When I first mentioned the FlexFactor program to my students, they were concerned that they would not be able to “invent” anything new because they believed that everything had been invented already. But the program had a few surprises in store for them, showing them that technology holds endless possibilities if they can just picture them.
Being the lead teacher of California’s Santa Teresa High’s Computer Science Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway means that I need to do more than just teach computer science: I also need to make sure that I give students the academic skills, technical chops, and employability needed for postsecondary and workplace success.
FlexFactor, a workforce development program created by NextFlex, America’s leading Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) institute, has been a boon in helping me provide my students with all the necessary skills they’ll need for any career position—all through a focus on the technology of tomorrow. Through the program, NextFlex sends instructors to classrooms to give short lectures on career readiness, entrepreneurship tips, block diagram development, and business pitch preparation. Students are required to work in teams, develop and pitch a business model idea associated with the use of FHE, and then create a technology with wide applications in health, infrastructure, and other industries. The program also includes field trips to companies like Jabil and DuPont, community colleges like Evergreen Valley Community College, and NextFlex’s headquarters and pilot-line fabrication facility.
Student excitement at an all-time high
As the FlexFactor instructors taught, I could see the students finally become excited about school work and what it means for their futures. Their fears gradually turned into confidence, and as the program progressed, they were able to dive into their respective projects with a fleshed-out plan.
In just a few weeks, my students developed their creativity and brainstorming skills. They had a chance to sit down and really think about world problems and how they could develop solutions for these problems. In particular, the field trip to Jabil helped them make connections between abstract concepts and real-world applications of the technology. Following the field trip, the students were teeming with big ideas. They ended up with potential projects such as headbands to detect epilepsy, sheets with self-adjusting warmth to ensure a good sleep, anxiety relief patches, foldable tents with preset accessories, and military helmets with injury recorders.
Learning to solve real-world problems
They learned that they could think of unconventional ideas to solve problems and evaluate which ones would add greater value to the discussion as a whole. It was inspiring to see the ideas they came up with when they were allowed to imagine new technologies that would solve real problems. One such concept was the development of a hard hat for construction workers. Their ideas ranged from having sensors built into the hat to detect outside “danger” or to sense the health of workers and advise whether the worker should be working or resting at a particular time. Another idea the students had was to have the construction helmet transform into some other shape to protect workers from external dangers and record all impacts. If a worker needed medical assistance, the doctor could view the history of impacts on the helmet.
They prioritized which ideas would be more realistic and the most important when presented in a situation with limited resources. Ultimately, the students took what they had learned in the FlexFactor program and applied it to their own brainstorming efforts.
Don’t forget about workplace success
The program also helped establish important soft skills that the students will need. It was fascinating to see their research expertise progress from accepting whatever popped up first on the internet to validating their sources before using the materials. Their presentation skills also changed from reading off the slides to presenting with minimum prompting, using effective tone and eye contact to articulate their ideas and to engage their audience.
The class came to understand that entrepreneurship means creating products that are in demand and can generate income (or at least to be able to keep producing them without suffering a loss), rather than creating products they thought would save the world and hoping that somehow, somebody would pay for them to make it.
In just four weeks, the students finished their projects, having worked collaboratively and effectively with one another. At the end of the program, they were enthused about what they had achieved and learned. “I never knew that it was so cool to work in a high-tech company until I visited Jabil. I will do whatever it takes to get a job there,” one student told me. Another said, “DuPont was such a cool and great opportunity for us. Being exposed to the advanced manufacturing side of things really got me excited for what I want to do in the future.”
The students and I were not the only ones happy with the program. It’s always heartening to hear a parent say, “I didn’t believe that my child could do that,” while Brynt Parmeter, director of Workforce Development, Education, and Training at NextFlex, said, “We couldn’t be more proud of these amazing young innovators, and our future is in great hands with them at the helm of advanced technology careers in the decades ahead.”
As for the program’s ability to get students ready for the working world, one parent said it best about the pitch delivered at the end of FlexFactor: “I am sure that many people I work with cannot deliver a better pitch.”
The results speak for themselves, demonstrating the importance of getting students to overcome their initial fears and objections when faced with a new learning model like this. When they persevere and engage, with the instruction offered through programs like FlexFactor, they can achieve great things.