An Awesome Student
STEM and STEAM based education is an important foundation for pursuing a future career in the technology field. The great thing about technology is that it is constantly evolving, meaning a solution, product or service created today may change and be improved tomorrow. There is never an end point to the cycle, so you will never be bored in terms of creating improvements to the latest technology.
For example, think about the PlayStation video game system. There have been 5 versions of the system since it was first launched in the United States in 1995. Each version, PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4 and the PlayStation 5 released last year (2020), has improved upon the previous version. This means that the PS2 had better on screen graphics, storage capacity to save games in progress and perhaps an improved hand controller than the previous PS1 version. And the PS3 had better technology and improvements than the PS2. The PS4 had a better gaming experience than the PS3. And so on.
So in terms of the question about STEM/STEAM and education after high school, you could attend a 2-year technical school which focuses on a specific technology field/career or attend a 4-year college/university that may provide a broader exposure to many different technology fields/disciplines. After attending a 2 or 4-year school, you could decide that you want to specialize in a certain technology field and pursue a Master's degree which takes typically 2 years to complete. I completed a Master's degree (graduate school) in the field of Telecommunications Management, which has assisted me greatly in my career in terms of communicating the benefits of technology and broadband networks. When I speak to the community or students like you, I can talk about how broadband networks are created (engineering) and accessed by students, teachers and parents (service utilization). Attending graduate school to learn more about telecommunications networks has allowed me to become an expert in the field. Similar to your teacher who is an expert in teaching given her academic background and experience in education.
So who wants to be a scientist, technologist, engineer, creative artist or mathematician?
Eric recommends the following next steps:
If you want to work as an Engineer or Computer Scientist then you must complete at a minimum a 4 year degree which will get you a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering or Computer Science.
After completing your Bachelor's degree if you'd like to further specialize in a particular engineering field or discipline then you can pursue a 2 years Master's degree. Some people pursue and complete an MBA (Master's in Business Administration) after their Bachelor's degree. This is typically if you want to go into Business Administration or Management.
Beyond completion of a Master's degree one may pursue a Doctorate degree i.e. a Ph.D which you can consider to be a super-specialization. A Ph.D degree takes 2 or more years depending on the research you do.
Although there's nothing wrong with pursuing college, it's gradually becoming more acceptable for HR teams to not make it mandatory if the candidate has other experience or applicable skills to do the job. As someone who took the traditional path of college followed by certifications, I recommend leveraging the Internet to supplement learning as oppose to pursuing a specific amount of years in college. College does not work for everyone, and there are services such as Udacity (https://www.udacity.com/) that have nano degree programs developed by those in the technology industry. It's something to consider for a variety of potential circumstances. Being able to apply what you know is more important and if able to express/illustrate that to a potential employer, you will have an advantage over those who only know theory.
I've been in technology now for nearly 20 years. The landscape has changed so much during that time. Your students' question has a very broad application. Even when I started, there were so many applicable fields, degrees and career opportunities - there are even more today. The answer would largely depend on the type of technology opportunity your students are interested in. Generally speaking, I've seen great success achieved in various technology fields by team members that either A) didn't go to college for technology at all - but were self disciplined and passionate enough to acquire the necessary skills or B) went to college for an entirely different major or career focus and of course C) those of us that went to college with a focus on a specific area within technology.
Personally, I initially obtained my associate's degree after 2 years then began my career in Computer Networking which evolved into general IT-related responsibilities spanning nearly every area of Information Technology at the time. I eventually went back to school to obtain my bachelor's in Technical Management and have worked to obtain multiple technology certifications along the way. Industry standard/accepted certifications within the desired field are highly recommended. I also have colleagues that, in some cases, took courses at a nearby "bootcamp" of sorts where they received pragmatic/practical focussed instruction for several months and were able to quickly enter a particular field - and they've seen great success there as well.
I hope this is helpful.
Clinton recommends the following next steps:
Students can earn credits by taking Advance Placement classes in high school and/or by attending college thru a dual enrollment project in high school.
Many students, take 4 or more years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. When attending college the time it takes really depends on the number of classes taken each semester and if going year round or not.
So they are consumers of technology. As Ariel mentioned in her response, it all depends. There are trade schools, 2 year, 4 year and advanced degrees (masters and doctorate programs) and they all have their pros and cons. What are you interested in doing? What are you good at? Where do you want to live when you gorw up? The answer to some of these questions will help guide your decisions.
Hardware - do you want to design/build hardware? Imaging the xbox controller. My children have 10 controllers - from the basic controller to the more advanced/egonomic form factors that cost a little more.
Software - do you want to write code, create skins for Fortnite/League of Legends or write apps that can help society solve problems (we desperately need a good app to track COVID19 Vacinations)? Coding bootcamps and/or youtube videos regarding python, XML, etc are good teasers that will help you determine if you like developing software and might enjoy writing code from your laptop sitting on the beach in Hawaii.
Operating Systems (Window, UNIX, LINUX, etc), A/R and V/R = Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Autonomous and Connect Vehicles, 5G/MEC = 5th Generation Wireless Technology and Multiaccess Edge Compute, Drones - both for human travel and package deliveries, Multimedia and Music Videos, Biotechnology, Computer Networking and Internet technologies (Bluetooth, WiFi, Internet Protocol), Cybersecurity and Blockchain are some of the exciting "technology related" careers and fields that will be in demand when your 5th graders are ready to contribute to the workforce.
Some of these fields may require technology degrees but some may not as natural talent and some luck may be needed to become successful. I would recommend every 5th grader start a journal ... keep it short (a few lines per day) to document your daily interactions with technology (i.e. if your distance learning experience is great/good/bad/non-existent) and determine if it's a platform issue (zoom, etc), internet connection (wifi, cable modem, ISP, wireless, etc) or a combination of factors. Pay attention to the curriculum (subjects/topics) being taught and write down your feelings about it. As you progress through your grade school education and onto High School, your journal can help you determine if a technology career is a good fit for you (i.e. if you're having trouble with basic math, you will need to master the basics before you can get a handle on things like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc). Or if you want to build robotic arms you may need to be grounded in biology/chemistry/physiology/anatomy.
Technology is embedded in our daily lives. It's too broad a category to give valid/prescriptive advice. I hope my comments help you organize your thoughts and guide your decisions. Please remember to enjoy your youth, appreciate your parents/teachers/mentors and never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Happy MLK Day! You have a dream ... now go achieve it.
IT can be a very competitive field, and something that has helped me immensely has been the social networking I've done. When you get into a workgroup being able to effectively network and make good impressions on those higher up can be more valuable then gold.
Brock recommends the following next steps: