RURAL MATH INNOVATION NETWORK
Blog Spot: RMIN Reflections
Can Educators Influence the STEM-H Career Pipeline?
Darla Edwards, Project Manager
When I was in high school, I remember dreading my math class each day. I struggled with math because the content seemed irrelevant to me and I was usually very frustrated and confused. I began to dislike math because it was so abstract. I had no idea how this subject could ever benefit me in my future. Unfortunately, my initial negative impression about math precluded me from pursing any math-related careers, such as an engineer, an analyst, or a statistician. As I reflect back on my experience with math, I wonder if I would have performed better if I had enjoyed it more. Research indicates a significant correlation between students’ attitudes about math and their performance in math. Educators can help students have a positive attitude towards the content by encouraging students to take risks in learning math and by supporting students’ growth mindset toward math mastery. Also, when students appreciate and recognize real-world math connections, they become more confident and motivated to pursue careers that require mastery of foundational math skills and concepts, such as careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and health (STEM-H) fields.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the demand for skilled employees in certain high-wage and high-demand STEM-H occupations is growing both nationally and in Virginia. While some STEM-H jobs require a four-year degree, other jobs in these career clusters emphasize training beyond high school, certifications and on-the-job training. Unfortunately, the dearth of STEM graduates and workers has caused businesses to experience a void in qualified candidates who can fill immediate and future job positions. Businesses are beginning to form strategic partnerships with educational organizations to address this problem by equipping students with the skills needed to be successful in STEM-H careers. Partnerships and innovative strategies that have the greatest impact on the STEM-H career pipeline focus on:
understanding the needs of the workforce;
creating a mathematical growth mindset / academic self-efficacy; and
encouraging a learning community of reflective teachers.
The Rural Math Innovation Network, developed by Virginia Advanced Study Strategies, Inc., is one example of how educators are responding to the needs of the regional workforce by preparing students with the skills needed to be successful in high-demand STEM-H technician occupations, or those careers requiring a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. In a rural setting, the education and workforce needs are more challenging and critical. This network is focused on helping teachers incorporate growth mindset and self-efficacy strategies into their math lesson plans. Pre-algebra and Algebra I teachers also have the opportunity to reflect on their instructional practices and collaborate in an interactive virtual environment to provide authentic feedback to their colleagues. By intentionally motivating and encouraging students to learn and master content, students have more confidence and excel in math because they believe they can and see the real-world connection. Students’ self-efficacy and growth mindset greatly influence their ability to learn and master math competencies. Impacting students’ attitudes toward math has tremendous implications for attracting students to STEM-H careers.
I often wonder how my career path in life may have changed if I could have seen the importance of math beyond confusing procedures and random problems. Fortunately, educators now have opportunities to influence the STEM-H career pipeline through innovative new models, like the Rural Math Innovation Network, designed to prepare today’s students to excel and thrive as knowledgeable and skilled individuals capable of competing for high-demand careers.
The Rural Math Innovation Network relies on partnerships with the business and industry sector to support and expand the STEM-H career pipeline in rural Virginia. In my upcoming blog, I will highlight how the network leverages such support to impact student success in mastering the foundational math needed for STEM-H career success.
Leveraging Business and Industry Partnerships to Support Rural Students’ Career Readiness
Darla Edwards, Project Manager
Approximately one-half of school districts, one-third of schools, and one-fifth of students in the United States are located in rural areas. Rural schools face a variety of barriers and challenges including: poverty; lack of post-secondary opportunities; teacher isolation; and teacher turnover. Rural schools are in a unique position to overcome these barriers because they are set in a community context that values a sense of place and appreciates meaningful business and industry partnerships to support students’ success. These partnerships are valuable because they provide the resources, professional expertise, and practical curriculum that can have a powerful impact on students’ learning experiences. When students have the opportunity to engage in authentic instruction and problem-based learning, they are more equipped to think critically about problems in the real world. Real world connections help students to understand the relevance of academic content to a variety of careers.
Rural communities have seen a rapid growth of STEM technician occupations. Unfortunately, in many rural school districts, there is a math gap in what students learn and what these occupations require in a rural region. How can we better align instruction to reinforce the skills that students need for high-demand occupations? This question prompted a discussion between business owners and the K-12 educational community in Virginia. As a result, Virginia’s Chamber of Commerce prioritized school / business partnerships and workforce preparation as important goals to strengthen the state’s economic development and global competiveness.
The Rural Math Innovation Network helps to support the Chamber’s goals by providing an opportunity for educators to partner with STEM and health (STEM-H) technicians to incorporate real-world math competencies into their instruction. Modified DACUM (Developing A CUrriculuM) sessions, during which educators design instruction side-by-side with STEM-H technicians, are powerful learning experiences for educators to leverage the expertise of business and industry professionals. These sessions provide transformative training for educators to learn how apply pre-Algebra and Algebra I concepts and skills to tasks and responsibilities in the workplace to make lessons relevant and more meaningful for students.
Work-based learning opportunities, internships, and job shadowing experiences are additional ways that schools and businesses are partnering together to support students’ career readiness. Students are able to successfully overcome many of the barriers experienced in rural districts when there is an intentional focus on leveraging business and industry partnerships.
In next month’s blog, we will discuss how teachers in rural schools can overcome the barriers of isolation, turnover, and teacher growth through innovative professional learning opportunities.