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Tips for Integrating STEM Education Skills and Concepts into Your Non-STEM Class |®

Tips for Integrating STEM Education Skills and Concepts into Your Non-STEM Class

“Breaking down learning into STEM and non-STEM is a specious approach,” says Lisa Brown, English Department chair and Upper School English teacher at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA. “Learning doesn’t happen in silos, by discipline. Believe it or not, this work is or can be integrated into what we already do if we focus on skills and themes.”

In fact, the skills that help students succeed in STEM education disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — are (wait for it) the basic skills they need to succeed in any academic or life pursuit:

• Persistence in problem solving • Creative and evaluative thinking • Non-fiction reading • Written and oral communication and listening • Collaboration and negotiation • Basic science and math

“These skills are helpful in a variety of situations,” says Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for the Allegheny Valley School District in Cheswick, PA. “So when non-STEM teachers are helping students handle things such as ‘promoting persistence in working on problems,’ they are helping students with a skill that can apply to STEM — innovation — or beyond the scope of STEM — negotiation. This is important work as it prepares students for their futures.”

Here are some ideas and tips for integrating these concepts and skills into content areas like English and history:

Technology in Any Content Area

“Allow the students to conduct research and present it to the class using PowerPoint, Word, Excel, the Internet, etc., to show their results,” suggests William Jackson, a teacher at Andrew Robinson Elementary School and adjunct professor teaching educational technology in higher education at Edward Waters College, both in Jacksonville, FL. Movie-making and audio apps, and video and recording equipment make it easy for students to learn about and use technology while producing work for any subject.

Technology & Problem-Solving with Literature

Brown used Pencil Code, a collaborative programming tool, to create deeper understanding of a particularly tricky scene in Macbeth. “One student illustrated all of the movement in that scene, which meant that he was forced to read and re-read the scene many times to know it well and to code it accurately,” she explains. “He was psyched to create the scene, which meant that he was determined to read it carefully.” This not only helped him learn the scene and programming, but he exercised persistence and problem solving while completing the assignment.

Science & Engineering in History

Integrating science and engineering into a study of civilizations is easy, according to Kim Moldofsky, founder of #STEMchat, a monthly Twitter chat for educators and parents to share ideas. “When looking at the history of a city, for example, [students] can explore the technology that influenced the architecture and how the architecture, such as high-rise buildings, influenced the city,” she explains. “Understanding the natural resources that helped develop that city is another way to bring in STEM. There are a lot of math opportunities related to people in the city — census data to slice and dice, tracking movement of people in and around the city, and so on.”

Nonfiction Reading & Evaluative Thinking in Any Content Area

“Assignments that encourage creative thinking and understanding situations from multiple points of view develop students who are better problem solvers,” Moldofsky notes. These can also support Common Core standards for argumentative writing. For example in almost any class you can ask students to research and review an issue with multiple points of view, assess each perspective and evaluate its strengths, and form a conclusion or position of their own.

Starting Points

These are just starting points. Get more ideas — or create your own — by working with teachers in your building, district and beyond. “Collaboration is important in sharing knowledge in content and applying standards,” Jackson says. “If done correctly, teachers are helping each other in their lesson development, application of cross-curricular knowledge and diversity of content development.”

Brown says making the effort to infuse STEM curriculum into any class is worth it. “The divide between STEM and non-STEM is probably much smaller than we think, and integrating STEM themes and content into non-STEM courses is very doable. Because our students — all students — are building their skill sets for work and lives that we can’t even imagine yet, it’s our responsibility to expose them to as much as possible, regularly.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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