“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. 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, 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 Learning Approach
Every SmartLab Learning engagement uses technology in a project-based context. As learners explore eight technology systems—Alternative & Renewable Energy, Circuitry, Computer Graphics, Digital Communications, Mechanics and Structures, Robotics and Control Technology, Scientific Data and Analysis, and Software Engineering—they are exposed to a wide range of computer, scientific, and modeling technologies. With SmartLab Learning, learners apply technology to their workflow rather than on specific technology skills that become quickly obsolete.
In addition to developing skills, students learn how to adapt to new technologies. 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 SmartLab Learning.
With SmartLab Learning, students 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 applications.
SmartLab Learning also helps learners build career connections. 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 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