Zoom in for a close-up look at Externships of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council and you will find a mathematics teacher committing six summer weeks to learn data analytics with the Intelligent Solutions Group at John Deere's Urbandale facility. A skill set coined "the new competitive differentiator," data analytics "...has clearly moved from being an optional operational element to serving as the core of corporate activities" according to a recent Forbes magazine article. This fall, a middle school algebra class in Cedar Rapids will try out data analytics as their teacher brings the new skill back to the classroom, making meaning and sense (finally, for some!) out of quadratic equations and polynomials.
Zoom out for the landscape of Externships that have involved nearly 400 teachers of science, technology and mathematics immersed in over 150 workplaces spread across the state since 2009. Participants consistently rank their summer externship as their most powerful professional development experience, and business partners consistently attribute significant workplace gains (both in problems solved and money saved) to teacher-externs. A model public-private partnership, industry hosts split the tab for bringing on a summer extern (indeed some partners absorb the full cost to host). Most match-ups become on-going school-business alliances, and most teachers anchor their lessons to their real-world experience for years beyond the externship. Replicas of Iowa's Externship model have sprung up in Central Florida, Tulsa, Kansas City and elsewhere across the country as word has gotten out.
As David Jahn, forester for Des Moines Public Works and ardent host and partner for externships put it, teachers "...take the flavor of work, no matter what the skillset, back to their students and they can relay those things to them because students at all levels are looking for that future career, that future opportunity." More information on Externships, including how to participate or host, may be accessed at Iowa STEM Teacher Externship
*Certain environmental and conservation externships were made possible by funding in part by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP CEP).