Since the turn of the century there has been increasing attention on K-12 education systems and improving the quality of curricula and authentic learning experiences for students entering the 21st century workforce. There is greater emphasis on elevating fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in response to workforce demands that are requiring a more tech savvy multidisciplinary skillset.[i] For this reason, numerous new learning approaches, curricula, programs, community partnerships, and specialized schools are emerging.[ii] While most of these initiatives address one or more of the STEM subjects separately, there are increasing calls for emphasizing connections between and among the subjects, as well as bringing real world problems into the classroom through business and industry partnerships with educators. STEM is rapidly transcending into a verb, describing inclusionary critical thinking skills to solving everyday real world problems facing our communities and socioeconomics.
APPLIED SKILLSETS & LIFELONG LEARNING
Education advocates and academic researchers find that a more integrated, problem-based, hands-on learning approach is vital to the K-12 education.[iii] This is because it gives students applied skillsets that today’s workforce requires. These advocates find educational impacts increase when K-12 educators involve solving real world problems. The education impacts are furthering impacts when the educators include business and industry partnerships that support the problem-based learning approach. These authentic partnered learning approaches make STEM subjects more relevant to students, teachers, and program participates. [iv], [v] This in turn can boost motivation in the learning process and improve students’ interest, achievement, and persistence in schooling and become lifelong learners. Being and remaining a lifelong learner is critical for success in the 21st century. These outcomes, STEM advocates are asserting, will help address calls for greater workplace and college readiness as well as increasing the number of students considering STEM careers; where currently 40% of STEM jobs go unfilled due to applicants not having the required skillsets.[vi] Extension can be a solution to closing the 21st century skillset deficit and connecting our youth to STEM skillsets and career pathways.
“Lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a luxury to be considered … It is a mindset and a habit for people (student, educator, or the worker) to acquire. It creates the challenge to understand, explore, and support new essential dimensions of learning such as: (1) self-directed learning, (2) learning on demand, (3) informal learning, and (4) collaborative and organizational learning. Lifelong learning requires progress and an integration of new theories, innovative systems, practices, and assessment.”
-Gerhard Fischer, Director of the Center for Lifelong Learning & Design of the University of Colorado
CAPACITY BUILDING, COLLABORATION, & TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES
For over a year and a half, my particular Extension programmatic focus has been on preparing Pickaway County youth for STEM education and the 21st century workforce. I work collaboratively with a team of Extension professionals, volunteers, campus collaborators, and community partners to provide leadership for the development, production, and evaluation of educational programs and applied research to foster STEM educational opportunities that increase career attainment in STEM fields. More specifically, I work to provide leadership and programming to meet current and future needs related to K-12 STEM education with Pickaway County schools. I work in conjunction with the Pickaway County Educational Service Center, Pickaway HELPS, Pickaway WORKS, school district curriculum directors, K-12 teachers, business leaders, economic development organizations, local business and industry, and the Ohio State University collaborators.
This spring I took my STEM programming on the road to the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals in Cleveland, OH to present on the 21st century workforce, the applied skillsets required, and a hands-on coding challenge to educators across the country. Coding literacy is a 21st century requirement, which gives us a skillset to participate in the digital world. We should not just learn how to use computers and technology, we should develop applied programming that inspires and builds confidence for our communities and youth participates to learn to program computers – to be drivers in the digital world, not passengers. If this is something that interests you, visit the resource links below and start learning.
Video: video highlights OSU Extension Sphero Coding Programs. The first clip, was filmed by Brooke Beam, OSU Extension Educator. Brooke recorded Extension Educators from across the country engaging in Sphero coding challenges at the 2018 NACDEP Conference in Cleveland, OH. The following videos and photos were recorded or taken by Meghan Thoreau. All iPads and Spheros came from Apple Education. The music is by Stromae, Tous les Mêmes.
The video highlights Sphero (one connected education toy I include in my coding programs), but there are dozens of connected toys for educators to choose from. For example, the educational Parrot Drones can be programmed through code and is a great tool for educators looking to innovative their youth and adult Extension programs. Knowledge in drone technology is an example of how technology impacts the future of work. UPS is actively testing residential drone delivery, where a traditional delivery driver will soon have to add programming a drone to their daily tasks. Electric vehicle maker Workhorse Group (based in Columbus, OH) is working with delivery companies in actual use. Domino’s is currently delivering pizza via ground drones in Europe and New Zealand with more cities scheduled to go online in the very near future. Amazon, the e-commerce giant, tested its first drone deliveries in the U.K. in 2016.
But back to basic entry level coding. Connected toys, robotics, gaming, all make code interactive and fun learning, but it is also a critical skillset to today’s workforce. Instilling the importance of lifelong learning extends from the educators to their students, but it must also be from the employers to their workforce so that we may all support and incorporate more technology into curriculum, programming, outreach, and work itself. The shift to applied programming is central for Extension being a solution to closing the skillset deficit and connecting our youth to STEM career pathways through hands-on connected learning that is developed around real-world problem solving.
I have personally watched and listened to my youth participants, and they have become more curious, focused, and engaged in a STEM education and problem solving. The hands-on programming excites them beyond the program itself or their classroom. For example, after teaching a two-day computer science program with four elementary school buildings I returned the following month to be bombarded by students who wanted to share all the coding challenges they tried at home with me. The students engaged in self-directed learning. Extension provided the students and parents with a coding factsheet that highlighted several online sites that offer self-directed code challenges to get kids coding. Several even returned after winter break with their own Spheros. I witnessed a switch – the students did not just want to get a new game to play, they wanted a connected toy to code and write programs for themselves.
DRIVE YOUR PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
Educators: how many times have you altered or borrowed a lesson plan for your Extension programming? You understood the language and changed what was necessary to make the lesson applicable to your program’s objective. Code has languages too, and in order to remain relevant and impactful to your communities, you may have to gain some basic coding skills to alter or borrow technology to implement it into your Extension programming, not to mention instill a very important 21st century skillset into your participates’ mindsets – the ability to code, to create, and to problem solve.[vii]
You do not have to be a computer science expert. Your goal can be to just teach enough of the basics to inspire our youth and program participates to explore the multitude of self-directed learning platforms that teach code and connect them to career opportunities that computer science underlays. Code is everywhere: agriculture, sports, education, art/design, pharmaceutics, robotics, health, entertainment, travel, law, politics, engineering, transportation, meteorology, tourism – you get the point. No youth or 21st Century Workforce Development Program should be absent of code or technology.[viii]
OSU DIGITAL FLAGSHIP INITIATIVE
There are exciting advances happening at The Ohio State University campuses, but by far I’m most interested in the OSU Digital Flagship Initiative taking off this fall. To learn more details about this initiative visit, digitalflagship.osu.edu/, but the highlights are as follows:
I’m actively working with a team of Ohio State professionals to support Extension’s consideration in this exciting initiative and hopefully rally interest in organizing an Extension Digital Flagship Educators Cohort to bring the digital impacts of this initiative statewide through employing innovative technology, curriculum, and coding resources more comprehensively within our OSU Extension programs and outreach.
Adopt a growth mindset. This approach helps educators continue learning and problem solving through challenges. It is important for educators to fight through lifelong learning and remain a driver in the digital age, not a user. Be creative, curious, and adaptive.
A person learns best on the job. Therefore, bring real world problems and technology to your programs. Educators embrace technology and lifelong learning, look to community partners, and business and industry leaders to engage in the K-12 learning experience.
STEM matters. Technology matters. Both are essential to the 21st century teaching and learning programs. K-12 Education requires over-lapping STEM technology with real world problems and partnering with educators, business, and industry to close the 21st century skillset deficit. Educators must be knowledgeable about technology, be critical thinkers, and problem-solvers to prepare our youth for the real and ever-evolving workforce.
WEBSITES YOU MUST VISIT:
[i] Fayer, Stella, Lacey, A., Watson, A. (2017, January). STEM occupations: past, present, and future. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future/home.htm.
[ii] Business Roundtable. (2017, June). Work in Progress: How CEOs are Helping Close America’s Skills Gap. Retrieved from:
[iii] Nathan, Mitchell, Pearson, G. (2014, June) Integration in K–12 STEM Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research American Society for Engineering Education. Retrieved from:
[iv] Honey, Margaret, Pearson, G. Schweingruber, H. (2014). STEM Integration in K-12 Education: status, prospects, and an agenda for research. Committee on Integrated STEM Education of the National Acaemy of Engineering and National Research Council of the National Academies. Retrieved from: http://stemoregon.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/STEM-Integration-in-K12-Education-Book-Ginger-recommendation-from-OACTE.pdf.
[v] Fayer, Stella, Lacey, A., Watson, A. (2017, January). STEM occupations: past, present, and future. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future/home.htm.
[vi] Fayer, Stella, Lacey, A., Watson, A. (2017, January). STEM occupations: past, present, and future. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future/home.htm.
[vii] Rushkoff, Douglas. (2012, November). Code Literacy: A 21st-Century Requirement. Edutopia: Coding in the Classroom. Retrieve from:
[viii] Engler, John. (2012, June). STEM Education Is the Key to the U.S.’s Economic Future: we need to encourage more students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/06/15/stem-education-is-the-key-to-the-uss-economic-future.
Meghan Thoreau is a County Extension Educator for Pickaway County.