Strategies and Resources Educators Can Adopt From Thriving Tech Communities
Equitable STEM opportunities in Computer Science fields have been at the forefront of the conversation for industry leaders, innovative scholars, and STEM educators as we prepare for unprecedented demands and an abundance of changes in our world. As technology continues its rapid expansion, the need to prepare our students for exponential evolution will be critical for a successful education and fulfilling career path.
But what does this success look like? As doors of opportunity continue flying open in desperate need of brilliant minds, we need to make sure we are equally diligent to maintain a focus on equity, inclusivity, and justice so that all students know they too can walk through those doors.
When opportunities increase in the common workforce, they are met with a rise in education in relevant fields. In the wake of this growth is where a focus on equality and accessibility becomes non-negotiable. We know that experience, rather than raw potential alone, is a driving force behind career advancement, and we need to better recognize disparities between students whose potential is nurtured into fruition, and whose are not.
Meeting basic educational needs of minoritized learners involves recognizing emerging resources, and ensuring that they are put in the hands of people with varying backgrounds, identities, and cultures for a mutually beneficial impact on society with all of the best minds on board. Looking to communities where technological triumphs and strong economic foundations are already the standard, we can better understand what wealth needs to be dispersed, but how do we get there?
Starting From an Equitable Place
Educating from an equity-focused perspective requires across the board access to strategies and resources that allow for the advancement of all students. Beyond this active pursuit, recognizing and eliminating obstructions that keep marginalized groups from prospering is an important part of the work toward a justice- and strength-oriented education.
Supporting students across all walks of life to strive for common objectives requires an intentional redirection of course material, degree opportunities, and future career paths. With disadvantages already in place, we need to break up long-running obstacles and stereotypes to bridge expansive gaps so that upcoming generations are more fairly represented.
When students of any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or any other identities look to their superiors in their fields of interest, we need them to feel empowered to strive for the same achievements in the same high-earning fields, without continuing to fight the uphill battle of beating the odds for their culture.
Asset vs Deficit Thinking
With an approach that hones in on justice and strengths among young scholars, centering around the idea of perceived lack becomes painfully obsolete. Repairing the current lens of deficit thinking involves recognizing and encouraging the varying strengths among students so that they may climb higher toward their full potential. As there are different paths to learning new, growing concepts, planning for a variety of instructional methods with space for creativity and exploration will help students discover their interests early on. This allows them to make informed decisions throughout their education and set themselves up to continue into career fields they are interested in.
Using strengths as building blocks rather than casting them aside builds confidence and autonomy, improves critical thinking skills, and expands their opportunities beyond direct course material. This allows them to apply their budding knowledge in whatever ways they see fit, reaching beyond our expectations with the strict goals we could have set for them. This diversity takes their education from a place of passing exams to flourishing in interviews, internships, careers, and leadership positions, establishing a lifetime of equating learned lessons with their everyday lives, on a smaller scale as adolescents and on a much larger scale in the workforce.
CS and Beyond
With adaptable techniques that encompass the unique strengths of each student, we can raise the bar on our expectations while empowering young minds to grow outside of Computer Science and STEM paths into whatever arena they feel called to explore. While we can push a solid education and career path within tech and the sciences, a more expansive and inclusive approach ensures that students can embrace an abundance of interests and apply their knowledge, utilizing CS and their computational skills in innovative, unimaginable ways.
Encouraging strength-based autonomy above conforming with narrow standards ensures a greater capacity for comprehensive acquisition. With the rate at which technological needs evolve, access to an overall set of applicable skills will serve our students best in the long run, ensuring they can utilize their gained scope of knowledge in CS in their everyday lives and beyond to their own endeavors.
Acquiring Access to Materials
When we start the conversation about obtaining appropriate access for all students, the most tangible place to begin is by acquiring the necessary equipment to provide relevant, modern, real-world experience.
In school districts that have proper resources, we not only see the presence of virtual equipment and devices, but there is often enough to go around and be personally utilized by each individual. Having sufficient tools in the classroom is hugely impactful, and being able to take advantage of that technology at home is even more beneficial both for assignments and exploration.
Equity in Distribution
However, there are too many families that are unfamiliar with the latest technological devices, especially in communities that do not have the means of distributing this equipment for home use or providing the training necessary to take advantage of them. We can see a substantial gap in opportunities as districts that have access to tech gain that leg-up in experience and therefore go on prepared for higher paying jobs and more advantageous career fields at the peak of their prosperity. Collaborating with school districts and other sources of tech can allow increased exposure via after-school programs, computer clubs inclusive of families, volunteer educators, transportation, systems for loaning equipment, and other means of reaching outside the box for solutions to spread the use and knowledge of those materials.
As we know, these structures for distribution are not built overnight. When we work to employ equity-focused opportunities for all students, we can aim to expand on current course models to broaden possibilities for those in underserved communities. With the addition of computational thinking strategies, even to unplugged projects, we can begin to introduce exposure and run with core concepts however we can.
Identifying Operational Strategies
The road to comprehensive, justice-oriented accessibility goes far beyond the right equipment and materials. Across varying trends, subject matter, programs, and real-life experiences, we can utilize strategies that promote a greater availability of pathways to success for all of our students.
With STEM education and careers in mind, the subjects and programs utilized in our school districts are a hot button topic in today’s world. We see some areas already incorporating coding as a part of the basic mathematics curriculum in K-12 schools. Many believe, with the rate at which tech is becoming increasingly critical in our society, that Computer Science language and skills sets are beyond an elective, and are now as fundamental as other traditional concepts in our curriculum.
Paving the road to comprehensive understanding always begins with the basic building blocks of the system you’re operating in. With the blueprints and foundational cognition of technological tasks, that understanding begins at an early age and grows alongside the development of more advanced concepts. We teach our young scholars addition and subtraction, vocabulary and grammar, and the fundamental phases of matter, so why not start with basic coding to prepare them for the world they will be entering, and indeed, may already be fully submerged in? Once these primary underlying concepts are learned, students will continue on their path to building on these concepts without having to start from scratch.
In communities with an abundance of technological and economical assets, offerings include subjects such as engineering, programs such as Cisco Networking, advanced placement options in STEM subjects, GATE or Gifted education, extracurricular groups, and vocational programs. These opportunities not only provide a gateway for advanced programming skills, but jump-start careers while still in a K-12 setting with college credits and certifications such as CCNA, or Cisco Certified Network Associate certification. They have the ability to understand and use basic coding by middle school and begin programming their own interactive games and applications in their fields of interest before they graduate high school.
These students have access to CS literacy, ultramodern exposure to career preparation, and useful devices, not to mention many of them are coming from previous generations of privilege as well. These advantages allow for freeform exploration and design far before launching into their chosen concentration.
Because we can see varying skills unfolding in stages with the availability of different resources and processes, it can be tempting to lean into trend analysis and prediction to prepare our students for timely success. To an extent, this forecasting is useful in staying ahead of the curve in the industry, and following advancements in Computer Science and other relevant needs has the potential to set our students up for the doors opening just ahead.
However, with the rapid pace of evolving tech in our world, you can also never fully envision what the scope of relevant skills will look like by the time students don their graduation caps and step out into the light of their career paths. Instead, educators should remain open not only to expanding skills for ever-reaching potential, but being involved and staying at the heart of how that tech is evolving as much as possible. Broadening the use of critical thinking concepts, computational and mathematical reasoning, and analyzing data to experiment with their own innovations will carry them across the board into a wide variety of fields.
When this broad scope of learning is connected with real-life criteria and problem-solving, we can see the minds of students opening to the idea that they too can make an impact on areas in need of improvement directly related to their life experiences. Making sure our students are educated about the fields and arenas they can strive for is a crucial beginning step. Issues they see unfolding on their local and even national news networks become reachable, allowing them to be at the forefront of big topics like justice reform and systemic racism as they are given the strategies to affect change within their own communities and cultures.
Giving all students the understanding and confidence to step into their power also involves soft or core skills that are highly sought after in every field. Determination, communication, and an attitude equipped with a palpable willingness to learn are integral throughout education and into careers in adulthood. Encouraging the development of universally applicable skills ensures a well-rounded set of qualifications for appropriate training in the tech industry, targeting those with an adaptable mindset to different positions as the industry evolves with their unique ideas in tow.
Collaborating with Other School Districts
In the last year more than ever, we were able to see some of the advantages of virtual collaboration by reaching out to fellow educators and scholars to discuss changing needs in the tech industry and how we can best serve our student population. Establishing a network for sharing idea sets and developing our professional education provides an invaluable model of how we might proceed in our strive for equality and other endeavors, working toward our common objective of preparing each and every one of our students across the board.
From developing lesson plans, to analyzing strategies across different contexts and communities, working together in this way provides a wealth of knowledge and experience to pull from before we even set foot in our classrooms. With time to explore and even act out challenges and discomforts, as well as gaining feedback and advice from mentors and other educators, we can greatly improve our presentation of course material in an equity-focused way.
Equity in STEM
It is important to remember that a critical piece of this targeted equality comes from intentional action and learning, just as we encourage within our students. By opening up to the ideas of other teachers and scholars, we can address our own biases and assumptions with regards to different minoritized groups and underserved populations. Challenging our currently held beliefs before we explore our own creativity for producing appropriate lesson plans is critical in the success of our objectives as educators.
Embracing innovative teacher education and taking advantage of our own learning opportunities starts on an individual level, but expands to working with other schools and their administrators. By becoming involved in diverse communities, both in underserved as well as advantageous districts, we can discover additional strategies and work together to achieve necessary support and access to resources.
Reaching Into the Community
Beyond utilizing a year filled with virtual collaboration to become more successful equity-focused educators, we can expand this idea to reach a greater variety of communities, resources, and opportunities through technological innovations as well. Along with going into communities with an abundance of assets to ask what is working, we can go into communities with disparities to ask what is needed.
Hearing out young voices is crucial if we hope to resolve the challenges they face on their path, and what better way to find out what those needs look like and how they can be structured, created, and implemented than from a real-time source? Supporting equality and inclusivity among varying communities requires taking feedback as an educator, researcher, and member of the community yourself in order to maintain adaptable and relevant coursework for all of your students.
When we can address the entire scope of our students’ environment, reaching out to their families and neighborhoods, we can be of service to our students outside of the classroom even when we aren’t there. Adopting strategies that incorporate and inform parents and guardians brings them into an equal playing field in their child’s education so that students can feel supported and empowered in their daily lives. By bringing families and communities together, we can better discover and utilize our resources.
Giving students the space and free time for raw creation, proposing suggestions and solutions, exploring tech mechanics, and connecting the dots between their lived experiences and classroom content directly shows students where their ideas are essential and can flourish. STEM education is not just data and experiments in a classroom, but can be built and molded in unprecedented ways from their own ideas.
While we make sure to stay informed about our students’ needs, we want to engage with parents and families in the same way, bridging gaps in communication that hopefully lead to bridging gaps in opportunity. Rather than making generalizations about underserved areas, both in location and accessibility, we can ask parents not only how we as educators, coaches, and mentors can best be involved, but how they as parents want to be involved in their childrens’ education as well.
Doomed to Repeat
You may be the best person for this collaboration, or you may find that a representative or group of delegates may be of better service, focusing on specific communities and reaching out to families to hone in on their needs. The more personally connected they are with those underserved areas, the deeper they will understand the challenges they face and the solutions that are desperately needed to end common disparities.
Inevitably, we will run into obstacles directly related to attitudes around education and the school system itself. Even and especially if we are facing opposition with families, we need those voices to be heard so that the course of historical experiences can be corrected rather than repeated. The more parents can be involved in their children’s education, the more they too can affect change, learn skills, and pass on foundational thinking to younger generations.
Beyond connecting educators with the family unit, STEM and Computer Science graduates face the task of networking with professionals as well, especially those in their chosen fields and in abundant tech communities. Staying current and present in areas where upcoming scholars are needed will help lead them in the right direction, putting the skills they are learning to use and having the best chance of succeeding to their potential.
Whether students are seeking out collaborative projects or the right destination to put their skills to work, they can start by looking to their own state for fairly local opportunities. Northern California is an obvious locale, but digging a little deeper and we see other areas booming with tech across the country, from Boston’s Route 128 in the east, to innovative Austin, Texas in the south, and back to the west coast. With proper education, access, and the freedom to propel beyond prejudices, students can focus on their talent and skill development and know they are on a supportive path to success, in these areas and beyond.
Working with the Tech Industry
Reaching out to companies in the tech industry for collaboration can help provide an abundance of useful resources, especially during a time when businesses are looking for ways to offer their support to help be a part of the solution and not the problem in an inequitable world.
Whether with nonprofits, local entrepreneurs, or large-scale corporations, forming partnerships provides a mutually beneficial path to acquisition of resources and funding, as well as advancing comprehensive education so that students acquire a broad skill set applicable to Computer Science, STEM fields, and anywhere they’re talents are sought after.
As long as educators, administrators, and families are able to delegate resources to beneficial and effective areas for learning in their districts, a continued focus on equitable STEM preparation can provide invaluable assets to all of our communities. These assets may include program advisors, curriculum consultants, internship coordinations, coding lessons, tech instruction, and local speakers, among many others.
By utilizing training and equipment provided by those who want to help encourage all students, subject matter and material accessibility can be better brought to all walks of life, helping them become the successful tech experts and leaders of the future we need.
A lack of resources and accessibility runs deep for our student population, both in disparity and in despair. We can see it continuing to promote an equal lack of confidence and readiness for young learners to engage in STEM and Computer Science programs where they don’t think they will belong or have the means to thrive.
Students in abundant areas are not only given technology to succeed, but they are taught that they can succeed. There is empowerment in the idea that you can be whatever you set out to be, and the more we put our collective resources together and push for that inclusivity in all communities, the more we produce sustainable results to give this empowerment a foundation. That power can be passed onto future generations, who can continue improving and evolving core systems to not only be more inclusive, but more adaptable as the idea of inclusivity is expanded and further necessities are brought into the light.
As we adopt strategies and resources from communities with an abundance of technological assets, they must always be sought after from an equitable place. From there, imperative materials, processes, and collaboration with educators, communities, and the tech industry itself helps form a path of success for all of our unique, valued young scholars. When we give our students the chance to succeed, we can watch their brilliant minds go to work, thriving with the knowledge that they are equipped to flourish in, and to even help create, the evolution of tomorrow’s technology.
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