Susan Gentz: Iowa ALN gives schools the tools needed to succeed

Iowa ALN helps connect local partners and projects with students in the classroom: Brennan Williams, 7th grade Social Studies teacher at Mount Pleasant Middle School works with Bridges Out of Poverty Henry County to engage students in an authentic marketing project. Photo courtesy of IALN.

Iowa is a top state when it comes to education. I hear this all the time, and while Iowa historically has done well, assessment scores that are coming out of our high schools today seem to prove otherwise.

I first want to clarify that I do not believe that a summative assessment once a year is an accurate calculation of how prepared students are for the workforce, and please also know that I have all the confidence in the world that we can get back to that top place- and the Iowa Authentic Learning Network (IALN) will play a major role in helping us get there.

Over a year ago I wrote a piece for Clay & Milk titled “What if there was no Curriculum?” I still believe in this model, and that the IALN will be the tool that helps us go from a handful of districts preparing students for the future workforce, to a statewide network that provides equity and access for every student.

What is the IALN?

IALN is a network for local school districts by Great Prairie AEA, Green Hills AEA and other joining AEA regions around the state.

The goal of IALN is to provide resources and support to schools that are interested in implementing authentic projects and problem-based learning framework into their curriculum to provide students an alternative pathway to receive academic credit.

In response to #futureready Iowa, Great Prairie AEA and Green Hills AEA partnered together to create a program for students to experience 21st-century learning through the development of authentic learning experiences with area businesses, industry, and other organizations. Their vision is to provide students the opportunity to explore their passions, engage with experts while learning and applying 21st-century skills that prepare them for their future within the K-12 setting.

Districts around Iowa have been working on creating real-life opportunities for students to learn, grow and sometimes even fail. These learning experiences often bring to life concepts that might otherwise not be understood, and can also spur students into fields where there is a high demand for employees as we continue to see technology take hold of new industry after new industry. Not only do students understand why they need to know math formulas, but also have drive to ensure they do it correctly- real employers and customers are depending on them to deliver. Higher stakes are driving students to aspired to more than a “passing grade”.

Pockets of innovation happen frequently in our technology age, but many advances stop at the stage of scaling. IALN would put Iowa on the map as one of the first state to implement opportunities statewide.

How does the IALN Work?

 The IALN curates a project pool for students to work on and connects them with a project from a business partner that the student has an interest in working on. A major part of ensuring the success of the IALN is having an abundance of projects for students to choose from. This is where the startup and entrepreneurship community come in. The IALN is looking for help populating the project-pool. There are benefits for both the students and community partners.

Top Takeaways for Students:

  • Networking opportunities
  • Exposure and direction for college and career opportunities
  • Working on real projects of value
  • Freedom to explore their passions
  • Learning expectations in a professional environment
  • Communication skills and confidence
  • Academic Credit

Value Creation for Business Partners:

  • Contributing to development of future professionals
  • Problem Solving
  • Getting things done that otherwise may not due to time and resources
  • Highlighting industry and business for marketing and workforce recruitment
  • Engagement and energy of staff when working with students
  • Opportunity to develop new leadership within the company while supervising student teams
  • Networking opportunities with other business partners
  • Fresh, innovative insight

If you have a job that a high school student could both help you with and learn from, please fill out this “Partners of Authentic Learning” form so that the IALN can connect you with a student that has a desire to work on the need you have.

Also to note along these lines is coming this spring an online statewide project board created through AEA Learning Online to post projects will be available to find student teams with ease; however, if you have a project now, please don’t delay in reaching out to the IALN team!

The value of authentic learning experiences is real. If we want to fill the high demand jobs of the future, we must prepare students today. Please consider how you might be able to support students who are interested in learning a skill that you have to offer. The rewards are great for both parties involved.

Susan Gentz is founder & owner of BSG Strategies and is a contributing writer for Clay & Milk.