardEducation reformer and philosopher John Dewey’s well-known declaration suggested years ago what we know to be true today: instruction must continuously evolve, so students’ skill sets meet the needs of an ever-changing employment landscape. In today’s world, it would be quite a struggle for most of us to find a career field or job opportunity that does not incorporate technology of some kind. Fields that once relied solely on physical manpower, and considered “low-tech,” are now just the opposite – high-tech settings that typically require post-secondary education and specialized training. With this developing career outlook, it simply makes sense for district leaders and educators to take steps now that set students up for success long after graduation day.

The K-12 education curriculum must always evolve, so students today can thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.

To gain a better understanding of the transition from low- to high-tech in today’s work environment, let’s translate the change into a numerical amount. According to Eileen Huang of the Google for Education team, about 60 percent of students in school will advance into careers that don’t exist – yet. And numerous “non-tech roles” have evolved significantly as a result of integrating technology. Tech education today should no longer exist as an elective course for aspiring software engineers or web developers only. More than ever before, it’s important for all students – with varied post-commencement goals – to have access to tech-centered curriculum and courses that encourage technology proficiency.

Districts of any size and location can integrate technology into the classroom and across their education community to provide students the tech training needed for achievement in the workplace.

Start Small

If the concept of technology integration is a bit of a novelty to your district, you’ll want to begin a new tech initiative by gaining support and buy-in from both educators and administrative leadership. Only after immediate questions and concerns are addressed and a tentative plan is mapped out, can you really dig in. Start by incorporating free online tools such as Khan Academy into existing classes for students, and make sure the basics of email and creating spreadsheets, documents and presentations are covered. Also, consider courses that allow students to experiment with multimedia tools – capturing images and video footage.

Don’t forget the tech solutions your district may already have in place. Work with your SIS or LMS partner to find out what online classroom tools they offer, so educators can take advantage of existing resources. In addition to small-step changes, consider a test run of tablets or other mobile devices – perhaps start with one grade level for the fall semester and evaluate, making adjustments, before spring. Continually communicate new initiatives and programs with students and families, so they can understand the what, why and how of your district’s new tech endeavor. They’ll be more likely to jump on board (if they haven’t already).

Build On Your Foundation

It’s time to evaluate your district’s initial steps, make alterations, and build on those foundational approaches. Consider what went right and what could’ve gone better with, say, the pilot course in automotive mechanics, the Geocaching lesson using global positioning systems, or the after-school 3D modeling club. Now is the time to take what you’ve learned from the first round of integration and build on it. Add more classes to next semester’s roster, distribute tablets to several grade levels, or implement a hybrid course for seniors. As you integrate technology further, help students understand the framework of digital citizenship and provide resources that can help them develop a positive, responsible digital footprint in our increasingly online world.

Support Growth

Champion and model your district’s future ready initiatives to foster continued incorporation of technology. Engage and involve local businesses and organizations in your community that can provide employment expertise, student internships, and learning opportunities that deliver students experiences in a variety of industries. A local machine shop could offer students apprenticeships to work alongside computer-savvy auto technicians. Or the news bureau across town could provide job-shadowing opportunities to budding digital reporters. Expand technology integration at all grade levels by rolling out BYOD, 1:1 or flipped classroom initiatives and programs. Advancing your district’s high-tech learning model will allow students to become more accountable for their education and career goals before senior year concludes.

The K-12 education curriculum must always evolve, so students today can thrive in the workplace of tomorrow. In fact, data from Pew Research Center indicates 96 percent of working Americans use some form of technology each day – and such statistics are likely to increase. By starting today, we can work together to further technology integration and close digital skill gaps not only in the current learning environment, but also in the workforce of the future.

Leslie Strong is a product line manager at Skyward and oversees the company’s Student Management Suite to ensure client needs are met by its SIS solution. To read more from Leslie and Skyward’s team of technology experts, visit www.skyward.com/blogs.

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