To prepare for the world and the workforce, students need to learn more about themselves and what motivates them. They also need opportunities, both in and out of school, to apply what they are learning to real-world contexts. Not just the kinds of problems they’ll be tackling in their future careers, but also the ways in which they will address them as part of a team of highly skilled knowledge workers.
In the video above, Bay Area high school student Avi fondly remembers Super Mario Brothers—not as a diversion, but rather as an inspiration that could ultimately lead her to a career in software engineering as she learns how to code. “To think that somebody started out the same way we’re starting out right now, just coding simple things and it will come out to something amazing,” she says.
For Avi and students like her across the country who are learning to code in and out of the classroom, how they build is as important as what they build.
As part of our ongoing Generation Beta video series focusing on critical issues in public education, we’ve focused on what exemplary STEM programs look like, whether in work or school settings. We’ve highlighted programs like CodeNow that are ensuring that less advantaged students have exposure to technology and the companies seeking skilled workers. Where these programs succeed in giving students lifetime career skills, though, has less to do with the nuances of coding and more to do with the skills students develop while working with their colleagues.
When students work together to solve coding problems, their mentors tell us they spend more time asking each other questions and less time coming to them for solutions.
When you look at how people in technology companies work, it’s rarely in isolation. In fact, employers are looking for college graduates who are leaders capable of working as part of a team and communicating effectively, according to respondents to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2015 survey. When employers were asked which attributes they look for on a candidate’s resume, the biggest group of respondents (78 percent) chose both “leadership” and “the ability to work in a team structure.” These are followed by “written communication skills”(73 percent), “problem-solving skills” (71 percent), “strong work ethic” (70 percent) and “analytical/ quantitative skills” (68 percent).
Educators recognize the importance of developing a broad base of skills focused on communication, problem solving and teamwork. NewSchools Venture Fund Principal Shauntel Poulson points out in the video that schools have begun emphasizing project-based learning across a wide range of subjects that helps develop these skills.
When you look at how people in technology companies work, it’s rarely in isolation. In fact, employers are looking for college graduates who are leaders capable of working as part of a team and communicating effectively.
Problem-based learning and approaches that require students to actually create things must be a crucial part of STEM education, as students need opportunities to participate in—and lead—projects that address real-world problems. Students must apply what they’ve learned in class to identifying problems, developing a solution and presenting the final product to a broader audience. These are all skills students will use throughout their lives—and they are skills that aren’t created in a vacuum. They require students to work in teams, to collaborate as well as to question and challenge each other.
There are exciting examples of collaboration and teamwork in schools across the country. At Middleton Magnet High School in Tampa, Florida, for example, students in an architecture, construction and engineering program work in groups to scope, design and market a hotel that would be a good fit for Tampa’s historic Ybor City. They learn critical design skills from their engineer mentors, but they also learn collaboration and communication skills that will serve them well no matter where their careers take them.
When students work together to solve coding problems, their mentors tell us they spend more time asking each other questions and less time coming to them for solutions. Rahim Fazal, CEO and co-founder of Involver, believes that these kinds of team-based efforts take learning to “another level.”
“There’s a lot to be said and that can be achieved by individual solo learning,” he says. “At the same time, I think there’s a higher level of understanding that comes from collaborating, exchanging ideas, asking questions and interacting with your peers who are going on the same journey.”
There’s a higher level of understanding that comes from collaborating, exchanging ideas, asking questions and interacting with your peers who are going on the same journey. Rahim Fazal, Involver CEO
As educators embrace project-based learning, they must also look beyond their schools to collaborate with business and academic researchers to expose young people to how science, engineering and other key fields translate in the real world. These kind of partnerships make what students learn much more real, and they also prepare them for what they’ll spend the rest of their lives doing—working to find solutions to challenging questions that rely on careful negotiation, planning, teamwork and other “soft” interpersonal skills as much as rigorous content-area knowledge.
Educators and businesses must continue emphasizing these kinds of partnerships to help learners work together in meaningful ways. That’s something students innately understand. As one of the students in the video points out, “I’m pretty sure the people who came up with Facebook didn’t do it on their own.”