Making STEM Class Matter by Tying to World of Work

STEM BEST Program Boone Edge provides a work-based learning continuum of awareness, exploration and training in partnership with employers and higher education institutions.
The STEM Council is coordinating the development of work-based learning plans to help guide other school districts interested in providing career-linked learning experiences, similar to Boone Edge.

Work-Based Learning (WBL), a phrase coined by the U.S. Department of Labor for career-technical education, is fast becoming mainstreamed into Iowa’s STEM classes as Career-Linked Learning (CLL). And for good reason: WBL, or CLL, is a potent instructional mode for contextualizing the learning of content and skills across subjects K through 12. Whether through internships, job-shadows, collaborative school-business projects, apprenticeships, co-ops, or even teacher-externships, the knowledge and skills taught in school make much more sense applied to workplace applications. That is why Iowa’s STEM Council is on a mission to help all Iowa school districts create district-wide, K-12 work-based learning plans. One of the first to create such a plan was the Waterloo Community School District. Jeff Frost, the district’s Executive Director of Professional Education, explained their logic, “We have multiple layers of exposure to careers, beginning in Kindergarten, all the way through their senior year… [where] Waterloo students graduate with a paid experience, connections to businesses in an area they want to pursue for a career, and a strong resume no matter what their next step is – whether that is school to work, school to two-year or technical college or school to four-year college and beyond.”

A dozen district-wide, K-12 Work-Based Learning Plans are in development right now, soon to join Waterloo’s and eight others produced last year in a partnership of Iowa’s STEM Council with the state’s Department of Education and the Iowa Business Council. The nine prototypes informed a fall 2022 invitation extended to all STEM BEST Programs of the state to opt in for a modest grant to produce their own district-wide WBL plans. Twelve districts stepped up for this round: BCLUW, Central, Cherokee, Creston, East Allamakee, MFL Mar Mac, MOC Floyd Valley, Osage, Sheldon, Sioux Center, Stanton and West Des Moines. Roberta Vanderah, science teacher at BLCUW who’s authoring their WBL plan, joined this effort. “We feel that it will help us be intentional in knowing and valuing students so we can help them to be future-ready. It will build closer partnerships with area businesses which will only build stronger communities in our rural district, setting us up for sustainability and potential growth,” said Vanderah. 

What Frost and Vanderah are designing for the youth of their districts may someday be standard fare for all learners in Iowa. These pioneers recognize the win-win of captivated students who become employable graduates for the high-demand STEM industries driving the state’s economy. The Waterloo WBL Plan, as well as that of the Pella and Spencer School Districts, may be accessed here:

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