We all remember career day, when different professionals would come to the classroom and explain their jobs. During career day, students tend to be drawn to the more exciting careers like firefighting while office jobs fell to the wayside.
What about careers in math? Can those be exciting?
When most students think about a career in math, “boring” comes to mind. They think about sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers with a calculator for hours. They think of mathematicians wearing bowties and glasses.
The mathematician stereotype doesn’t hold in today’s innovative careers. Students would likely be shocked to know quintessential “dream” jobs like roller coaster designers, animators, or sports announcers require math. That’s right, sports announcers need to know their math! (7 Dream Jobs That Require Math)
These are some of the most exiting jobs out there, yet students aren’t often exposed to the many innovative STEM careers of today, or they’re not sure exactly what these careers entail. Luckily, students can connect with successful professionals who use math every day. Three examples are graduates of the Interactive Math Program® (IMP), an innovative program that replaces memorizing equations with real-world, problem-solving.
Accounting is traditionally thought of as one of the most boring math careers. Megan Lewczyk (@meganlewczyk), a certified public accountant (CPA), says even accounting can be creative and fun! (Can an Unconventional Math Program Prepare Students for The NEW Accounting Profession? Megan Lewczyk Thinks So!) “New” accountants like Megan prove accounting takes creativity and problem-solving skills and that accountants are helping companies to innovate.
“Accounting is all about creating useful information from the data that we’re collecting in loads and loads and loads, so that someone can make a decision. That’s what your job is — helping people make decisions. If you’re in a big enough company, multimillion dollar decisions are made, and you’re the person who helps them make those decisions with data.” — Megan Lewczyk
Another IMP graduate, Rex Moribe (@rexmoribe), is a hot sauce entrepreneur, filmmaker, and engineer (Engineering Superheroes: How a Math Program Turned a Surfer Kid Into a 21st Century Problem-Solving Whiz). Rex credits his high school math program with teaching him how to solve problems and ask the most important question in engineering and running a business: “why?”
“We’re the last go to guys when something goes wrong. But we’re not help desk. We’re like the last resort. We’re talking about a server going down and affecting 30,000 units. So we’ve got to figure out how to get it up and running fast! And then as soon as the server gets back up, management wants to know what went wrong and why. This is the thing about reverse-engineering and understanding how a product works — bringing everything into play and looking at the big picture. What went wrong and what went right?” — Rex Moribe
Jake Lyman is another IMP rockstar in the world of applied math. He works in business management at a top real estate startup. Like Rex, he must look at the big picture while collaborating with colleagues and solving problems. (From High School Math to Real World Problem-Solving: Jake Lyman Thinks Outside the Box)
“A key part of my job right now is sitting down with brokers and agents and figuring out what their existing problems are, and how our software can help them. So throughout life, I think [IMP] played a much larger role in developing that strong skill set of problem solving. It taught me to be able to collaborate on large problems and to divide workloads among people, and then come back and work together on the larger problem, as people work on various pieces.” — Jake Lyman
How do we inspire the next generation of Megans, Rexs, and Jakes? The key is to make math fun. Inspiring students to enter STEM fields involves showing them science and math can be fun and fascinating.
Problem-based, inquiry teaching methods encourage students to learn the same way STEM professionals in the real-world do, by trial and error. In addition to project-based, collaborative learning, students can also learn directly from professionals who show how what they’re learning in the classroom is applied to real-world. Interacting with real professionals engages students beyond the curricula and classroom. Students also begin to see they too could pursue these career paths.
Connecting Classrooms to the Real-World the 21st Century-Way
In some classrooms today, the traditional career day has a high-tech twist. New platforms are bringing experts from a wide array of STEM fields into the classroom, regardless of their location. Jean Pennycook, for example, uses Skype to reach students around the world from her base in Antarctica — where she performs penguin research . The availability of virtual platforms like Skype facilitate learning and expose students to careers they’ve never even heard of.
Another virtual option is Nepris (@NeprisApp), a company that uses a video platform to connect STEM industry leaders with classrooms (Using a Virtual Education Platform to Enhance STEM Teaching). LinkedIn, a popular online network for professionals, recently partnered with Nepris to share its users’ experience and career paths. With over 400 million users around the world, LinkedIn provides an unparalleled crop of experts to pick from. Nepris also has some awesome partners, like Samsung and Randstad, that provide their team of professionals and cover the costs of the service so every student has the chance to learn about career options.
In addition to live video conferencing with experts, Nepris offers videos on topics like “chemistry in the car wash” or “math and the fashion industry.” These videos feature professionals who are able to connect learning in class to the working world.
Connecting to experts through a company like Nepris has many pros. It removes the guesswork for teachers. Nepris acts as liaison between the classroom and the professional community. They make sure volunteer professionals are a good fit for a particular classroom and can provide a lasting experience.
When interacting directly with experts, students can ask questions and find out what a day at work is like. They can even learn that scientists and mathematicians have lives outside of work! This helps students imagine themselves in the shoes of these different careers. This connection has proven critical for students, especially young girls, as women are underrepresented in STEM.
The Perks of Bringing Experts to Class
Providing the chance for students to connect with STEM leaders is not as difficult as some might think, especially when using providers like Nepris. Scholastic (@scholastic) provides some great advice for teachers looking to integrate industry experts into their class (Experts in the Classroom):
- Teachers shouldn’t be worried about finding career experts willing to speak to the class. The key is to just ask: “The business community doesn’t always have a lot of money, but they have expertise and time. If you ask, it comes pouring out. The key is to give them something meaningful to do.”
- Use community connections—businesses, university, parents. Often, these community members are more than willing to help out. Tapping into these resources can also open students up to opportunities in their backyard like internships, future careers, etc.
- One teacher can’t possibly know everything. Bring in experts to help teach lessons. Experts give a fresh perspective for students and can even teach teachers something new!
- Teachers should plan with speakers to make sure their talk is at an appropriate level for the students and to know what to expect when an expert comes to speak.
When it comes to finding interesting math-related professionals to visit the classroom, in addition to traditional math careers, consider reaching out to industries and professions students wouldn’t normally think of as “math” — like game designer, animator, robotics engineer, roller coaster designer, jet fighter pilot, sports announcer, or jet fighter pilot.
By inviting math professionals into the classroom, students see that they, too, can work in these traditional and untraditional careers where the math they are taught in class becomes the math they use every day at work, to solve big problems. By connecting with the very people who choose these careers in person or through video platforms like Nepris, math students have an entirely new and exciting resource at their fingertips and the idea that working in a math-related field is “boring” is quickly dispelled. And today’s courageous math teachers are leading the way!
Want to connect with Megan, Rex or Jake for your math class? Email David Birchler at dbirchler[at]iat.com.
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