Seventh graders chart their course for success through high school -- and beyond
MARSHALLTOWN – If you peer into Rebecca Callahan’s classroom, you might do a double take. That’s because it doesn’t look like a regular class. In one corner, you’ll find a student calculating the caloric content of a balanced meal. In another part of the classroom, a group of students is constructing a model bridge while another group is trying to locate the vein on their patient -- a stuffed bear.
Callahan is giving her seventh graders hands-on lessons in varying careers. Through modular technology, she’s making 20 different careers come alive for her students, ranging from health care to construction, cooking to coding.
Callahan, the Career-and-Technical Education (CTE) teacher at B.R. Miller Middle School in Marshalltown, said her students are engaged.
“They love it,” she said. “They are enjoying the hands-on learning.”
The modules introduce students to various careers, giving them a chance to sample them. Perhaps most important, if a career triggers a passion in students, it enables them to chart their education paths through high school.
“It creates a connection for the students between what they are learning currently and the course options available for them in high school,” said Superintendent Theron Schutte. “Prior to this, kids would go into high school and have no idea what industrial technology and family consumer services were and how they connected to future jobs and careers.”
In the 85-minute modular technology class, students take four different modules over what amounts to half a semester. (Modular technology rotates with art, physical education and Project Lead The Way classes which, like modular technology, immerses students in a hands-on classroom designed to empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in the work world.
“The first couple days of class, I ask them what their interests are, such as engineering, catering, hotel management, welding,” Callahan said. “After the first few days, they rate each module based on their interests and I work to get them into their top four areas of interest.”
And then it’s show time.
“All of the modules are moving at the same time,” Callahan said. “When they are finished with 20 minutes of online learning, they do their hands-on activities. Then they write in their learning journal what they did.
“It is amazing to see so many different activities going on at the same time. They are cooking, welding, coding; it is quite amazing.”
The modular technology course started after Schutte became superintendent five years ago.
“When I first came, I did a listening tour with the businesses in Marshalltown,” he said. “As I got to know them better, I continued to hear more and more about the needs for current and future employees for CTE positions.”
Practical considerations needed to take place, chief among them how to pay for it.
“There were two things we needed: funding in order to purchase what was going to be necessary, and find a CTE-certified teacher in order to tap into Perkins funding,” Schutte said. “First, we identified which modules we needed. We focused on the types of jobs that are in demand locally, and then had to consider what would be engaging students at the middle school level.
“We then identified local businesses for each of the modules and reached out to them and said, ‘hey, we would love to partner with you on the development of this module. If you would be willing to sponsor this module for $1,200, we will identify it with your organization’s branding and put your logo out there so the kids would immediately recognize what you do.’ It was one of the easiest sells – the business community saw great value in it and has been unbelievably supportive.”
Startup expenses were covered through Perkins and Regional Planning Partnership allocations, private business sponsorships and the school district.
For students, the modular technology class gives them a leg up in planning for their future. In Marshalltown, that’s especially important when students create their four-year plan for their high school career.
“In the high school registration booklet, the students are presented with career pathways,” Schutte said. “If these are the jobs you have the passion and interest to pursue, it is all mapped out as to what you need to take. That includes postsecondary degrees or certifications they will need. The earlier they know where they are going to go, the better it is for the students, their parents and their parents’ bank accounts.”
“With the experiences the students gain in modular technology, it allows them to have a better idea what career pathway they want to pursue when entering high school,” Callahan said. “And they love it, they love to share what they are doing!”
“There’s a lot of positive energy going on there,” Schutte said. “It’s one of my favorite places to visit!”