The region’s progress in bringing real-world learning activities into the classroom was evident on Monday when teachers from Hamilton, McMinn, Bradley and Marion counties convened for a new training focused on collaboration across subject areas. The workshop held in downtown Chattanooga and sponsored by the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub convened educators in science, mathematics and Career & Technical Education.
This groundbreaking training gained attention from state-level leaders in education due to its unique approach to connecting teachers. “I think this CTE-STEM training is a model that should be shared across the state,” said Bethany Wilkes from the Tennessee Department of Education. “Bridging the strengths of these diverse courses together better prepares our students for college and careers.”
CTE, sometimes referred to as vocational education, may bring to mind a high school auto shop class. In reality, today’s Career & Technical Education department offers programs in high-demand workforce areas such as Engineering, Biotechnology, and Software Development. CTE also has a long history of providing students with hands-on activities which incorporate local business partnerships into the learning process.
Monday’s workshop brought together CTE instructors and teachers of science and math courses to create new projects for students. Teams of at least two teachers from a school attended the event where they collaboratively designed new projects connecting multiple courses. Testing the ionic bonding of fertilizer for Agriculture and Chemistry students, designing wheelchair accessible ramps in Construction and Geometry classes, and creating mechanical games for Physics and Engineering students were just a few of the lessons the teachers began developing during the session.
Leaders at the STEM Innovation Hub believe bringing CTE and regular education teachers together gives students the best of both worlds. “Pairing the rigorous coursework of academic subjects with the hands-on, career-oriented projects found in CTE helps students apply complex concepts and deepen their understanding of the material,” said Keri Randolph, director of Learning at the STEM Hub.
The organization also notes the valuable community connections these projects can provide to schools. “Hands-on projects give schools an opportunity to approach a local business and ask for expertise,” said Tracey Carisch, managing director of the STEM Hub. “In making a small request of a professional’s time, teachers can connect the students to career options as well as open the door to future partnerships with business and industry.”
Teachers at the workshop will return to their schools with new connections to colleagues and expanded ideas for hands-on learning activities. “I love this connection to CTE,” said Barbie Buckner, a science teacher at Bradley Central High School. “It brings in the practical application of the concepts I teach and lets the kids see where science meets their life.”
To learn more about the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub and its programs, visit www.GoGetSTEM.org.