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By Dr. Gregory Firn, COO

Dallas was recently named to Amazon’s shortlist as a candidate to host HQ2. Other promising cities fell off Amazon’s radar for many reasons, and this week, the company has started to debrief those cities on why they didn’t make the cut. A recurring theme? The lack of tech talent.

One of Amazon’s main criteria for assessing its HQ2 bids was the location’s ability to attract and retain a robust workforce with technical skills, and Governor Greg Abbott stated that Dallas’ strong tech workforce was a reason for its place on the shortlist. Dallas has the capability to become a national hub for tech excellence, and our region’s school districts can help power this – with the right curriculum.

If Amazon selects Dallas for its HQ2, tech jobs will multiply for decades to come. Even if Amazon chooses another city, our tech industry can continue to grow, as long as we have the talent to support it. As superintendents, principals and educators, we must begin to plan a strategic approach to preparing our students for these jobs of the future. We can start with placing an emphasis on STEM in early education, instead of waiting until high school, where it’s often too late to ignite a spark.

As discovered in The Roots of STEM Success report, STEM thinking begins at infancy, and STEM skills are strengthened among children by play centered on self-direction and hands-on experience. To build the tech leaders of our future, educators should initiate STEM learning as early as possible. So what makes a successful STEM experience at an early age?

A hands-on learning experience

The best way to promote learner agency among students and engage them early on with STEM is by creating a hands-on learning experience. Co-authoring and co-creating is an essential component to building an environment that lets students explore STEM skills at their own pace and within their own interests. Lecturing can be an effective teaching strategy at times, but to really engage youth with STEM, they need to be involved as much as possible.

It’s important for schools to invest in the tools that can provide this hands-on learning experience. Not only does edtech help educators keep students engaged, it also allows them to better integrate topics they may not have expertise in – which is the case for many teachers tasked with specialty areas like coding, that aren’t typically included in elementary training.

STEM blended with mainstream subjects

It’s common for most school curricula to focus heavily on reading, writing and other primary subjects in early education. These subjects are, of course, very important – but skills like coding shouldn’t be undervalued. The lessons learned from coding – collaboration, creativity, communication and computational and critical thinking – transcend the discipline and permeate into all areas of learning.

Making real-life connections

Like adults, even young children look for meaning behind things. They want to feel as though what they’re working toward matters. STEM certainly matters – especially right now in Dallas – but do students know how much? Can students connect what they’re learning to future jobs, their community and other concrete things?

Help students make these connections by highlighting interesting STEM jobs, explaining what Amazon HQ2 and other tech companies mean to Dallas and emphasizing the difference they can make in their own lives and communities by pursuing STEM education.

STEM is the future for Dallas

As the competition for Amazon’s HQ2 intensifies, one thing is certain: cities with tech talent have a big advantage in today’s world. Dallas can continue to establish itself as a leader in the tech realm by supporting STEM education – to prepare the future workforce, offer children a chance for high-paying, rewarding jobs, and to attract the companies who will change the world.

Robots4STEM is an approved vendor of Dallas Independent School District (DISD), and our curriculum is directly aligned with K-12 Computer Science (K12CS) standards. Learn how robots4STEM can help prepare the students of Dallas for the jobs of tomorrow here.