Over the course of the past school year, I have continued my work as the Sterling High School lead Career and Technical Education teacher, which means I not only teach CTE course but also help other CTE teachers in my building with their courses and paperwork. I initially took on this role because I saw great value in what CTE stood for, and I enjoy helping and supporting my colleagues in their offerings of this valuable set of classes.
I’ve written about CTE in the past. You can read that post here. But today I wanted to get a little more specific and share what I have been doing lately, which includes pioneering an innovative take on CTE as I blend it with a regular education course.
What is CTE?
Before we move on, though. It is important to understand what CTE truly is. As I said in one of my previous posts, CTE is a learning structure that prepares students to enter the workforce or be poised to succeed in college by providing industry-standard certifications to them as they complete the program, called a pathway (which includes a series of courses building to and culminating in some sort of industry-standard certification), during their high school years.
Here is how SHS officially describes it:
Career and Technical Education is organized educational activities that offer a sequence of courses to provide students with coherent and rigorous content aligned with challenging academic standards and relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers in current or emerging professions. CTE courses provide technical skill proficiency, an industry-recognized credential, a certificate, or an associate degree and include competency-based applied learning that contributes to academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employability skills, technical skills, occupation-specific skills, and knowledge of all aspects of an industry.
For me, the most important takeaway from CTE is the real-world, hands-on learning it provides. It pushes students to be analytical and is more focused on the process rather than the product. It gives students the framework for success in the future. Combine this with industry-recognized credentials and/or certifications, and this program serves up a lot of benefits for the students. Furthermore, it benefits the teachers and the schools because it gives credence to the practices many educators are already employing in their classrooms. CTE basically says, “The project-based learning you are doing is great! Keep it up! Make it rigorous! Push the students to take control of their own learning!”
There is a great explanation of what CTE is, including a very cool graphical representation, at https://www.acteonline.org/cte/#.VZ3riKZBCuQ.
What is Blending Curriculum?
I got into teaching to be a journalism teacher. I make no bones about that. I was a professional journalist before I worked to receive my teaching license. However, once I hit the classroom, I also receive my license to teach English, Business and Speech. I saw doing this as instrumental to be able to work in a smaller community. I had to be versatile enough to be employable in such a setting.
When I started teaching English, I saw how much fun it could be and how well it worked with my background as a journalist.
Even so, I always enjoyed the journalism courses more because of the hands-on nature of the course work. The students have more control in the journalism education world, especially in Kansas thanks to the freedoms afforded by the Kansas Student Publications Act.
I quickly began to see the gap between how engaged my journalism students were compared to how engaged my English students were. I tried a few different ways to make the English curriculum come alive, but the generally accepted structure of the course work didn’t help my attempts. Then the efforts of Clelia McCrory, Grant Management and Acquisition Specialist at ESSDACK. She was working with Jay Scott, the Kansas Department of Education Assistant Director of CTE. They were in discussion about how to make regular education courses, meaning non-CTE course, work with CTE. This interested me a great deal because I saw it as a way to make my English class more applicable to the lives of my students. Then Scott said this in an email:
This simultaneous blending of two courses and their standards during one class period does not violate any policies or regulations of KSDE, as long as the instructor is licensed to teach both subjects. Schools will need to clarify with auditors that this model is NOT a double-up of courses. A double up is when two courses are taught at the same time by the same instructor to two different groups of students. This simultaneous blending of two courses model is NOT a double up because all of the students in the class are enrolled in both courses.
For example, if a school doubles up Geometry with Technological Design, and, if there were 20 students in the class, 10 students would be enrolled in Geometry and 10 students would be enrolled in Technological Design. Our CTE policies state schools cannot double up a NON – CTE course with a CTE funded course and still maintain the funding for the CTE course. The difference in the simultaneous blending model is if you have 20 students in the class, all 20 are enrolled in both Geometry and Technological Design; therefore, it is not a double up.
With this green light from Scott, I got to work. I looked at the CTE course my school offered, and I saw that nearly all the pathways we offered had one commonality. They included Project Management and Resource Scheduling.
This was important because each pathway consists of three levels of courses. These include Introductory Level, Technical Level, and Application Level. For a pathway within a school to stay active and in good standing, it must produce concentrators/completers on a regular basis. In order for a student be classified as a concentrator/completer, he or she must achieve three credits within the pathway. At least 1.5 credits must come from Technical Level courses, and at least .5 credits must come from Application Level courses.
Project Management is an Application Level course, and since it sits in so many pathways, I saw how beneficial it would be to reach the maximum number of students possible. At my school, English III, which is what I teach, is the last required English Language Arts credit students receive, so they have to come through that class.
The writing on the wall was clear. I needed to blend Project Management with English III. Doing so would give the students the greatest chance of becoming concentrators/completers, and even if they didn’t, the skills they would gain from experiencing a course in Project Management would still be very beneficial to them in the future because of the time management skills inherently incorporated into the class. And according to ACT research, it takes students 18 months for such skills to become fully ingrained. This means reaching the students in English III, when they are juniors, would be far more beneficial than waiting until they are seniors and on their way out into the world.
How did I Blend the Curriculum?
So I got to work. I looked at the Project Management standards and the English III standards, of which there were many. I began to find where they aligned with each other, and I began to craft a plan.
First, following the alignment of the standards, I developed projects and lesson shells that would meet both sets of standards. I didn’t go as far as creating specific lesson plans because I wanted to be able to give fellow teachers a framework and let them use it as they may.
These projects and lesson shells came into existent in the following areas:
- What is Project Management? (a lesson on what this new method of English III would entail; giving the students the tools to be successful over the course of the year)
- Independent Reading Projects (student-directed projects where a piece of literature is chosen, read, and then a project created about it to show understanding . . . I came up with reading lists as well to help guide the students in their reading choices)
- Literary Analysis (how to properly analyze literature)
- Argumentative Writing (writing well-crafted arguments about a given topic)
- Research Project (learning proper research methods and writing a well-sourced and properly formatted research paper)
- Special Topics in Lit. (taking what ever the hot area of literature is at the time and creating a project around it . . . came up with this considering dystopian literature is a big trend right now)
- Portfolio of Work (learning how to and showcase the work done)
It should be noted that not all of these projects meet all of the English III standards, but they meet all of the Project Management standards. I see the blending of these two courses as a way to augment, not replace, the English curriculum currently in place.
Keeping that in mind, I then when through all the projects and created a couple Gantt Charts, which is something the Project Management standards calls for and gives a visual representation of the progress and timing of the projects to be completed. I did this for the Project Management projects and my English curriculum so the students and I could both see how everything was fitting together.
Gantt Charts are very handy to use. I recommend you research them a bit. I think you will be pleased. However, I also wanted to be able to give the students another way to see the visualization. One option I came up with is Trello.com, which “is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.” It is very cool I urge you to check it out.
Going through this project also inspired another thought. I’m a huge technology geek, so I came up with a list of possible technologies that could be used for the various projects. The list is extensive, but it is by no means exhaustive.
I then took all of this information and created a handbook with all the information. If you want to see it, let me know.
This whole process took a little while to complete, so I hope I haven’t left anything out in my descriptions. If you feel I have or have a question, please drop me a note. And keep in mind, all of this will be fully implemented in my classroom during the 2015-16 school year.
What came next?
With all this done, I shared my work with McCrory, and she began to spread the word. I ended up giving presentations at ESSDACK to area administrators, educators, and even KSDE officials. Along the way, I piloted some of the projects so I would have data to back up everything I was espousing.
Then, on June 30, I hosted a workshop at ESSDACK giving educators a taste of what Project Management blended with English III would be like. They created Independent Reading Projects, and what they came up with was pretty phenomenal. Overall, the feedback from the workshop was very positive, and it think it opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibilities afforded by this take on CTE. One overarching comment I heard from the day was the workshop made them comfortable to continue with their project-based learning methodologies for the benefit of the students. Prior to this, some of them said they felt as though they weren’t sure if what they were doing was OK. The workshop showed them it was.
Tomorrow morning I am being interviewed by the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation for an upcoming article about my blending of Project Management with English III. This is a group that provides stellar Project Management tools to be used in conjunction with some of what I have created. There will be a national training on how to use these tools later this year, and I’m excited to learn how to get it incorporated into my classroom.
This entire process has been a lot of fun for me. I’m a nerd. I love digging in to curriculum and working to solve puzzles. Writing all of this, with the help and guidance of amazing people, has been a true joy.
I’ve been asked over and over again why I wanted to take this on in my spare time, and the answer is simple. It is so beneficial to the students. It will increase achievement and relevancy of the curriculum by making it more approachable by using project-based learning, which students prefer. It will change how the students learn by giving them the control and power to make decisions, which increased engagement due to the fact the students will be able to see the real-life applications of what they are learning. And it is tied to Common Core.
Furthermore, this will make teaching English more fun for me. I am a project-oriented person, so this was a natural fit for my style. Of course, if that isn’t your style, that’s fine. This can be tailored to fit any setting, and it can definitely work in classrooms other than English III.
If you are interested, use what I have created as a framework, and then make it something that works for you. And when you do that, please share it with me. I would love to see it!