Career and Technical Education (CTE) is a learning methodology that focuses on career preparation. In CTE programs, students hone technical skills and build foundational knowledge to be successful in careers in fields like healthcare, engineering, construction, public safety, business, and so much more. Since CTE programs are so focused on real-world applications, there is a natural connection between STEM pedagogy and CTE learning. For one, much of the required background knowledge found in CTE programs is in a STEM field (e.g., healthcare and biology). Additionally, both STEM and CTE programs are best taught when hands-on, inquiry-based, and focused on 21st-century skills. Here are four ways to introduce STEM in your CTE coursework.

1. Focus on Real-World Relevance

Doctor checking child's heart beatThere is a huge gap between the number of STEM careers available and the number of people equipped to fill those positions. By 2024, there will be over a million computer science-related jobs and by 2026, STEM jobs are expected to increase by nearly 11%. Since there is a need for more people working in STEM fields, it makes sense to promote STEM jobs through CTE programs. Many CTE programs offer career pathway options in STEM fields like information technology, engineering, robotics, healthcare, agriculture, and more. It would be a disservice to teach about these STEM careers without engaging in science, technology, engineering, or math coursework and activities in your CTE programs. Look to STEM subject matter experts within your school (e.g., science teacher) or your community (e.g., doctor) for their best practices for connecting STEM topics to STEM careers.

2. Practice Hands-On Learning

Research shows that STEM topics are best taught with hands-on approaches that allow students to learn through firsthand, memorable experiences. As a classic example, a student would learn better about anatomy by dissecting a frog over looking at an image of a frog in a textbook. Similarly, CTE is focused on hands-on approaches that tie in real tools and skills that would be used in the career. If a student is in an automotive CTE class, at some point you could expect them to work on a car. In your CTE class, engage in hands-on STEM activities that tie into the careers you are exploring in the coursework. For example, you could use a 3D printer in your precision manufacturing course.

Students using SpanStructure Set3. Make Connections to STEM Topics

To determine what hands-on STEM lessons may complement your CTE courses, first identify what topics would need to be understood to be successful in the particular career you may exploring and look for connections between those topics and STEM. Here are some examples:

  • Automotive – engage in a physics experiment on collisions to understand how cars become damaged in a crash
  • Cosmetology – conduct a color experiment to understand how mixing hair dyes may change the result for a client
  • Healthcare – simulate an infectious outbreak to learn how a disease is spread and ways to mitigate
  • Construction – engineer a bridge to determine locations of compression and tension

4. Build 21st Century Skills

Student working on RobotThere are many 21st-century skills that are required by the careers highlighted within CTE courses and many of these skills can be taught through STEM activities. STEM lessons are often done in small groups and usually, there is some type of problem to solve. In these lessons, students are building on 21st-century skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, social skills, initiative, and flexibility. By engaging in a challenge like an engineering design competition, students will hone these skills which will transfer into their CTE coursework and ultimately, to real careers.