Where Career Tech Meets STEM Education
A MiddleWeb Blog
Okay – I’ll admit to thinking of CTE as a mostly high school curriculum. Then I typed middle school career and technical education into a search engine and got an eye-popping number of hits. A couple of hours of mouse clicks later I’m convinced that this program can play an integral role in advancing STEM goals.
What is CTE?
We usually think of these courses as the skilled trades – welders, assemblers, machinists, electricians, and so on. These skilled trades are a significant part of our economy but are among the hardest jobs to fill in the United States in 2015.
Today’s CTE offerings may include a much wider variety of career-oriented subjects, including health care occupations, agriculture, architecture, construction, audio-video technology and communications, and information technology (IT), to name a few.
One reader commented on my 1/20 blog about defining STEM: Technology education . . . focuses on the integration of scientific knowledge, technological processes, design, engineering, and problem-solving for the creation of useful products. The Association for Career & Technical Education describes CTE as cutting-edge, rigorous, and relevant . . . education that prepares youth and adults for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand careers.
Sounds a lot like STEM to me. Here are some connections I unearthed between CTE programs and STEM projects. You CTE experts out there – do you agree?
1. CTE addresses many of the same soft skills and mindsets that STEM addresses. Currently, industry is facing a scarcity of workers who are skilled not only in the latest emerging technologies, but in soft skills. Companies want workers with hands-on competencies, the ability to learn new skills, a mindset of continuous learning, and an aptitude for innovation. CTE focuses on building those skills, along with a strong emphasis on design – the heart of the STEM world.
2. CTE encourages a comfort level with technology. Imagine a student who’s used to sitting alone at a desk doing paperwork. Now imagine putting that student on a team of STEM students charged with solving a problem by brainstorming, creating, and building prototypes to solve the problem. You just may have a student who’s out of his or her comfort zone at first.
A CTE student comes technology-ready. These students are comfortable handling materials and creating prototypes and solutions. One thing I find intriguing: CTE encompasses a wide range of technology and may include graphic design, bringing a strong tie to the arts. One article suggests that solution designers need more creative talent and ideation, and recommends adding artists and science fiction writers to the mix of folk who work together to design engaging solutions. (Perhaps, in the case of middle schoolers, science fiction readers.)
3. CTE offers a hands-on instructional approach. According to this article from ACTE Issue Brief, CTE programs use the same student-engaged instructional approaches as STEM. The teacher plays the role of a facilitator or guide, equipped with the knowledge and skills to help students advance. CTE courses integrate STEM content and can help students become more STEM literate. (This increases the chances that students will consider STEM-related careers.)
4. CTE builds strong, intentional connections to science and math. The same ACTE Issue Brief asserts that CTE has long been a leader in integrating high-level academics and technology. In CTE classes students apply math and science concepts to authentic situations and learn that these subjects have value in solving interesting real-world problems. This builds relevance and connections among subjects – a prime goal of STEM.
5. CTE actively pursues diverse groups of students to participate in STEM careers. STEM programs focus on attracting diverse groups of students from different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and genders. CTE courses play a significant role in growing the diversity in the STEM workforce by attracting students from underrepresented populations to choose STEM coursework and enter STEM career fields. For both CTE and STEM programs, making the program inclusive of all students is an intentional, strategic goal.
6. CTE may begin in middle school. Middle school courses provide students the opportunity to explore career and technical education. By getting a taste of what CTE has to offer at the middle level, students can make more appropriate choices in their high school course selections. STEM middle school courses have long had as their goal getting more students to select high level math and science courses in high school, along with engineering where offered.
Check out the kinds of CTE courses some middle schools offer. These include:
- Computer Skills and Applications
- Exploring Career Decisions
- Exploring Business, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship
- Technology Design and Innovation
- Technological Systems
- Exploring Agriculture Science
- Exploring Biotechnology in Agriculture
► In the Sioux Falls School District in Iowa, all sixth and seventh grade students enroll in a one-quarter CTE class to explore how career and technical education skills connect school and education to life-long learning and work. The middle school CTE classes integrate and support STEM skills. Eighth graders have the option to enroll in a CTE class.
► In a recent joint op-ed article in the Oregonian, Jim Piro (industry leader) and John Mohlis (labor leader) state their concerns about the lack of hands-on, applied learning experiences needed for 21st Century economy. They make a case for CTE-STEM education to prepare students to step into the career pathways.
Is Career Technical Education (CTE) the “T” in STEM?
I’d love to hear what you think!
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