Last month in a Facebook post, Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges praised MSP TechHire, a local organization whose mission is “to close the workforce skills gap in the high tech economy by building a path for diverse workers to access training, support and tech jobs across the Greater Minneapolis Region.” In MSP TechHire’s first year, more than 200 trainees have landed tech sector jobs with annual salaries averaging over $48,000.
As a technology integration specialist in Minneapolis, I want to make sure that my students – most of whose families fall below the poverty line – are prepared to take full advantage of opportunities like MSP TechHire. For my students to succeed in the modern economy, they need opportunities during their K-12 years to master a whole range of technology skills. Here are some of the major skills my students will need:
Operational skills: As boring as it seems, fast and accurate typing is what will let my students communicate their ideas and stay abreast of a rigorous workload. The ability to troubleshoot effectively will also hone their analytical thinking abilities and let them control their computers, rather than being stymied when the smallest thing goes wrong. In order to do this, students need repeated opportunities to practice typing correctly, and guidance in locating and solving frequent computer problems.
Research savvy: The Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to level the playing field when it comes to locating information. No longer do students need access to fancy libraries or Ivy League universities to find information; what they do need, however, is a thorough understanding of how to use search engines and think critically about the information they obtain. Students must learn how to use and cite multiple sources of information, and how to verify their reliability. In the age of “optimized” search results and personalized newsfeeds, they must learn how to track down and process information that presents multiple perspectives. This will put them in control of the information they find.
Social media: For years, I have been teaching students about “digital citizenship” – navigating issues of privacy, safety, honesty, and bullying on the Internet and especially through social media. But in order to truly stand out in the high tech field, students should also know how to publicize their ideas in the formats that Facebook, Twitter and other platforms present. Understanding the nuances of communication through social media will let our students be in charge of their own professional image and allow them to take advantage of the many marketing and communications positions that our tech sector provides.
Coding: Skills in operations, research, and communication will all give our students the ability to use today’s tech tools fluently; coding is the skill that will actually allow our students to create the next generation of tech tools. Today, almost every field – from the study of ancient languages to the sequencing of the human genome – relies on software. Imagine the possibilities our students will have when they can actually create that software, rather than simply consuming it. And just like any second language, coding is most easily learned when students are young. Elementary school is the perfect place to begin learning to code, and organizations from Google to MIT have begun producing games and applications that help the youngest children do just that.
Now is the time for students, especially those who have been denied many of society’s most lucrative opportunities, to become masters at operating, communicating, researching and creating technology. The paradigm shift into a new, high-tech world has opened a door for our students; if we, as educators, are truly working for radical social change, we must help our students go through that door now.
Karen Shapiro cannot remember a time in her life when she was not, in some capacity, teaching. She currently serves as the technology instructor at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park in South Minneapolis, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th in California, New York, and Minnesota. She spends most of her time thinking about digital literacy, collaboration with families, racial justice, and organizational health within schools.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows’ views and opinions are solely their own.