As Published In
Oracle Magazine
November/December 2008

COMMUNITY: Education

Elementary Workforce Readiness

By Aaron Lazenby

Oracle helps students prepare for global challenges.

Five clocks hang high on the wall in Deb Austin Brown’s “communications center” at Alban Elementary School in St. Alban’s, West Virginia. They show the time in Berlin; New Delhi; Beijing; Tokyo; and Santiago, Chile. “These clocks reflect places our students have lived or visited,” explains Austin Brown. “Giving the global time gets the kids thinking about the rest of the world.”

Promoting a global view is only one strategy Austin Brown delivers to her fifth-grade leadership class—a class structured around 21st Century Learning , an approach to education developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an advocacy group founded in 2002 by business, education, and government leaders. Emphasizing lessons that help students operate in an increasingly wired, flat world, this approach promotes collaborating, complex problem solving, and using computers for research, communication, and schoolwork through project-based, multidisciplinary curricula. Combined with rigorous performance standards and a strong professional development commitment from teachers, 21st Century Learning goes a long way toward preparing students to excel in the modern workplace.

The West Virginia Department of Education sent Austin Brown and 13 other educators to California in November 2007 to attend the launch of the Oracle Education Foundation’s 21st Century Learning Institute. Recognizing that a prepared workforce is critical to the ongoing success of innovation-dependent technology companies, Oracle created the institute to train teachers in creating and implementing project-based online learning curricula with the modern workplace in mind.

Clare Dolan, vice president, Oracle Education Initiatives, agrees that workforce readiness is a top priority for educators. “If one of the goals of education is preparation for the workforce, it seems obvious that the private sector must support schools—not only through gifts but also by helping educators understand what industry expects of future workers,” Dolan says. “The institute is one of the ways Oracle is doing just that.”

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One requirement for institute participants was the successful implementation of a project that helps students advance vital new “soft” skills—such as promoting global awareness through the use of foreign language, civic responsibility through projects with local charity organizations, and fair competition through a market simulation. Austin Brown responded with the Success Project, a program to help students understand the various forces that influenced some of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders. Students picked a quote from notable intellects (Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example) or successful contemporary figures (such as Oprah Winfrey, Larry Bird, or Tony Robbins) and used Oracle’s ThinkQuest internet learning platform to research how the axiom reflected the speaker’s ability to succeed. Guided by the twenty-first century skills Brown emphasizes in her class—self-direction, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, and communication—the students worked alone and together to do research online. Excited by the freedom and high expectations placed on them by this approach to education, many students came to school early or stayed late to develop their projects, building relationships that enhanced learning. Once the projects were complete, students gave presentations, reporting their findings to their peers.

Ryan Broderick, a student who selected Dale Carnegie as his focus, extended his project into the local business community by connecting with Verizon President Keith Fulton as a private-sector mentor. Fulton spoke at Success Night when the projects were presented and met with Broderick to give him some pointers. This intersection between the worlds of education and employment is critical to Austin Brown, who sees preparing her students for the world of work as one of her highest priorities in the classroom.

“The skills developed through the project will empower students,” says Austin Brown. “And if they learn them now, the skills will become habits.”

Aaron Lazenby is a director with Oracle Publishing.

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