There’s no doubt that our world is changing at a rapid pace. As educators, we are faced with the daunting task of adapting and evolving at the same rate to teach our students the skills they need to thrive in the future.
Technology has already changed the way many of us teach. However, a true, systematic change on a larger scale is going to require educators to change not only what they teach, but also how they teach.
The question is: Where do we begin?
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of visionaries who are working alongside educators to transform the way we teach. During our time together, they shared how their vision for the future of education became a reality...
Seven years ago, this group (comprised mainly of business owners and managers) collaborated to solve a common problem: finding employees with the creativity, flexibility, critical thinking, and communication skills needed to succeed. They needed more workers equipped with 21st-century skills. They also noticed a decline in applicants skilled in trades. After further investigation, they found these issues were indicative of a national trend.
Realizing that schools are the most influential in training the future workforce, the group brainstormed ways in which K–12 education could be a part of the solution. And, after months of prayer and discussion, they created TelPi* (Transforming Education Leveraging the Power of Industry), a company that partners local businesses (they refer to as “industry partners”) with teachers and provides a sustainable process to transform the way students are educated.
And this is how they do it:
Together, teachers, industry partners, and an assigned TelPi Education Specialist identify a problem that students can examine and creatively solve. This can be a problem the business has or a problem relevant to the everyday lives of the students.
Teachers design a Problem-Based Instruction Unit (PBIU) with the support of their Education Specialist and industry partners over a three-to-four-month period during contracted work hours. This unit includes opportunities for students to master curriculum standards, meet state requirements, and practice 21st-century skills.
To get the PBIU started, industry partners meet with the students, share information about their businesses, and explore different careers. They introduce the problem, ask for the students’ help, and offer their expertise as a resource for the students.
Throughout the implementation of the PBIU (typically lasting three to five months), students work in small groups to solve the problem. Industry partners consult with students and provide needed materials, while teachers guide the students’ self-directed learning.
At the conclusion of the PBIU, industry partners, educators, parents, and other community members get together during the school day to celebrate the students’ learning. Students present their proposed solutions, industry partners provide feedback, and everyone in attendance honors the students for all of their accomplishments.
Teachers cycle through this process three times, planning and implementing a PBIU once a year during the three-year program. Each year, teachers receive training in different aspects of problem-based learning and new resources from their Education Specialists. As the teachers become more familiar with problem-based learning methods and the intricacies of partnering with local businesses, they require less and less support from their Education Specialists. Ideally, after practicing and refining this process for three years, they will have established relationships with several industry partners and mastered the skills necessary to implement a PBIU again in the future with very little support from TelPi, making this process sustainable for educators.
Examples of successful PBIUs:
- Kindergarteners and first-graders at one school partnered with a renowned art museum to design portable art carts enabling the museum to bring mobile art displays to satellite locations and art display cases that would allow children to experience art in a unique way in the education wing of the museum.
- A local nursery asked third graders to brainstorm creative ways to repurpose used pots that were currently being thrown away.
- Fifth graders received support from several local businesses and organizations in order to design an outdoor learning lab for their school that is now under construction.
- A local company asked sixth graders to prove the efficacy of a biofertilizer product that had just received approval for use in Ohio.
- Fifth, sixth, and seventh graders consulted with multiple city departments and local businesses to design plans for an unused plot of land, making it a gathering place for the neighboring church parishioners, school children, and community that also mitigated the destructive flooding issues the city had been dealing with for years.
- A local fireworks business asked high school art students to propose a name and design packaging for a new product coming to market in the next year.
Indeed, the transformation of our education system is a daunting task. However, after talking with the visionaries behind the creation of TelPi as well as teacher after teacher who testified to the power of TelPi’s program, I believe that transformation is possible.
Over the past four years, TelPi has worked with over 50 teachers, impacting over 1,000 students in both public and private schools across the state of Ohio, and they are expanding their reach each year.
What teachers who have partnered with TelPi had to say:“I had 100% participation. The students who normally don’t participate much in class were some of the most enthusiastic leaders in their groups. I’d never seen them so excited to learn.” - Julie, sixth-grade science teacher“I was surprised how beneficial and rewarding this problem-based learning opportunity was for my students! They experienced an inviting and flexible learning environment where they were able to explore, follow their curiosity, and develop different skills and strategies to guide their learning. Most importantly, they were proud to share their work with our industry partners during our Celebration of Learning. The result: highly motivated students who became more confident in their ability to solve problems.” - Kris, kindergarten teacher“Partnering with businesses is a great way to involve the community with the school and for students to feel more connected to their community.” - Sofia, a fourth-grade teacher“This was the best experience I’ve had. I'm retiring in a few years, and this was seriously the best thing I’ve done in all of my years of teaching.” - Mary Beth, elementary reading and math teacher
If you find yourself wanting to learn more about partnering with a business and implementing a problem-based learning scenario into your instructional day, contact TelPi at telpi.xyz. Even if you are not located in Ohio, they will consult with you until they have expanded to your area. Ultimately, they hope to have the capacity to support teachers across the country, transforming education and bringing the presence of local businesses into classrooms one partnership at a time.
* company rebranded, changing its name to TelPi in 2022
Jennifer Osborne spent her career working in public and private educational settings as an intervention specialist. Her most cherished vocation is being a devoted wife and the mother of three amazing children. She strives to make this world a better place with every interaction.
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