STEM and ELA
The first Common Core ELA technical subject standard for grades 6-8 asks that students use evidence to support analysis of science technical texts. As students are engaging in the Next Generation Science Standards, they have that opportunity. They should be able to accurately summarize text distinct from prior knowledge. Further, as students assume the role of scientist and engineer, they generate their own nonfiction text using the scientific process or engineering design process. At that point, they are within the research and summary-applying aspects of this standard.
Another Common Core ELA technical subject standard is to integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually. Thinking back to the STEM classroom, as students gather data to analyze, they have the opportunity to create line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts and pictograms, even at an early age.
In fact, there are many opportunities in the creation of infographics to engage students to express information visually in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards.
Finally, distinguishing among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text is an ELA standard, but it is also the culminating piece of any STEM process, whether science or engineering related. This process requires students to engage in evidence-based writing. As they come back as a class to debrief, it’s also an opportunity to look at what approach they are taking with their partner, compare that to their peers’ work, analyze the differences, create explanations and then reason, separating fact from opinion and reasoned judgments.
STEM and Math
Overall, math presents a huge opportunity to teach across standards. Common Core math practices very closely relate to NGSS science and engineering practices, from making sense of problems and reasoning abstractly, to constructing viable arguments, modeling with mathematics and strategically using appropriate tools.
Using tools strategically is not just about using a hammer or a saw. Calculating mean, median and mode and then choosing the proper process—scientific or engineering design—to attend to precision in that process also constitutes using tools. Further, the logic side of math crosses the curriculum
easily, especially in processes where students are looking for and making use of structure as they develop efficient test procedures.
A common ELA process writing assignment in schools asks students to write the steps for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The result is that you often get students who come back with 50-step procedures that they then mimic in class...and the outcome is hardly a sandwich. The reality is that making use of structure in a procedure is also about efficiency and using recursive steps. So, you can equate it with efficient science and engineering. Take computer science as an example. The core value of computer science is software engineering. And in that, a person is not only learning a language, but also learning how to solve a problem by using that language, and then structuring the directions in a way that computers can carry out an activity using the fewest lines of code possible.
STEM and STEAM
Math and ELA cross the curriculum lines by using science and engineering practices—critical thinking skills that are developed using the STEM practices—but what about art? That crossover works as well, and we call it STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
At its core, art is engineered communication. Take Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, for example. Oftentimes when STEAM is referenced, the conversation is around aesthetics. Guernica is widely considered one of Picasso’s most famous works, but it’s perhaps not the most traditionally beautiful work of art, so how could it be considered his best? Because it was created by a master artist who engineered communication through it, using his critical thinking skills—STEAM skills.
Picasso created Guernica while living in exile as a reaction to and reflection of the atrocities committed at Guernica by fascists. They later confronted him asking, "What is it that you did here?" His answer: "I didn’t do this. You did." In that reply, you can see Pablo’s skill and creativity reflected in the analysis he used to comment on the political context of his time. Oil and canvas gave him the opportunity to say something meaningful to a specific audience and the population at large. It’s a powerful analogy, and a powerful construct: mastering STEM practices equips students with the critical thinking skills to be better creators and more attuned consumers of art.
The bottom line: the Next Generation Science Standards give us a tool—we must just choose to use it. It’s a clear opportunity to teach across the curriculum, which is what educators should be considering in any case to get more bang for their buck when it comes to time and learning