Incorporating STEM in Your Humanities Classroom

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As we discussed last week, the full name of the Common Core ELA standards document is? “Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects”. The implications of that wording are a two-way street. Just as we explored how STEM teachers can help ELA and the other humanities teachers, the same is true in reverse. We’re all in the same business: making students competitive in the 21st century.

For STEM teachers, implementing more literacy in their curricula is a bit of a culture shift; they weren’t trained to teach reading, writing, and public speaking. For ELA teachers, it just takes a slight modification in the materials you use in the classroom to integrate STEM into your curricula. Background knowledge helps, but students will still get the practice they need.

Targeted informational texts

By now, we all know that Common Core State Standards and the other college and career readiness standards call for at least a balance between informational and literary texts, gradually tilting to informational by the end of the student’s high school career. As a result, you probably have many more non-fiction texts at your disposal. That’s great and it’s definitely more reflective of what students will need in the real world.

However, sourcing informational texts just for the sake of it is not nearly as effective as targeting materials to the students’ needs.

What are their needs? Ask their science or math teacher.

For interdisciplinary studies to be effective, the disciplines need to work as a team. Ask STEM teachers what kinds of texts students should study during the next unit. Although they should be reading more in their STEM classes anyway, giving them related texts in your class will help:

  • You reach your informational text goals
  • STEM teachers make better use of class time
  • Students get practice in skills they’re learning

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Real-world writing

Again, this is just a shift in subject matter. It takes no more skill to teach informational STEM writing than it does to teach literary writing. The question is whether the writing is in the format that a student will eventually encounter in the real world.

Let’s be honest—very few people need to write poems in their careers. More have to write research papers, but usually not in MLA format. Almost everyone needs to write emails and presentations explaining complicated subjects to people who aren’t familiar with the topics (summarization). They also need to persuade people on a daily basis. Ask STEM teachers exactly what the students will eventually need to be able to do.

Public speaking: less description, more teaching

Find the nerdiest, most high-level TED talk on a STEM subject you can. Watch it. Did you come away knowing more about—perhaps even understanding—the topic? That’s because even though the presenters come from a variety of occupations, for that short 10-15 minutes, every TED speaker is a teacher.

That’s what a people in STEM fields must be able to do every day; they always need to explain their work and its importance to people who aren’t familiar with it. Those people could very well lead to their next round of funding.

Of course, few students are capable of delivering a TED talk-level presentation in your classroom. That’s the ideal, but somewhere between there and stumbling over their words is a good start. A scientist, engineer, or other STEM professional who can effectively communicate has a distinct advantage over his/her average counterpart. It’s easier to learn those skills from you than from their STEM teacher.

Therefore: fewer oral book reports and presentations about their favorite hobbies and more instructional speaking.

Do you have any great STEM-infused literacy lessons that you use in your classroom? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Comments section.

Want to go into depth with standards-based lesson planning and cognitively complex tasks? Check out the Instructional Empowerment bookstore for resources that help educators make the critical instructional shift required by rigorous standards.

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