Ask most business owners about their most pressing needs today and high on the list is finding employees who possess the essential skills required to be productive team members: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Lately, however, a new essential skill is rising to the top: technological literacy, using today’s tools to design products, perform quality assurance tasks, and manage projects.
In 2016, Colorado Succeeds worked with the state legislature to dedicate more resources to teaching computer science. Technology skills were added to content standards, a computer science resource bank was co-created by Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Department of Education to help build out resources for teachers, and a grant program was funded to bring more computer science training and development to teachers.
While these additional resources are helping, we know that too few graduates enter the workforce with the computer science skills required to meet growing employer demand. This gap exists in part because technological literacy isn’t built into most teacher preparation programs. If teachers can’t teach it, how can we expect students to learn it?
But now the opportunity exists for more Colorado educators to up-skill through partnership with businesses. STEMpath, a collaboration among mindSpark Learning, Colorado Succeeds, Couragion, and Metropolitan State University, provides Colorado K-12 educators an opportunity to develop the computer science knowledge and experience they need to become effective computer science teachers, in turn building a sustainable workforce pipeline.
#STEMpath offers work-based learning experiences for teachers through industry externships, coursework at MSU, and professional learning focused around career literacy, information science, and equity-centered design thinking. The program provides a well-rounded, well-informed perspective of computer science far beyond the traditional skills of coding and programming.
“We see STEMpath as a gamechanger in Colorado,” said Meg John, who is managing the project for mindSpark Learning. “We can take any K-12 teacher and help make them prepared to teach computer science. We’re not taking just science teachers out of the classroom and making them computer science teachers; we’re taking any teacher and helping develop these skills, so that we’re increasing the talent pool.”
There’s a major role for businesses to play in STEMpath: hosting teachers three days per week over the course of a six-week externship. These externships are a key facet of the STEMpath program, they give educators real-life, hands-on experience in the computer science field.
The externships are flexible: businesses can deploy the teachers to perform tasks useful to the company, while meaningfully building those teachers’ understanding of technology and computer science. “We want the teachers to be working in the areas of a company’s greatest need, with an understanding that most of them will be coming in with a pretty baseline understanding,” John said. Tasks might include helping the IT support team or troubleshooting new apps before they’re made public.