Integrating STEM into your curriculum

By: | Issue: January, 2016
December 4, 2015

More and more high school graduates are choosing to study STEM-related fields after graduating, thanks to the wealth of career opportunities that require those skills. As such, it’s vital for educators to understand how to integrate STEM into the classroom. But while most teachers are aware of the importance of STEM, strategically integrating it into lesson planning, especially in less-obvious courses, can leave them scratching their heads.

To understand how to communicate the importance of STEM skills to students, it’s essential to first address the reality of the field. The STEM workforce is made up of more than just engineers and computer scientists. Exciting prospects in the manufacturing, transportation, health care and construction industries are abundantly available, without a four-year degree. To present the full spectrum of opportunity, Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers and educators in traditional subjects can work hand-in-hand to create relevant, real-world learning opportunities for students.

Current state of STEM in high school and beyond

Districts and administrators strive to infuse STEM into curriculums, but they often fail to look beyond traditional classes. STEM education is much more than just learning science, technology, engineering and math skills Ñ it’s all about problem solving.

The appeal of CTE lies in the definition of STEM as not just science, technology, engineering or math, but as the combination of these disciplines within a framework that ignites student’s passions and helps them learn how to solve problems. Many CTE programs already teach core STEM and problem- solving skills, but these courses are often overlooked when we’re talking about STEM education. High-quality CTE programs deliver value to a broad range of students by teaching in-demand skills that benefit whichever future path they may choose. Educators in traditional subjects can benefit from teaming up with CTE educators to teach the full spectrum of possibilities STEM education presents to students.

Uncover the STEM in your CTE program

CTE educators already teach STEM; it’s naturally embedded deep within the curriculum. It’s not necessary to overhaul the curriculum, but rather shift the way it’s presented it to students. Educators teach STEM – and use their craft to do so. This philosophy helps students understand the larger picture of the skills they are learning, and makes STEM relevant to the real-world.

Take for example, transportation CTE. Today, cars are designed using some of the most advanced STEM principles of our time. The technology is constantly evolving, and automotive vehicles are a perfect example of STEM in motion. So, instead of just teaching students age-old fundamentals like changing oil or rotating tires, CTE instructors could approach this program with underlying STEM components in mind.

Bridging the Gap and Making the Connection

David Damiani, an automotive technology instructor at Mountain View High School in Arizona, collaborated with Universal Technical Institute before creating a “Math in Auto” curriculum. After realizing the importance of STEM “labeling,” and reflecting on the role STEM played in his own success as an automotive technician, David sought to incorporate math concepts into his automotive course.

“I partnered with a math teacher and worked with the state Department of Education and the National Research Center for CTE to create a ‘Math in Auto’ curriculum,” David explained. “My school was the first in the state to receive approval to offer the students the ability to get their 4th year math credit in an automotive class. 2015-2016 will be our fifth year using the curriculum. We start with simple math concepts in the first year of the program and add to it each year.”

David teaches alongside a math teacher to effectively integrate the curriculum, and also collaborates with traditional math class educators to help them include some of the “Math in Auto” lessons in their curriculum. The outcome is rigorous and compelling coursework that helps students connect their math skills with a real-life application.

This type of partnership between traditional and CTE educators is an effective approach to integrate STEM concepts into lesson plans. Students gain a greater understanding of how their knowledge translates to in-demand skills, and educators are rewarded through helping students connect the dots between current academic subjects and potential career paths. It’s an investment in a student’s future, and well worth the planning.

Jerry Ellner is national director of High School Development at Universal Technical Institute.