Archives for category: STEM

brain cells

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), my recent work has focused on literacy across the content areas. As part of this work I’ve been asked to distinguish between content literacy, interdisciplinary literacy and transdisciplinary, so I thought I’d share the definitions I’ve been developing.

Background: The CCSS emphasize the integrated nature of reading, writing, research, speaking, listening, language, and to a more limited degree, mathematics within and across content areas. The CCSS shift the focus from “learning to read and write” to “reading and writing to learn,” especially from third grade forward. In addition, students also write “to persuade, to explain, and to convey real or imagined experience” across content areas. The increased focus on informational text also aligns with a transdisciplinary approach.

In addition to specific grade-level standards, the CCSS argue that college and career ready students also master competencies that transfer across content areas. Specifically, the CCSS Capacities of a Literate Individual posit that students demonstrate independence; build strong content knowledge; respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline; comprehend as well as critique; value evidence; use technology and digital media strategically and capably; and come to understand other perspectives and cultures. Similarly, the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practices support transferable practices: students should make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, model with mathematics, use appropriate tools strategically, attend to precision, look for and make use of structure, and look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Historically, content-area literacy has been defined as reading, writing, speaking, listening, and communicating for the purpose of constructing and applying knowledge in the areas of social studies, science, mathematics, and technical subjects. Implied in this definition is the recognition that texts include diagrams, charts, and other non-print, multimedia, and digital texts. With an interdisciplinary approach, the curriculum and instruction are centered on common learning across disciplines.  In this way, the teachers of different disciplines develop a common theme among their content areas and teach those concepts within their respective classes. While interdisciplinary units provide valuable real-life connections, they often lack authenticity, and some topics may feel forced into the curriculum.

A transdisciplinary approach moves curriculum and instruction beyond content-area literacy and interdisciplinary connections.  In full implementation, a transdisciplinary approach involves the organization of curriculum and instruction around authentic student questions where concepts and skills are developed through real-world context.  Inquiry is at the heart of the transdisciplinary approach as students seek answers to the questions raised by the curriculum and themselves.  Because the CCSS are mastery standards, within a transdisciplinary framework students must meet all content areas standards through the course of each year. Direct instruction still plays an integral role; students should not be expected to acquire skills solely on their own. (Transdisciplinary instruction should not be a reincarnation of the disastrous whole language movement.) Given the current structures of schools, a transdisciplinary approach will likely look different at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

A transdisciplinary approach aligns with local, state and national initiatives. For example,Universal Design for Learning principles pervade a transdisciplinary approach in that typically students access multiple means of representation, action, expression and engagement. Traditional twentieth-century skills such as the 4 C’s–collaboration, communication, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving—are seamlessly embedded in a transdisciplinary approach. Student engagement increases for all students, including traditionally underperforming populations, because learning is relevant, challenging, hands-on, and connected to authentic experiences. Transdisciplinary instruction can also be a more efficient use of classroom time because multiple content areas are taught and reinforced throughout curricula.  Repeated interaction with content and skills move students from exposure to mastery.  Students shift from rote learning to learning for a clear purpose, essentially learning how to effectively apply what they already know and how to find out what they do not.

Through my recently created position as STEM literacy liaison, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the great need for STEM education and why all teachers need to make sure their students are prepared to enter STEM careers.  I thought it might be helpful if I gathered the resources and statistics I discovered this past year into one place that others could use as resource. Below are statistics, and links to reports, infographics and YouTube videos.


There were several great infographics published this past year on STEM. Here are a few of my favorites:


National statistics indicate that the US must prepare our students differently for the global workforce than we have been doing.

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, in the next five years, STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as quickly as jobs in other fields. While all jobs are expected to grow by 10.4%, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 21.4%. Similarly, 80% of jobs in the next decade will require technical skills.
  •  The US Department of Labor claims that out of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected to 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation. The U.S. will have over 1 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018; yet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, only 16% of U.S. bachelor’s degrees will specialize in STEM. As a nation, we are not graduating nearly enough STEM majors to supply the demand.
  •  To put these numbers into perspective, of the 3.8 million 9th graders in the US, only 233,000 end up choosing a STEM degree in college (National Center for Education Statistics). That means only six STEM graduates out of every 100 9th graders.  (The STEM Dilemma)
  • When compared with other countries, the numbers are even more alarming.


Preparing students for STEM careers extends beyond ensuring that those students with STEM majors enjoy successful employment; non-STEM careers are also expanded through STEM efforts.

  • In the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, the “National Academies Gathering Storm Committee concluded that a primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only 4% of the nation’s work force is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96%.” STEM careers create jobs in other fields disproportionately.
  • National data on racial demographics show great disparity as well around which students pursue STEM careers. The chart below, taken from a U.S. Department of Commerce report on race and STEM careers, Education Supports Racial and Ethnic Equality System, illustrates the disproportionate number of STEM jobs held by Whites and Asians in relation to education.

Share of Workers with STEM Jobs by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Education, 2009

YouTube Videos: Here are some great videos that capture the need for STEM education:

And finally, H.B. Lantz does a nice job of summarizing these issues in his article, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: What Form? What Function?

Would love to add other resources if you have them!