Educators have learned that linking classrooms to the real world helps engage students and teaches them the “why” behind what they learn. But teachers sometimes struggle with the best way to integrate real-world applications into classroom lessons.

Teaching students about exciting careers and linking those careers to an otherwise-boring lesson is one way to show them how math actually might help them land a cool job.

What’s better than teaching them about those careers? Connecting them with an industry expert who works in that field and can answer students’ questions and help them gain an in-depth look at where a future in math or physics might take them.

In the very near future, “78 percent of all available jobs will require education beyond high school–that doesn’t necessarily mean four-year degrees, but something beyond high school,” said Sabari Raja, founder and chief executive officer of Nepris, a web-based platform that connects students and teachers to STEM professionals and industry experts.

“Sixty percent of employers say job applicants lack that education and those skills. The single biggest factor in enhancing career development is having students engage with business and industry while they’re in the classroom,” Raja said during a TCEA session focusing on connecting classrooms to business and industry. “How do we do this?”

(Next page: 5 ways an industry expert can inspire students)

Connecting schools to business and industry is easier said than done, Raja said. Rural schools often don’t have industry close by, and teachers in urban schools don’t necessarily have the resources to locate the right person in companies close to their schools. This is where a web-based platform like Nepris can help. Industry experts can inspire students in a variety of ways, no matter their age or interests.

1. Help kids focus on exactly what they want to do.

“It’s our requirement, as educators, to provide those experiences for our kids,” said Kevin Worthy, superintendent of the rural Dallas-area Royse City Independent School District (ISD). “What better way to do that than connecting virtually with people around the world? We ask our students what problem they want to solve when they grow up. And if you ask that question in that way, you’ll get an entirely different answer.” When the question is framed in that way, students think beyond becoming “just” an engineer or “just” a medical professional, Worthy said.

2. Broaden students’ experiences when all they know is one industry.

With about 230 kids in her PreK-12 school in rural Covington ISD, Samantha Griffin’s students “know about agriculture, and that’s it. I use Nepris to get them more experiences–to help them experience more than just cows,” she said. “They need to know more about what is out there and try to find their passions. Helping them figure out what they want to produce and having these experiences helps them find passions and be more individual. I want my students to be individuals and take their learning into their own hands.”

3. Help students think about their future when they otherwise might not aspire to post-secondary programs or education.

“I was a first-generation college student from rural Mississippi. I enjoy the work I do now, and enjoy connecting to students, but I didn’t have these types of opportunities when I was younger,” said Tiffany Paige, assistant dean for student services at Mississippi College School of Law. “These connections let students explore their options instead of being tethered to just one idea of what they might want to do.”

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Those plans don’t have to include a four-year degree, Paige said, but telling students they have options is critical.

“I’m a college graduate, but that isn’t the route everyone will take,” she said. “I like that we can talk to students not just about how to get into college, but really having the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t want to go to a four-year university, let’s explore your interests, what you want to do, and figure out how to get you to that point.’ I didn’t have the opportunity to talk and think about what I wanted to do long-term when I was growing up–or even knowing I should be setting goals. That’s one of the greatest things about being connected to the classroom.”

4. Build trust between students and teachers.

“My kids trust that I have their best interests in mind,” Griffin said. “I want performance, I want data, but more than anything I want my kids to leave my classroom inspired to be more than what they were that day.”

5. Show students the classroom-real world connection.

“Students need to know what experience looks like,” Worthy said. “Why do we learn what we learn? We can tie that back to the classroom. How can I use that particular skill in the next chapter of my life? This helps students see why they’re learning these skills.”

Laura Ascione
About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura