How Do We Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing Future? Prepare the Teachers, First.

May 17, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Esther Tokihiro

Nearly everyone who works in education today is grappling with the same question: How do we prepare students to excel in jobs that don’t even exist yet? It’s true that every generation of students is the future, but the young people in today’s classrooms will get to reshape the landscape of technology and the economy in ways we can’t even comprehend yet, and they will require a new skill set to do so. To tackle this problem head on, we decided to collaborate with local change makers and industry leaders to develop a culture of STEAM innovation that is replicable, scalable and impacts every school in our district. Under the leadership of Bullis Charter School (BCS), California’s #1-ranked K-8 public school, and with the help of Autodesk, a leading software company, we created a year-long STEAM-based teacher development program that is [pullquote position="right"]revolutionizing professional development for our teachers and administrators.[/pullquote] We developed two different, specialized programs, both of which illustrate how project-based learning will build the “4C’s foundation” of our 21st-century learners: communication, collaboration, critical-thinking and creativity. One track of the yearlong program is designed for teachers to expand their craft and bring fresh new ideas into their classrooms. Throughout the year, teachers from across Santa Clara County attend a series of hands-on workshops at BCS, which functions as a lab site where teachers learn engaging and practical methods for incorporating STEAM into their personal lesson plans. At BCS, they engage with teacher and student panels on lessons ranging from 3D printing to electronics and coding. The second workshop program is designed for administrators to learn how to develop a school structure where project-based learning can thrive and be accessed by all, especially in under-resourced schools. The program has been extremely valuable for administrators who are in the process of creating new STEAM schools or transforming their current schools to STEAM-based programs. As most people who have been through standard professional development programs have learned, the stand alone, one-stop-shop workshop has limited effectiveness. True development and innovation comes from growing a professional learning community that provides teachers and administrators with a strong support network. This year-long certification series helps teachers implement lessons from the workshops by creating upward communication channels where they can share best practices and innovative ideas beyond the scheduled workshops. This program wasn’t developed overnight and is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to preparing students for a 21st-century world. We’ve had our share of failures and successes as we’ve pushed to fully understand individualized and project-based learning, and STEAM integration. The result is a program that has empowered teachers and administrators to refine their own skills, while meeting the needs of educators who wanted to learn more about project-based learning but maybe didn’t have the resources to do so. Our teachers and principals have responded overwhelmingly to the program and are experimenting with STEAM in new and exciting ways. For example, the principal of Steindorf STEAM Academy, a new magnet school in the Cambrian School District, utilized this certificate as preparation for opening the new school. She brought a cadre of teachers to learn about project-based learning and how to anchor it as a foundation to their school's practice. Our original intent in creating this program was to develop a model that is adaptable and replicable for all communities, so we believe this partnership model can be scaled far beyond the Silicon Valley. By joining together in our mutual missions to push for greater STEAM integration in the classroom, BCS, Autodesk and the Santa Clara County Office of Education have shown the rest of the nation what is possible with collaboration, and have provided the blueprint for how it can be accomplished. We hope that our experience can be useful as a national case study on how to build a positive pipeline for K-12 education into the working world.

Esther Tokihiro

Esther Tokihiro is director of the STEAM Initiative at the Santa Clara County Office of Education in Santa Clara County, California.

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