Connecting Students to an Authentic Audience
There is a big difference between talking about the real world in the classroom and connecting to the real world through the classroom. One of my favorite things about education is that we have always had a large number of second and third career teachers who have “found their calling” and bring in a wealth of practical experience. Additionally, most educators I know are well connected in many areas (because, aren’t we all as we go through life?). A question I hear often from teachers is “how do I engage my students with connections to the real world through my content?” Welcome to “I Got A Guy (or Gal!).”
I Got a Guy (Or Gal) is an FSHISD initiative where we help our teachers and staff connect their students to an authentic audience and bring the real world into their classrooms through the use of technology, primarily virtual meetings. We are currently building a database of individuals and businesses who can help us build engaging experiences into our content.
My I Got a Guy (Or Gal) moment came this past week when we did a virtual field trip with a company called ICON Build with our elementary school Robotics clubs. ICON is an Austin-based company that is working on perfecting the process of 3D printed houses for the homeless and underserved communities around the globe. When I was approached by one of the robotics sponsors about Lego’s City Shaper challenge, Icon seemed like the best place to start when showing students how STEM works in the real world.
In case you aren’t familiar, Lego’s City Shaper challenge is a STEM initiative that engages students with real world problems using Legos as the construction tools. Through the contest, students are given two primary challenges: 1. The Robot Game - a mission based assignment where a student-engineered robot is used to complete the mission and 2. The Innovation Project where students identify a problem with a building or public space in their community and then design a solution for it. The best part is that the learning doesn’t stop after the design. Focusing on an iterative cycle of development, City Shaper requires teams to test, share and refine their programs over the course of the contest.
Our robotics students were blown away by the lead 3D printing and robotics engineer Evan Jensen’s explanations of the purpose, process, and projects of ICON. Evan did such a great job of breaking down the concepts for students, showing us some of the software he and his team designs to make it work, and then giving us a tour of the shop.
The best part was when he took questions from students at the end allowing for students to start reaching into what they are learning in the club and connecting it to his work. Questioning from teacher to student is important for assessing student understanding, but I believe strongly that when our students are allowed to ask their own questions the strongest connections are made. One of our biggest advantages in life is our natural curiosity and our questioning of new information helps us to understand and fit the pieces together.
Students did not disappoint and proved to Evan that they were not only paying attention, but also thinking critically about the process of 3D printing. The coolest question came towards the end, however, when a student asked how much Evan got paid. I’m positive he knew this question was going to come up eventually, but he was so gracious to answer by encouraging them of the stability of the profession while also wrapping his answer into a cool piece of engineering advice: play with Legos!
You can imagine the students’ joy when they heard this! Suddenly, this wasn’t just a robotics club and something fun to do after school but instead a pathway to a really cool job where you get to help people who need help. Their altruism echoed Evan’s and many were quickly getting the idea behind “I Got a Guy or Gal” - exposing students to the real world within the context of learning is the quickest and most effective way to ensure their engagement and willingness to keep learning!
We know that we are not alone in our real-world connections initiative. Some may call it something different; some may already do this without calling it anything at all. Our Education Service Center, Region 20, has a program called Connect2Texas which provides virtual content and conferences to students on a variety of different topics for a variety of different grade levels and content areas. What a time to be a student right? Learning becomes an experience when we connect our students to an authentic audience.