One of the most common concerns in education, especially at the secondary level, is the need to link students to careers. Many schools address this through career technical education, work-based education, and college / career counseling. Taking this idea a step further, some new programs are connecting students directly with employers, industry professionals and career guides.
Amazon’s signature computer science program, Amazon Future Engineer, Aims to broaden career paths for students, especially those who face systematic or financial barriers to learning. Through school curricula, project-based learning, and teacher support, the program encourages students to explore computer science in elementary school, equipping them with the skills needed for a successful career. And Class chatLass classroom visits during which Amazon Mazon employees share their personal career journeys with middle and high school students allow learners to experience real business opportunities.
Jacob Jun is a computer science teacher in the Salinas Unified School District and the winner of the 2020 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year award. We spoke with him recently to learn about his experience in the Mazon Future Engineer program and how class chats have affected him and his students.
Adsarge: How did you learn about class chat?
June: I came from Cal Polly where our motto was, “Learn by doing.” I wanted to bring this to my class and students. My early experience teaching IT and computer science led me to the Amazon Mazon Future Engineers program. The idea of connecting students with mentors, professionals and careers really spoke to me.
Amazon added me to the advisory group and asked me if I wanted to join this unique event? Naturally, I agreed. This program provides my students with many opportunities to engage and connect with professionals, careers and their future. It’s about taking advantage of any and every opportunity. For example, field trips have become almost impossible in the last 18 months, so Amazon helped us set up a virtual field trip.
I love that Amazon Mazon is familiar to all my students. They have instant credibility. They also offer scholarships and employment opportunities. My students, as well as their parents, appreciate this unique opportunity. In the end, it’s all about opening the door.
How often do your students interact with tech professionals outside of this program? Is career exposure a concern for your students?
Some students will reach out to professionals on their own through social media and LinkedIn. However, most will not. This needs to be facilitated by teachers, partners and industry professionals. I survey my students regularly. I ask them what I can do to help them learn, especially if it relates to their future. They regularly ask for advice on how to get a job or how to get into a career.
They have this concern, but they can’t always explain it. So, I work with them to develop the mindset that we should all work to connect with our careers. The future can be scary for students and often difficult to cope with. Sometimes it is easier to avoid or delay. I work on showing them the next steps or if you think ‘how’. I also share my experiences and see that this is a process where things can finally be connected.
How did your students benefit from the class chat?
These chats are designed to engage students. I have a lot of students who are reluctant to talk or participate at times, but these chats keep everyone engaged. An industry partner brought my entire team to meet my students and then provided their email and contact information for long-term guidance and career development.
These chats have been extremely important over the past year during distance learning. Some students were really locked in the house. He appreciated these connections and experiences more than ever. I always had 100 percent attendance on class chat days.
Experiences like these make students click or connect like they never did before. They are engaged in ways I did not expect. They usually start to change their whole attitude towards my class and school.
Class chats are free, live, interactive and available for any school (Grade 5+) in any geographical location. Amazon can create panel class chats with multiple employees or individual class chats for small classes with single speakers for large classes or schools (up to 3,000 participants). We also provide a complementary teacher toolkit to help you create a career-focused lesson plan with worksheets, slides, and activities used before and after class chat.
Are there any challenges in running this program in your classroom?
I would say a piece of technology. Something will always go wrong when you need it most. These are things that are usually beyond your control. For me, this draws attention to the fact that not everyone has the same infrastructure or high speed, consistent Internet access.
It’s about equity and is a real challenge, especially for many of our rural communities. Collectively, we need to make admission mandatory for all students. Zoom and other tools have shown us that we can meet, connect and usually work more easily. Think about how industry partners don’t have to travel and how much time they have to give to support our students. This is the next way to give this experience to all students. I think programs like Amazon and the like are showing how important these things are.
How did your experience with Amazon Mazon Future Engineers affect your teaching? Would you encourage other teachers to participate?
I think some teachers are reluctant to include the corporation in their class. All I know is that Amazon Mazon takes care of education and they have really supported my students. Amazon challenges us to get a 50-50 split between male and female students in these events. They are motivating us to be more diverse in our student population in our classes and programs. The Amazon I know is far behind me and my class.
My school serves families where the parents are farm laborers. When they see their kids working with Amazon Mazon, it’s transformative. They see their children moving forward and connecting with their future. Amazon seems to have been here for a long time – not just as a company, but as an organization that wants to support students and their future.
This experience expanded my thinking and forced me to re-evaluate my teaching. This allows me to constantly think about how my students can go further than before. My principal uses the word ‘moonshots’. We need to dream big and challenge our students to do the same. One of my students told me in a recent survey that he wants to learn how to make a robot this year. So guess what. We’re going to build a robot.
I’m winning this show to anyone and everyone who hears it. This gives level to the playground. This is a great opportunity for both students and teachers. And, it’s free. How can anyone be wrong? The future of teaching is about connecting your students to the real world, career, professional, skills and technology. This program does it all.