Preparing Tomorrow's Workforce Today


CTE Demonstrates Benefits of Rigor and Relevance

At a time when educators struggle to get a majority of high school students graduated on time, students in Career and Technical Education graduate in record numbers.

Nationally, more than 90-percent of CTE students graduate on time, while the average for all high school students is less than 75%.

I offer for your examination – Rigor and Relevance.

For years “Vocational Education” was where the students who “couldn’t make it” in regular classes were put. A funny thing happened on the way to the dropout line… vocational classes enabled students to focus on something they were actually interested in. Students were introduced to subjects they enjoyed learning about and could do something with. School became relevant. They succeeded, therefore they grew.

And to get it right required rigor. Asking questions and finding answers. A Comprehensive, thorough and complete approach to problem solving.

Many students never get close to understanding The Pythagorean Theorem? You know – how to figure the length of a side of a right triangle when you know the length of two other sides.

But when that student who couldn’t understand the Pythagorean Theorem in Algebra goes to Building Trades class and figures the rise and run of a roof (height, length and angle of the roof) in his head, that’s the Pythagorean Theorem at work. He didn’t learn it in algebra. He learned it in shop.

There is a lesson here.  We (and students) learn best when things make sense to us.

Dave Boliek

The Only Constants in Education

The fad of the year… Initiative fatigue… the latest “new thing.”

If there were a silver bullet to successfully educating children, someone would have fire that shot a long time ago.  Policy makers who try to force one-size-fits-all plans on schools and districts miss the point that all districts, all schools in all districts, and all students in all schools in all districts are different and unique.

The only constants proven to help students achieve a year’s growth in learning for a year in school are 1) high quality teaching and 2) effective, supportive leadership.

As teachers grow in reaching each student with their different needs and abilities and administrators grow in understanding what goes on in the classroom and having constructive faculty conversations, students will grow and blossom. A friend of mine said once that schools must be places where everyone learns, especially the adults.

High quality teaching has proven itself over and over and over again as the key to student success.  Effective, supportive leadership has proven itself over and over and over again as the key to teacher success.

Dave Boliek, CEO

Putting Students on the Fast Track

Errol Shook from Watauga High is one of the most successful teachers I know at preparing high school students for the high tech workforce. Over the past decade, an average of four seniors each year have gone on from his program to internships or paid positions on college or university IT staffs – many of them at Appalachian State, right there in Boone.

I asked him to share some of the strategies he’s used to establish this track record. He goes above and beyond that’s required, and is a wealth of Best Practices for the IT classroom. Here’s our conversation:

 Tell me how you’ve encouraged your best students to continue along the IT career path, and how that has turned out for them.

Every year I try to find jobs for students who are graduating from WHS, and who have done well in all of my classes. This year, one student finished an internship at Technology Support Services at Appalachian, and 3 graduating seniors for this school year already have jobs open for them to take or turn down at TSS at Appalachian State University based on the work they have completed.

That’s a great ongoing track record of producing students who go on to tech jobs after high school. What’s your secret?

I have been teaching Computer Engineering courses for 10 years. Networking in various forms during that time, and a Trade and Industry Advanced Studies course that covers UNIX, Programming as Scripts in Python, Perl, Ruby, and C/C++, some Circuit Design and how they relate to truth tables and binary so circuits can be built on screen with logic gates. All teach skills necessary to work in the tech industry.

Once you have a core set of classes that build on each other, you can take that content, and visit the places where you want to get your students jobs. Sell the curriculum to as many of those places as possible, and internships and jobs will come. Employers and colleges won’t know you unless you go talk to them. Build a strong base, and then, sell your students, on working hard to get the recommendation to go to those places.

Are there particular strategies you use in the classroom to get students ready for real jobs?

We do LOTS of labs. LOTS of hands on things, and in as many of those hands on labs I try to set them up as Real Life situations. The curriculum is the material to be covered, but if you don’ take the time to try to apply those topics to what is done at work, it is just a class. I use Linux to teach networking, and to compare differences in Microsoft Environments. Students have to set up and prepare a desktop for demonstrating k12LTSP. We build parallel processing clusters with as many as 42 computers that all classes participate in.

If you limit yourself to the box of the curriculum, students will not think out of it. Use the curriculum, and design a class, that teaches it, and applies the material.

Do you emphasize practical experience? Certification?

The classroom is setup as a fully functional shop. We do repair work and upgrades and virus removal regularly. It becomes more than a classroom that way. And we talk about the importance of certification, and what it means to have the documentation that you have done them.

Can you tell at the beginning of a semester which students are going to do well?

As a teacher, after a few days, its easy to see who has ability and who is going to need to work harder. But sometimes the kids with less ability will work harder though. Its important to watch those early interactions and then pair or group kids so that it is a successful match. I really stress the team work and group interaction. Being a good IT person is great. But you aren’t a great IT person, unless you can relate what you know to users.

If you could say one thing to a new or less experienced Computer Engineering teacher, what would it be?

Don’t ever think you know as much as you need to. This business changes hourly. and you do too. Use the kids to help keep you up to date. Let them research and tell you things. Have conversations with students about technology.  There is a classroom of them, and only one of you. They have time to read and be on the Internet. Learn from your students, as much as you teach them.

15 Things We are Thankful for This Season

While the overall national unemployment rate is at 8.6%, the tech industry unemployment rate is 2.4%. And the outlook for 2012 is even stronger. It’s a great time to be teaching Information Technology, or working with teachers who are doing it!

In spite of educational budget cuts and fiscal challenges for schools, we continue to have the opportunity to provide training, curriculum, resources and support for high school Information Technology teachers. We’re thankful for that and for many other blessings this year, including:

  • A closer partnership with NCDPI in 2011, and a growing relationship ahead in 2012.
  • Administrators who understand and support the need for professional development and resources for their teachers!
  • Thousands of students at more than 150 high schools participating in our Computer Engineering and Digital Media programs.
  • Our friends at CMOSS, LLC, who produced our best Computer Engineering resource yet.
  • All the teachers who helped us bring Digital Media to the next level.
  • All who provided quality training for us this year.
  • A new group of talented teachers who are conducting workshops or writing curriculum for us.
  • Participating teachers like Angela Sanders, who always has an encouraging word.
  • Student success stories from teachers in our programs and workshops.
  • The opportunity to become a Microsoft Certified Training Partner, selling out five workshops and training 100+ Microsoft IT Academy teachers this fall (with many thanks to Ricky Hardy, Valleri Harris, Paige Haney, Robin Isaacs, Helen Maness, and a growing list of successful MSITA instructors ready to deliver sessions next year).
  • The chance to help prepare scores of Multimedia and Webpage Design teachers to teach new and unfamiliar content.
  • The opportunity to promote the value of student certification through three outlets: CompTIA’s new and free Partner Academy Program, Microsoft’s IT Academy, and Adobe’s ACS certification.
  • Our Twitter followers and Facebook friends.
  • Newer, cooler Web 2.0 tools (such as Tagxedo for word clouds, Mindomo for mindmapping, SnackTools and Aviary for digital and multimedia).
  • Our upcoming  revision and revival of NCDPI’s Foundations of Information Technology – a very exciting project ahead for 2012.

That’s a lot to be happy about. What are you thankful for as this year draws toward a close?

-Robin Fred
ExplorNet CareerTech

Congrats Due for Teacher-Student Success

One of the great things about working at ExplorNet is the opportunity to associate with some real quality CareerTech teachers who are preparing students for lifelong success.

This fall we’ve trained more than a hundred Microsoft IT Academy teachers across North Carolina, helping them take best advantage of a wealth of resources that prepare students for certification.  I’ve heard some inspiring success stories from teachers like Chris Eudy, who passed the Word certification exam during our Charlotte MSITA workshop and immediately put his skills to work in the classroom.

“It was only after I had a firm grasp of the concepts themselves that I was able to score well and then move on to actually help a couple of students (yes, at the alternative school in Henderson County) get certified in Word,” he says. “I am proud of these students and look forward to more getting certified.”

Several Computer Engineering teachers tell me they’ve had students achieve CompTIA A+ certification.  CompTIA’s new Partner Academy program is free for schools to join, and makes it easier to get students certified with discounted test vouchers.  It’s good to hear some teachers are planning to take full advantage of that.

We had the chance to work once again with SkillsUSA and FBLA, judging competitions for both and seeing first-hand some of the quality work done by North Carolina Business Ed and Digital Media students.

Allison Hassard

NC SkillsUSA Winners in Kansas City

Congratulations are due to all those who did well in those contests, and to students in NC IT programs who won at an even higher level. Reza Mohammadi at Guilford County’s Weaver Center had a national winner in SkillsUSA competition this year.  Allison Hassard won the Telecommuncations Cabling competition in Kansas City.  And Cecil Hobbs of Wilmington’s Ashley High had students place seventh in the worldwide Cisco NetRiders competition. Andrew McCarthy and Alex Hazeltine advanced after placing first in the state.

Leading the Transition to the Common Core

The move to Common Core state Standards – now underway in 45 states, two territories and the District of Columbia – brings challenges for educators.  The transition is getting into full swing in North Carolina, and as administrators and teachers learn more about what the standards are, they’re working through how to implement them.  What will they mean to teachers and students, and how will they change content and practice in the classroom?

“We’ve never had a national curriculum outlined across standards that are adopted by as many states as we have now,” says Rachel Porter, Senior Instructional Specialist for The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning.  Porter is leading a session for 70 principals and assistant principals, sponsored by the North Carolina Principals and Assistant principals (NCPAPA).  The administrators are at NC State’s McKimmon Center to formulate plans for making it happen, and making it work.

She notes that the language and terminology of the Common Core State Standards is different from what teachers may be used to using.  There’s no reference to ‘objectives’ – ‘standards’ and ‘domains’ are outlined in CCSS.  To further complicate matters, the adoption on CCSS comes simultaneously with new standards for all other subject areas.

“These standards require a different kind of planning and a different kind of structure in the classroom,” says Porter, noting that the Common Core State Standards are not focused solely on content, but more abstract concepts that reflect higher order thinking.

Those standards set an expectation that students develop the ability to read like a detective, write like an investigative reporter, listen like a safecracker, and speak like a teacher.  That’s no small feat, and will require intensive planning followed by effective execution.  The preparation to do that is now underway.


Session Features Windows 7, Cool Tools

Windows 7 and cool tools for the Computer Engineering classroom were in the spotlight at the North Carolina Trade and Industrial Teacher Association’s fall conference.  Asheville High teacher Bryan Morrisey led a session for us on preparing students for the A+ exams.

One change that exam takers are already seeing is additional questions on Windows 7.  Bryan covered several resources that give students a taste of Windows 7, along with links to online tools for evaluating system capabilities:

Compare Windows 7 Versions
Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor
Windows 7 Compatibility
Windows 7 Features
Windows Easy Transfer
Installing Windows 7 on a Netbook
Windows Virtual PC

Bryan also shared an interesting project from the Elder Geek website where students change the appearance of the Start button by changing a registry setting – not something that can be done in a lot of locked-down classroom labs, but an activity that provides some nice insights into operating system functions for those who can do it.  And he showed a couple of video websites that teachers and students alike will fine interesting: one where The Engineer Guy takes apart an LCD monitor (something you would never likely do in the classroom) and another with A+ exam prep videos from Professor Messer.

Last but not least, talk turned to a couple of Web 2.0 tools that can add a little variety and interest to the teaching of  vocabulary and concepts: the wordcloud tool Wordle and the mindmapping site

Our thanks to Bryan for an interesting session, and to our hosts at NCTIETA!


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