Industry Externships Enhance Teacher Collaboration and Support Student Learning

By Zachary Adams, Pathways TN

Imagine walking into a classroom where students are working together to solve a criminal investigation applying concepts from physics class and the technical skills from their forensic science course to develop an evidence-based justification deducing how a crime took place. This is exactly what Michelle Phillips, a forensic science teacher, and Rich Reece, a physics teacher, at Tennessee High School designed and implemented with their students. Michelle and Rich thoughtfully modeled their collaborative approach after the way scientists at nearby Eastman Chemical approach their work, which the teachers learned about through an externship experience. Their interdisciplinary unit plan exemplifies how externship experiences can enhance teacher collaboration to help better prepare students for the expectations of the workforce.

Over the course of several days, students analyzed a mock crime scene applying academic and technical skills to deeply understand the connection between their classroom learning and the real world. The forensic science students helped the physics students apply the scientific method and work backward using different types of forensic evidence like biological, chemical, and impression evidence. The physics students demonstrated the correlation between blood splatter size and distance traveled and how the angle of impact off a surface affects the shape of blood splatter. The forensic science students also applied prior concepts learned around the cohesion and adhesion of blood on different surfaces with the calculations performed by the physics students on the angle of impact of the blood splatter to develop their conclusions on who committed the crime.

Michelle loved the collaboration and saw her students more engaged in the learning process and teaching their peers. She said, “This [teacher] collaboration helped students understand concepts from both classes at a deeper level…students felt like they had expertise to share with their peers.” The scientific critical thinking and technical skills align well with occupations in health care and advanced manufacturing that rely heavily on scientific skills to solve problems that arise in a hospital or manufacturing facility on a daily basis.

This innovative project was one outcome of a week-long externship experience for educators at Eastman Chemical. An externship is a three-to-five day experience for teachers and school leaders to engage with and learn from industry on how to best prepare students for postsecondary and career. Eastman Chemical, a Tennessee company that manufactures chemicals, fibers, and plastics, hosted a team of teachers and administrators from Bristol City Schools. This externship experience allowed teachers and leaders to learn about the skills and competencies expected from a leading industry and generate ideas to teach technical, academic, and job skills in the classroom.

During the Bristol educators’ externship experience, teachers from Tennessee High School, the district CTE director, and the principal of Tennessee Online Public High School met with a variety of Eastman scientists, engineers, and corporate leaders to learn more about the skills they use to approach their work and how they collaborate across areas of expertise to develop high-quality products. The school team came out of their experience with a renewed focus on building postsecondary and career and industry awareness among teachers and students.

Steve Playl, CTE director, knows that it takes more than a high school diploma to prepare students for in-demand, high-wage jobs in their community. He explained, “Employers are looking for a set of skills beyond what students learn in a traditional classroom setting.” The Bristol externship team developed an action plan to expose students to high demand, high wage jobs in the region and help them align their high school course work to their chosen career path, and they implemented their plan in the 2016-17 school year. The collaboration between Michelle Phillips and Rich Reece to integrate forensic science and physics was just one innovative way that Bristol educators made connections to industry.

Steve Playl has facilitated teacher tours of industry throughout the year to help teachers make new connections between their content and industry skills. In addition to working with teachers across the district, Steve has also created marketing materials to build CTE awareness throughout the district and to make stronger connections between how CTE programs of study can prepare students for highly technical, in-demand jobs in the region and across the state.

Externships help teachers and school and district leaders strengthen the alignment of their academic program to industry needs. If you are interested in applying for the department’s externship program, or if you are interested in learning more about designing your own externship experience, explore the department’s Externship Guide or email Zachary.L.Adams@tn.gov.

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