“We must prepare all students to be proficient in STEM subjects. And we must inspire all students to learn STEM and, in the process, motivate many of them to pursue STEM careers.”
This was one of the key findings by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in their report, Prepare and Inspire: K–12 Education in STEM for America’s Future.
While this is undoubtedly true, it misses another, perhaps more important point: virtually all careers now require proficiency in STEM—especially in the areas of applied technology. Whether students pursue careers in traditional STEM fields, such as science and engineering, or pursue careers in fields as diverse as art, agriculture, services, or manufacturing, applied technology is ubiquitous.
As educators, it’s our responsibility to prepare today’s students to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. This creates a unique kind of challenge; according to the U.S. Department of Labor report, Futurework, 65% of today’s school children will hold jobs that do not yet exist. We do not currently know, and cannot predict, the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in these jobs of the future.
Additionally, today’s employers increasingly demand workers who can problem-solve, collaborate, adapt, and communicate. The MetLife Survey of the American Teachers: Preparing Students for College and Careers asked Fortune 1,000 executives to rate the importance of various skills and knowledge for career success. 99% rated problem-solving skills as absolutely essential or very important. Critical-thinking skills were similarly ranked by 99%, and written communication skills by 97%. In contrast, surveyed executives highly ranked knowledge and ability in the traditional STEM education topics advanced math and science at only 40% and 31% respectively. This is not to say that advanced math and science aren’t absolutely essential to some jobs; rather, it highlights the fact that critical thinking, problem solving, and communication are essential to all jobs.
The SmartLab Approach
Every SmartLab learning engagement uses applied technology in a project-based context. As learners explore eight systems of technology—Alternative & Renewable Energy, Circuitry, Computer Graphics, Digital Communications, Mechanics and Structures, Robotics and Control Technology, Scientific Data and Analysis, and Software Engineering—they gain a broad exposure to a wide range of computer, scientific and modeling technologies. In the SmartLab, the focus is always on the application of technology to workflow rather than on specific technology skills that become quickly obsolete.
In addition to developing skills in the application of technology, students also gain an understanding of how to learn and adapt to new technology. This understanding is unique to each student as each will have their own personal preferences and success strategies. Learning how to learn is a cornerstone of the SmartLab philosophy.
SmartLab learning engagements develop next generation skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Learners are encouraged to explore, solve and document a new problem every day in meeting their project objectives. Daily journals and project presentations develop practical communications skills using written, oral and advanced media. Authentic assessment systems evaluate process skills like collaboration, time management and establishing and managing to objectives.
SmartLab curriculum also helps learners build career connections to their project work. Curriculum provides students with valuable insights into how the wide variety of technologies and project objectives in apply to real-world jobs. Younger learners begin to understand how their personal interests and abilities relate to areas of academic and professional focus. Older learners can explore topics and technologies in greater depth building career-related experience and areas of expertise.
“The skills that our SmartLabs bring can be transferred to any job, to any college, and to any pathway that a student chooses.”
—Brian Ewert, Colorado Superintendent of the Year