Education 3.0: Preparing students for the IT field

Strong relationships with local academy partners is the key to building effective business engagement in our high schools. The Academies of Nashville provide students with meaningful, hands-on learning in context through unique partnerships with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. The Teacher Team Externship Program gives teachers an opportunity to have a real-world professional experience at a host organization to develop a project-based curriculum that gives students industry exposure and applied learning. MNPS_AN_StratfordStudents today are some of the most technologically savvy in the world. Many students enrolled in Stratford STEM Magnet High School's Academy of National Safety and Security enjoy working on computers, but are more interested in helping to build them than in using them to send emails and play Angry Birds. In order to provide students with high quality, real-world learning opportunities in the information technology field, a team of six teachers participated in a teacher team externship with the Willis Corporation and the Nashville Technology Council during summer break.

The teacher team spent three days meeting with industry professionals such as Liza Massey, the CEO/ President of the National Technology Council, Eugene Batsuk, a Senior Technology Specialist with the Willis Corporation, and representatives from myEmma, an email marketing company. The groups discussed the specific roles and responsibilities of the companies and the day-to-day job duties of different employees. While visiting the Willis Corporation, the team was able to visit different work areas of the company and see the actual IT hub for worldwide operations that is housed in Nashville.

Over the course of the three day experience, a reoccurring theme emerged. Communication. 

At each location the teacher team visited, the professionals all agreed that both written and verbal communication, a teamwork mindset, and critical thinking/ problem solving skills were the most important characteristics they look for in employees. One aspect of communication is the ability to interact with employees just as easily as customers. The first impression of a company can oftentimes be the call center, or help desk. These positions can be entry-level, yet require a high degree of competency in communication.

In order to take the knowledge and skills gained during the externship back to the classroom, the teacher team has develop an interdisciplinary project known as the "Battling Spartans."  In the gaming/ programming class, students will develop a simple two-dimensional game with a character associated with the Spartans. Using the Engineering Design Cycle process, students will go through steps of discovery, design, development, and delivery with evaluations between each phase. The English teachers will be able to use character development and story creation in reading and writing assignments associated with the characters developed by the students in the gaming/ programming class. The music courses will also created motifs and themes to compliment the stories throughout the course of the project.

"Attention to communication skills will be enhanced across curriculum and subjects," said Roger Osbourne, the gaming/ programming teacher at Stratford. "An increase in critical thinking and problem solving will come from more accountability for students to seek answers and be curious within their own peer learning assignments and abilities as well."