5 Ways to Engage Today’s Agriculture Students

By Emily Kuhn

You may have noticed that there are some unique differences between the Generation Z students that sit in your agriculture classroom today and the millennials you previously taught. Today’s students are even more tech-savvy, can multi-task even faster and, if you can believe it, have an even shorter attention span than their predecessors. They read less than 20% of text; think in 4D, not 3D; and are used to immediate feedback.[1]

The standard classroom model where an educator stands in front of the class and lectures simply doesn’t work for these students. Generation Z students want to be successful – in fact, the desire to change the world is a hallmark of this generation – but they will disengage with the discussion if they don’t feel connected or if they don’t see the relevance.

Did I mention that Generation Z students are used to immediate feedback? Current technology has made them used to finding out anything, anytime, anywhere – the world is literally at their fingertips. Today’s agriculture students don’t just want to hear about a topic, they want to see it, touch it and feel it.

How do you engage today’s students in agriculture education?

1. Replace lengthy PowerPoint presentations with brief presentations that incorporate polls, activities and hands-on demonstrations every few slides.

2. Use videos, online activities and group work in addition to the textbook. By varying their focus, you’ll help keep it.

3. Use hands-on learning aids like our new Animal Models and Plant Science Models. These larger-than-life models can be taken apart and put back together as students explore each animal’s internal and external anatomy.

4. Don’t forget that “Why” is as important as “What.” As one of my colleagues recently informed me, Generation Z students need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, and by answering the “Why” question with evidence-based reasoning before teaching the “How,” you’ll assure them that the concept you’re about to teach applies to real life.

5. Incorporate soft skill development whenever possible. Your students will come to you with a varying degree of these skills, but you know all employers will look for them. Collaborative work helps build communication skills, assignment tweaks and activity changes help build flexibility, open-ended questions help build problem-solving skills and reflection activities help build critical thinking skills. (Our Employability Skills Program can help, too.)

With nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture and related job openings expected annually in the U.S. over the next five years, it’s more important than ever to ensure that today’s agriculture students are engaged. By creating an interactive, hands-on learning environment where they can engage in active learning opportunities, you’re setting your students up for success.

[1] https://growingleaders.com/blog/six-defining-characteristics-of-generation-z/

Welding Education in the 21st Century: Engaging Today’s Students in a Growing Career Path

In July 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics reported the need for 379,000 manufacturing positions – an increase of more than 280 percent since 2008.1 Industry leaders report that these job openings will continue to grow; according to the American Welding Society, there will be a need for over 400,000 welders by the year 2025.2 In the next decade alone, the Manufacturing Institute predicts a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs.3 As the nation’s workers and infrastructure age, demand for qualified workers in the manufacturing industry will continue to grow.

glimpseWhile manufacturing job openings grow, however, employers are struggling to find qualified workers to fill them. In fact, the number of open manufacturing positions is at its highest point in 15 years, but the rate of hiring has only increased by 36 percent since 2008.⁴ The nation is facing a significant skills gap, one that the Manufacturing Institute predicts could result in nearly 2 million of the industry’s anticipated job openings going unfilled.⁵

Technology can play a powerful role in the engagement of today’s students in these vital career paths. After all, 21st Century Learning is a technology-based learning style; it is second nature for today’s process-oriented, connected and media-driven students to use technology to communicate, collaborate and create. Brick-and-mortar school buildings may have remained relatively the same over the past century, but the advancement of technology means the tools available to instructors are completely different.

How educators use technology is key in equipping students with the skills the workforce needs to remain globally competitive, from manufacturing and welding and beyond – and Career and Technical Education (CTE) professionals are stepping up. From virtual reality simulation tools to certification programs and student-run businesses, CTE instructors are taking steps to engage today’s 21st century students in these growing career paths and give them hands-on opportunities to learn valuable trades.

Illinois education organization using tools, certifications to teach students industry-specific skills

skillsgapThe Career Education Associates of North Central Illinois (CEANCI) is an Education for Employment (EFE) organization that serves 10 school districts in the Rockford, IL area. It works with educators and industry leaders to help ensure that the 28,000 students in its coverage area (which includes 15 high schools and 19 middle schools) have curriculum, equipment and materials to help them learn targeted, industry-specific skills. As the region encompasses a strong manufacturing industry, one of those skills is welding – a skill that CEANCI System Director Margie Hartfiel says is worth investing in.

“When we look at the programs we fund, we make decisions that are tied directly to labor market information,” said Hartfiel, who has been working in education for 27 years. “Welding is a high-need area, and as our labor market ages, we are finding that the business partners we work closely with are telling us repeatedly that they need these particular skills.”

Industry certifications are one way CEANCI is helping its students learn industry-specific skills. CEANCI currently offers certifications in a variety of CTE pathways, including manufacturing, early childhood, culinary arts and industrial technology – all of which the EFE works with industry representatives to ensure the relevancy of.

In 2014, CEANCI helped 630 students earn certifications; that number grew to 2,303 in 2015 and Hartfiel predicts that this year, over 4,300 students will earn certifications. Support for the initiative is regionwide; area educators and industry representatives recognize the value of a student’s ability to graduate from high school and say, “Yes, I can do this, and I have proven it.”

guideweld Technology is another tool that CEANCI is using to equip students with in-demand welding skills. In 2015, CEANCI approved funding for the guideWELD® VR welding simulator and the guideWELD® LIVE real welding guidance system. Implemented as a pilot program in the Winnebago and Oregon school districts, the guideWELD VR simulators are used to introduce students to welding in a virtual, spark-free environment, while the guideWELD LIVE systems are used to help students hone live welding skills. CEANCI sees two specific benefits to the implementation of such technology: the ability to save money and the ability to demonstrate learned skills.

Click here to download the full PDF version of this case study and learn how welding education will impact the 21st century classroom.

3 Reasons to Meet Us in Vegas for RealCare® Baby Basics and Best Practices

Every year, the Realityworks team journeys to the largest annual gathering of Career & Technical Education (CTE) professionals in a single location: the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE)’s CareerTech VISION Conference. In fact, we start planning for this conference a good year in advance! For the first time, we are planning a pre-conference workshop on Wednesday, November 30 all about RealCare Baby. Designed for current and prospective users, this pre-conference session is an opportunity for you to learn from a subject matter expert in person! Why join us in Vegas on November 30?

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1. Get RealCare Baby program best practices. What are the best ways to engage students with RealCare Baby? How can you use this powerful tool to make an even bigger impact on your students? What are seasoned users doing to succeed? We’ll answer these questions and more!

2. Discover career exploration activities. Did you know that RealCare Baby can help your students prepare for careers in education and human services? Join us to get ideas and activities that will help you prepare your students for careers.

3. Get our NEW RealCare™ Preemie Baby. Have you heard? The RealCare™ Preemie Baby is our newest experiential learning tool. It’s modeled after a preterm infant born at 30 weeks and is designed to help students, caregivers and parents-to-be understand the unique challenges and often complicated medical problems that can be associated with preterm birth. By attending our pre-conference workshop, you’ll receive a complimentary Preemie Baby from Realityworks!

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What: RealCare® Baby Basics and Best Practices
When: Wednesday, November 30, from 1-5:00 p.m.
Cost: $150

Ready to register? Visit the conference website here.

On the Road with Realityworks: Career Exploration Teaching Tips from the 2015 GACTE Conference

By Denise Bodart, Realityworks RealCare Product Manager

I recently traveled to Atlanta to attend the 2015 Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education Career Tech Expo on behalf of Realityworks. We always learn a great deal when we visit with our RealCare® Program customers who stop by our booth, and this conference was no different.

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One recurring theme that we have heard before surfaced at this year’s GACTE trade show. As Family and Consumer Science (FACS) instructors are ensuring that their programs focus on college- and career-readiness, traditional parenting courses are being discontinued as irrelevant.  More FACS instructors are asking for ways to use RealCare Baby and our other RealCare Program products as resources for teaching transferable career skills. Here is what we told those teachers; feel free to use these tips if you are facing this challenge in your own program:

  • Use our free career exploration curriculum, which we created specifically for the RealCare Program. The 5-lesson Using the RealCare Program for Career Exploration uses each of our RealCare experiential learning tools, like RealCare Baby, to jumpstart career exploration in related occupations. Career pathways such as Education & Training, Human Services and Healthcare are included in these ready-to-use lesson plans.
  • Build greater value into your course content by teaching employability or soft skills. A free 6-lesson curriculum can be found here. These lessons can be used in any CTE course and give students active practice on time management, leadership, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and interview skills. Many of these soft skills are included in state and national CTE standards.
  • Consider using your courses to lead to an industry-recognized certification. Turn your parenting classes into childhood development and early childhood career skills courses as part of a CDA (Child Development Associate) or similar certification.
  • Work with your local community college to see if a dual credit course or program can be created.
  • Rework your course title and syllabus to highlight the college and career readiness skills that are already being taught.
  • Use the alignment and crosswalk documents found here to clearly identify the Common Career Technical Core Standards that are being taught in the RealCare Program lessons that you are teaching.
  • Participate in cross-curricular planning with other core academic and CTE instructors. Identify areas of common interest and teach interdisciplinary units with common themes. For example, as you use RealCare Baby to teach childcare career skills, your Entrepreneurship instructor could use the start-up of a daycare as a class project.

We hope these ideas help you jumpstart your own creative juices! To view a webinar on using the RealCare Program for career exploration, click here.

Are you using the RealCare Program to teach transferrable career skills in your classroom? If so, we’d love to hear what you’re doing. Share your ideas in the comments below!

Take Your Career Readiness Lessons to the Next Level

By Denise Bodart, Realityworks RealCare Product Manager

Small business owners and entrepreneurs have a significant impact on the U.S. economy. Consider these statistics:

  • According to Entrepreneur Magazine, there are between 25 million and 27 million small businesses in the U.S., and they account for 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. jobs
  • According to Forbes, employer-based businesses make up more than 75% of all businesses currently operating in the U.S. Also, more than half of the aforementioned businesses are operated out of people’s homes.

What does this mean for Career & Technical Education (CTE) professionals? It means that chances are pretty favorable that some of your students will go on to start their own businesses – and you can help them be prepared.

CTE professionals nationwide know how important it is to ensure that students graduate with the broad range of skills needed to succeed in 21st Century careers. Here at Realityworks, we’re doing our part to help CTE educators teach transferable career skills in welding, childcare, business, healthcare and more. When students use the experiential learning tools that make up our RealCareer® Welding Solutions or RealCare® Total Parenting Experience product lines in the classroom, they are learning job skills that can be used in future occupations.

You can take your career readiness lessons to the next level by teaching your students entrepreneurship skills in tandem with hands-on, transferable career skills. Tools like our RealCareer® Business Education Simulations gives students hands-on experience starting a business and making business management decisions. They put students in control of their learning, teaching them critical marketing, finance and management decision-making skills. This set of 3 business simulations is a valuable addition to any CTE course; the skills taught in the Entrepreneurship, Business Management and Business Finance simulations are useful when starting and managing any type of business venture.

Learn more about our Business Education Simulations by watching this SlideShare presentation.

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A unique RealCare® Baby career exploration opportunity

Although most of our RealCare® Baby customers are Family & Consumer Sciences (FACS) and Health educators, we recently had an opportunity to help two seventh-grade students from New York explore potential career paths. Earlier this year, we were contacted by Newark Valley Middle School FACS teacher Jessica Williams with a unique enquiry regarding two of her students. Emma and Kayla are both bright young seventh-graders who have already identified potential career paths – obstetrics and engineering –and although they had enjoyed their experience with the RealCare Baby utilized in Williams’ program, both felt that Baby could be improved.

Ready to foster ambition at any opportunity, Williams made it a project for the girls to improve Baby while learning more about the two careers they had expressed interest in. These two students took the project so seriously that Williams reached out to Realityworks to see if a team member could listen to their ideas. Realityworks President & CEO Timm Boettcher and Realityworks R&D Manager Jeremiah Bauer met with the two students and Williams via Skype, and were very impressed with their passionate, well-thought-out and well-presented ideas.

Their ideas were so impressive, in fact, that Williams was not only given a new and improved RealCare Baby 3 (the latest generation Baby) but the girls were presented with plaques declaring them “Honorary Realityworks Engineers.”

“We are so proud of the girls and so grateful to your company for listening and engaging with them,” Williams stated in a recent email to Realityworks, in which she shared one of the girl’s plans to apply to a local pre-med summer camp. “Isn’t it amazing how a few moments have the potential to change/direct/guide a young person’s life?”

The entire Realityworks team is impressed not only with Williams’ desire to help her students in any way she can, but with the initiative these two young people took to learn. Check out these photos chronicling the girls’ journey and recent middle school awards night, at which they were presented with their plaques and recognized by the entire school for their hard work.

The girls Skyped with Realityowrks' company president and research manager to share their ideas.

The girls Skyped with Realityworks’ company president and R&D manager to share their ideas.

Seventh-graders Emma & Kayla took the challenge of improving their classroom's infant simulator seriously.

Seventh-graders Emma & Kayla took the challenge of improving their classroom’s infant simulator seriously.

Career exploration activities included tasks related to obstetrics and engineering.

Career exploration activities included tasks related to obstetrics and engineering.

Career exploration activities included tasks related to obstetrics and engineering.

Career exploration activities included tasks related to obstetrics and engineering.

Following the donation of a RealCare® Baby 3 infant simulator, the girls tested its new features.

Following the donation of a RealCare® Baby 3 infant simulator, the girls tested its new features.

Both girls were presented with two plaques declaring them "Honorary Realityworks Engineers" at their middle school awards night.

Both girls were presented with two plaques declaring them “Honorary Realityworks Engineers” at their middle school awards night.

Early Childhood Career Preparation: Why It Matters

Did you know that 5 million US infants and toddlers are in out-of-home care settings, and half of children under 3 spend 25 hours a week in the care of someone other than their parents?

The importance of high-quality infant/toddler care cannot be underestimated. Because childcare providers spend so much time with the children in their care, the influence they have on the child’s development is substantial. In fact, Zero to Three reports that the most sensitive time for brain development happens during the birth to three-year period when the young brain grows to 85% of its adult brain size.

All of this means that the need for well-prepared professionals is imperative. Fortunately, there has been a movement to invest in early childhood education and to enhance the skills of childcare professionals in the United States.

2000 Nobel prize winner James Heckman, who developed The Heckman Theory, believed in early intervention and investment in young children. A professor and economist, he advocated for early interventions to promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workforce productivity and reduce teen pregnancy. These types of interventions were thought to have high benefit-cost ratios and rates of return.

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Last year the White House pointed to the work of Heckman in its budget proposal for early education grants to states. On December 13, 2013, congressional leaders put $250 million for new early education funding into its omnibus spending bill.

The past decade has also seen a focus on industry-recognized certifications and credentials to help better prepare young people for all sorts of professions after high school, including childcare careers. The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential continues to gain momentum. According to the Council for Professional Recognition, “The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™ is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education (ECE) and is a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in ECE.”

For students interested in early childhood education, “Employment of childcare workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth is expected due to increases in the number of children who require childcare and continued demand for preschool programs.” (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Realityworks is proud to be a part of preparing qualified childcare professionals for the future. RealCare Baby and other products are used by hundreds of institutions to give students hands-on practice in basic infant caregiving skills. The information in the curricula also provides a solid foundation for students and helps prepare them for the CDA assessment.

The need for highly qualified childcare professionals is well-documented as well as the life-long impact this care will have on the lives of the children. For more information on how you can partner with Realityworks in this important mission, visit our website at www.realityworks.com.