Many districts have business partnerships driving their CTE programs, but ISD 197 in Minnesota has an edtech company headquartered at its high school. In fact, the company, Pivot Interactives, was founded in the school building by physics teacher Peter Bohacek, who engaged students to help him to create videos of lab experiments and other STEM activities.
“A business can be situated inside a high school and create benefits for both,” ISD 197 Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog says. “The business can test products in real-time with real people, and the students are helping to create them. You never learn something better than when you have to create it or teach it.”
Pivot Interactives got off the ground with grant funding and word of mouth as Bohacek and his classes shared the videos with other teachers, schools, and districts. Video is particularly effective for teaching physics because it’s often difficult for teachers to find ways to show real-life examples of concepts and the formulas students have to solve, Skog says.
Demand was building pre-COVID but it surged as teachers and schools on remote instruction sought out innovative, interactive platforms that could replicate the in-person experience as well as experiments that couldn’t be done in most school settings.
As proof of Pivot’s ingenuity, the company was purchased last year by edtech giant Discovery Education, which plans to keep the company in its ISD 197 headquarters in the Twin Cities. “There’s a grounding in the reality of the classroom that comes from walking into and out of school on your way to work every day,” Skog says of Pivot’s employees. “You see the students, you see your videos in use, and you have direct relationships with teachers who are using them to deepen the learning for their students. It’s a constant feedback loop.”
Skog believes the videos have helped ISD 197’s students get into some prestigious colleges and universities, including one student who arrived at Stanford to find a class using a video he helped create.
Pivot is just one of the district’s multi-faceted career exploration programs, which also cover health care, computer science, business and entrepreneurship, and environmentalism and agriculture. For students on these tracks, content in core courses, such as English and science, are tailored to those career areas, Skog says. These pathways culminate in students’ senior year with internships during the final semester.
It’s these kinds of programs that convince business leaders that they can play a key role in helping public schools supply the educated workforce that companies are demanding. “These strong partnerships are resulting in experiences that students will benefit from their entire life, and in some cases lead right out of high school into their lifetime careers.”