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Shakopee, MN Schools, Businesses Help Prepare Students

Schools excel in STEM education

By Teree Caruthers on January 7, 2016

Children gather at a small amphitheater at Huber Park in Shakopee, MN for an outdoor class.
Shakopee / Michael Conti

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2022, the number of STEM-related jobs (those concentrated in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) will grow to more than 9 million. School districts and business leaders in Scott County are working to ensure the county’s students are prepared to fill those jobs by implementing a STEM-based curriculum and immersing students in real-world problem-solving instruction.

Thinking CAPS

This fall, Shakopee Public Schools started the CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) program, which is an elective for juniors and seniors at Shakopee High School. The program immerses students in authentic career experiences, thanks to the help of local business partners. Students in the Digital Design program report to Shakopee’s Shutterfly facility and the students in the Healthcare and Medicine program report to St. Francis Regional Medical Center, where they work on projects for these business partners. For example, students in the Healthcare and Medicine program created a hand-washing video for use at the hospital.

“We are leading the way in the state with our CAPS program,†said Superintendent Dr. Rod Thompson. “Our students are immersed in a professional environment and are actively acquiring the skills they need to be college and career ready.”

Students in the Shakopee CAPS program earn dual credit – credit with Shakopee High School and college credit through Normandale Community College.

In addition, the school district’s junior high and high schools participate in Project Lead the Way, the country’s leading provider of STEM curriculum and teacher training for grades K-12, which allows students to take hands-on, project-based courses in engineering and biomedical sciences. The district also enlists the help of area companies, such as Seagate, the global leader in data storage solutions, to provide the expertise that makes its programs top-notch.

Jordan Public Schools also participate in the Project Lead the Way program. The district’s elementary school students learn engineering skills by studying concepts such as stability and motion, energy conversion, and structure and function Meanwhile, eighth-graders learn about design and modeling. Carol Lagergren, director of teaching and learning for Jordan Public Schools, says the problem-based model of instruction is important to prepare students for the technology-based jobs of the future.

“Our world is changing at a very rapid pace. We are focused on providing education that prepares our students for living in the 21st century and this means STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – programming that entices interest in technology and science based careers,” adds Superintendent Matthew Helgerson. “Our country and world need a next-generation workforce that can utilize technology to solve problems, improve efficiencies and positively impact our environment.”

Environmental Impact

Jordan Public Schools integrates art education into its STEM curriculum and is a fine arts leader in the MRC Conference. Similarly, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools combines environmental education and STEM. In fact, the district’s elementary schools were the first in the state to implement an E-STEM curriculum. The E-STEM approach merges hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematical practices with projects and field experiences related to the environment.

“The district has a long history of having environmental education as really an integrated and embedded component for all of our curriculums,” says Jeff Holmberg, assistant superintendent of Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools. “Environmental education is very important to this community, and it’s part of its value. There is a dedication to nature and maintaining current natural resources.”

Holmberg says the fusing of environmental education with STEM made sense, because both areas of study involve complex problem solving, creativity and elements of technology and engineering.

“We offer several courses that apply directly to engineering with IT, but this year in our middle school, for example, we launched a new course in health called Medical Detectives, which brings in those components of technology, engineering and environmental education as well,” he says.

Workforce Development

Prior Lake High School incorporates business principles into its STEM and Information Technology classes. In the school’s fabrication laboratory, students design and manufacture a product using 3D printers. Local business leaders work with students to develop a marketing strategy for their product and teach them about sales analysis. Holmberg says the relationship the district has with area businesses plays a vital role in the district’s academic achievement.

“With the partners that we have, students get to see how what they’re learning in school is applied in the real world,” Holmberg says. “At the same time, these organizations are looking for a talented and well-educated workforce … and we’re preparing our students to be marketable.”

Our country and world need a next generation workforce that can utilize technology to solve problems, improve efficiencies, and positively impact our environment.

Matthew Helgerson
Superintendent, Jordan Public Schools
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