By Barbara Dill-Varga | March 31st, 2017
For today’s students, STEM- or STEAM-related careers are the future. In Maine Township High School District 207, we take the acronym one step further and teach our students 21st-century skills based on STEAME, where the second “e” stands for entrepreneurship.
To prepare our students for the next phase of their lives, my district is committed to helping all students have a relevant career experience prior to graduation. That authentic learning experience might be a job shadow, apprenticeship, internship, or even part-time employment. We are dedicated to helping students intentionally design their four years of courses in high school in response to the intersection of their interests/passions, skills, and aptitudes. We also want them to be informed by labor market data so they know whether the job they want will exist when they graduate, what education (two- or four -year college or trade schools) it will require, and what kind of living wage that job will provide them.
Traditionally, these conversations have taken place between students and college/career counselors, but we know this conversation must be understood and carried into every classroom—not just in core subjects but in elective areas, too. General education teachers must help students understand how what they are learning today relates to how they will use it tomorrow.
To address some of these needs, we have started using Defined STEM. It’s a flexible platform, so a classroom teacher can personalize lessons and differentiate instruction for students. Teachers can upload their own materials and readings as well. The videos engage students, and the performance tasks provide scaffolding for teachers seeking to integrate literacy and career-relevant tasks.
Only a few classrooms are using Defined STEM right now. We have a pilot group of “trailblazers” in science, math, special education, CTE, and English who have worked in a module or two from the platform. It has been most valued by teachers who are looking for ways to approach career-relevant work with an emphasis on literacy skills.
For example, Nate Hassman, one of our rock star science teachers, has taught the module focused on how to manufacture baseball bats out of a variety of materials. Jamie Kumiega, who works with some of our most challenged special education life skills students, has used Defined STEM to help her students collaborate on the design playgrounds.
I believe Defined STEM has the potential to support general education classes in finding the connections between what they are learning and relevant career areas. I am going to be bringing our trailblazer group together for some additional work and development this spring. We are at the beginning edge of this.
Barbara Dill-Varga is completing her eighth year as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Maine Township High School District 207, located in Park Ridge, IL. She is also an adjunct professor at Concordia University, working with graduate students training to be principals. Next year, she will be the superintendent of schools in Carmel Unified School District in Carmel, CA.