Goldilocks in Career and Technical Education

Finding a CTE path to fit every student’s interest.

GUEST COLUMN | by Larkin Le Sueur

CREDIT Arthur Rackham, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When you look at the 22 most in-demand skills required by U.S. organizations, all are career and technical education (CTE) based. According to a survey by Manpower, by the end of 2020, there were an estimated 1.4 million unfilled computer science jobs. In theory, appropriately skilled students can walk out of high school and into a lucrative career.

Yet the facts remain that CTE is only an elective in schools: less than half of high schools teach CTE and just 5 percent of students go on to further related study. Industries across the world continue to voice their concern over the lack of tech skills among high-school and college graduates.

Of course some believe CTE isn’t for everyone. 

Let Them Experience It 

I often hear students and parents comment that “CTE is unnecessary before college” or, “its just about sitting at a computer screen.” Without showing students the broad range of career paths available and letting them experience the attainable industry skills through an exciting curriculum, we are never going to narrow the current skills gap.

So at Humble ISD, we worked to develop 170 different CTE based classes, from cosmetology, AI expertise, and cyber-security—to automotive and robotics. Our belief is that if we offer them a wide range of opportunities, it’s more likely that they find something they love.

‘…if we offer them a wide range of opportunities, it’s more likely that they find something they love.’

Like finding the right sized bowl, chair and bed of the bears, the next challenge to address was finding the right game development software.

We want to start our kids as early as possible and of course teaching coding through a game-based platform is the ideal first step. The use of block-based programming languages such as Scratch in the elementary years, provides an easy, visual entry into game development. However, these block-based programming languages don’t develop with them; they become just too limited and many drop out.

The other alternative is using text-based programming languages such as Unity and Java. However, using the Goldilocks and the Three Bears analogy, at the middle school stage this proves to be just too big, complex and daunting—resulting in more students dropping out.

Review—and Learn Together

My colleague and CTE Coordinator Di Nardo “Dee” Bazile and I created a curriculum review committee to look at the programming languages, their pros and cons. The one we chose was not only free of charge but also allows students to mix-and-match components of block based and text programing in the same project, even to the level of blending elements of each within a program segment. As they progress through middle school, they slowly transition to using less block-based and more text-based programming. This scaffolds the learning, giving the kids the real-world application and a basic fundamental understanding of computer science by the time they reach high school.

The other challenge we identified was the lack of a curriculum and the limited number of elementary and middle school educators wanting to teach CTE.

As one of our teachers, Sydnie Grizzaffi from Atascocita Middle School said, “I hadn’t done programming since I graduated in 2005, so when I started teaching using our new game development software, I was worried as I’d really be learning it at the same time as the kids. However, we all worked on it and learned together. Even teachers who are completely new to programming pick it up within a couple of weeks.”

Make It Attractive to All Students

At Humble we believe that the answer to narrowing the skill gap lies in making CTE attractive to all students. Like Goldilocks, we want to find the right aspect of CTE where every child fits in.

We can now proudly say that we have more than 70 percent of students electing at least one of our CTE based courses with more staying on through high school and beyond; better than ever before. The world is full of unfulfilled jobs waiting for qualified students. Technology is already embedded in every part of our lives. It’s past time we embedded them in our curricula as well.

Larkin Le Sueur is Director of Career & Technical Education at Humble Independent School District near Houston, Texas. Humble ISD uses STEM Fuse with free-of-charge Construct 3 game development software and its GAME:IT Advanced curriculum. Connected with Larkin on LinkedIn


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