Inspiring Distracted Students by Making Lessons More Epic, Practical and Relevant

In this 6-part series, I'll be sharing best practices and advice from educators that I interview in my fifteen-minute online Bam! Radio Podcast; Practical PBL Strategies


My second guest was Kyndra Johnson, the executive director of STEM for the Richardson Independent School District and we spoke about how educators can inspire students for the future. Kyndra spoke of STEM learning and the different opportunities that exist by forming partnerships, connecting students with the local community. According to Kyndra, it is through these partnerships and learning experiences that we can best prepare students for whatever their future holds. 


How can students develop future-ready skills?

Kyndra shared her school’s experience of how they started to focus more on the future ready-skills. Four years ago, they set out to transform what learning and teaching look like by intentionally creating “future-ready learning outcomes.” Their mission was for students to be able to connect with the world around them (including parents, partners, and the whole school community), in a way that would enable students to learn deeply, grow and succeed. They defined specific attributes that they believed all students needed to possess to be successful once they graduated. 

They identified five future-ready learning outcomes which include: being global citizens, innovators, effective communicators, and collaborators, and according to Kyndra, most importantly, that they can build capacity around self-efficacy. Kyndra said they want students to know that “If you don't succeed at first, it's important to continue trying. It's about going back and digging deeper.”

They decided to integrate these future-ready outcomes throughout teaching and learning, starting as early as Pre-K. It is important to implement activities so that students can apply their skills and connect to the content that they are learning at each grade level. Through this process, they build employability skills that lead to STEM careers. Kyndra said, “For us, it's about ensuring there is an intentional focus on those five future-ready learning outcomes”.


Making Learning Meaningful

Students retain more when they connect in authentic ways and see the relevance of what they are learning. Giving students opportunities for real-world learning experiences is important. Students get excited when they learn about businesses locally and globally and explore what they can do to help. It's important that we find more ways to do this in our schools. Creating opportunities to build skills in these essential five areas is important whether for students and educators to be prepared for what the future brings.


Preparing and Empowering Teachers 

In Kyndra’s school, they created a “STEM Teacher Profile.” The goal of the profile is to ensure that as teachers are working as facilitators, they can design and implement teaching and learning experiences that will help to strengthen those five future-ready learning outcomes. Kyndra says “Professional learning is paramount to the success of our students and helping them to perform and achieve at their highest potential.” Since we are asking teachers to build and foster a variety of learning experiences for students, we must build capacity in teachers first. We must help them develop their coaching and mentoring skills so they can support and find opportunities for students to develop these future skills. 

Kyndra said, “We are 21 years into the twenty-first century, so it's not about how we get them ready for the 21st century, it's for today, tomorrow, next week, or next month.” For professional learning, we must shift and focus on how we can build capacity in our teachers. Through PLCs, there are monthly and quarterly convenings where teachers have conversations and can learn from one another about what kids are doing, what they believe students need to know now, and moving forward. It is also important to prepare younger students to develop these skills for where they are now and what they need to be prepared for the next level. 

The STEM profile connected the attributes that they were looking to build in students, but they realize they need to build capacity in the teachers and leaders first. It is through creating an “ecosystem where students thrive and teachers are growing and strengthening their ability to provide these types of learning experiences for their students. Creating a sense of community, by building something together in school and by forming partnerships with businesses within the community or on a global scale.


How can schools do this? How did they form partnerships and why does it matter?

Kyndra says partnerships are so important to their Superintendent and the mission and vision of their district. The goal is that when students graduate, they are aligned or associated with mentors from one of the industry partners or the business community. One of the things that they pride themselves on is that they look at the ultimate goal.

What is the long-term plan as it relates to STEM culture for their students? Partners are categorized as strategic, implementing, and resource partners. They have professionals that they connect with to help apply an innovative approach or learn how to implement plans. Strategic Partners are think partners that help students ideate and brainstorm around the possibilities that exist. Kyndra said they found their Resource Partners through Defined Learning. Having partners who align with a school’s mission and vision gives access to resources and human capital that can help further that mission. It's important that students have access to quality products, support, and resources that have the magnitude to support students and teachers, and schools in meeting them where they are and in alignment with what schools want to provide for their students.


What do these partnerships look like? 

Partnerships really are real-world authentic learning opportunities. Kyndra shared a recent experience where they launched the “Flying Classroom curriculum.” They partnered with Captain Irving from the Flying Classroom with students in elementary and junior high. Students were immersed in learning about aviation and aeronautical science. When looking to create partnerships, it is important to find opportunities that promote authenticity, diversity, and have a global impact that enables students to not only learn the content but also make connections with how that content applies to careers. 

Kyndra shared the opportunities available through Defined Careers, which supports their efforts to help students understand the “what” behind their learning activities and how it applies to careers. In Kyndra’s school, there are more than 39,000 students and an important focus is on creating culture. The Superintendent says “Culture is not a place or a thing, it's a part of who you are and what you do and goes everywhere.” Kyndra says “Culture means partnering and making connections with business and industry partners, to make sure they're providing the best quality Tier 1 instruction for their students in authentic settings.”


Real-World Learning and Skill-Building

For the Flying Classroom experience, students visited Atlantic Aviation, a community partner, and welcomed Captain Irving, who flew his Flying Classroom plane to North Texas. Students visited and toured the plane, and engaged in conversations with Captain Irving, sparking curiosity for learning. After the interactive experience, the students worked on” Future Fridays,” and connected virtually with Captain Irving and his team, to do some “ground expeditions” which were hands-on, inquiry-based lessons with a problem or challenge posed by Captain Irving. The challenges require students to think creatively and critically to come up with a solution. Students then work through the design process, to find solutions to test and propose ideas or solutions to the business and industry partners. The business partners serve as an authentic audience for students to share their solutions with or create and to demonstrate a prototype as a possible and viable solution.

Through opportunities like these, schools can create authentic and meaningful learning environments which give students an opportunity to connect what they are learning and how it looks in the real world. It's important to give students choices in how to show what they have learned or what they're curious about and be able to share that with their classmates, teachers, and beyond their school community. For students to be able to learn about real-world issues and apply the content they are learning in school into a real-world setting, to see the relevance of their work, it serves to amplify their learning potential and leads to more authentic and meaningful learning experiences. When provided opportunities like these, students have the chance to develop skills of transfer that will enable them to be flexible in an ever-changing world.





About Kyndra Johnson

Kyndra Johnson is the executive director of STEM for the Richardson Independent School District.


About Rachelle Dené Poth

Rachelle Dené Poth is an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting  Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter at @Rdene915 and Instagram at @Rdene915. Listen to Rachelle's podcast, ThriveinEDU, here:


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