By Susan Riddell
One of the basic principles of highly effective teaching is collaboration. Whether it’s working within the same content area, different content areas, across grade levels or through professional learning communities (PLC), teacher collaboration can happen in many ways.
The are many benefits, too, educators say. Good collaboration not only maximizes student learning, but it builds leadership in teachers and can improve instructional practices throughout a school.
Career and technical education (CTE) teachers strive for this high quality collaboration, too. Even though their classes can be very technical and trade specific, the collaboration opportunities are endless and include reaching into more core content-based classrooms.
Some of these collaborations have obvious content connections. Others, like chemistry and culinary arts may not be as clear cut at first, but learning possibilities are nonetheless endless, educators agree.
Dale Winkler, associate commissioner of Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, said the integration of academic content and technical competencies is an important partnership both for these educators and the content that’s presented to students.
“Using work as a context for teaching academic skills is one of career and technical education’s widely professed values,” Winkler said. “Current research on integrated or contextual learning supports the value of this strategy, especially for students who are challenged by traditional learning styles.”
Just as learning styles vary, so do teaching styles. For East Jessamine High School (Jessamine County) culinary arts teacher Cary York and chemistry teacher Melanie Stamper, their collaboration is based on similar styles and lessons that are aligned with common themes.
“We began working together 11 years ago,” Stamper said. “We found chemistry and culinary were very easy to work on together. The standards go hand in hand.”
York said her collaboration with Stamper has enhanced her classroom even when she’s teaching independently.
“My culinary focus has changed to make the science and math standards more forward in my thinking and focus with instruction,” York said. “CTE teachers (get) a better understanding of the core class standards and vocabulary and are better able to focus on them in a more applied application.”
York said that she and Stamper work together on four to five lessons a year, and they host a culinary camp for students. They also present together at professional development gatherings like The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education’s (CAFÉ) annual conference (held last June in Miami).
But they don’t always agree, and that’s OK, they said. It can even add meaning to lessons when they don’t. A good example of this, they said, is when they make cheese. York’s recipe calls for vinegar as an ingredient, while Stamper counters with lemon juice.
York prefers the vinegar due to cost while Stamper simply doesn’t like vinegar. Both options produce the same effects when making cheese, and the teachers said it’s important for students to see and be able to apply these alternatives. When this happens, Stamper has students work on corresponding units to see how chemistry is involved.
“We always have the details worked out for class instruction,” York said. “We have PowerPoints prepared and tell the same tale when working together in the classroom.
“I can’t think of a time when teachers shouldn’t collaborate,” York added.
Stamper also works with the middle school family consumer science teachers.
“It is very important for all teachers to have a good understanding of CTE and CTE pathways,” Stamper said. “We believe this direction is the way for education to best serve many students.”
Julye Adams, a biomedical science teacher at Elkhorn Crossing School (Scott County), agrees. She collaborates with a mathematics teacher at the school.
“I think one of the most important requirements for this type of collaboration is an open mind by both the core content and the CTE teacher to give and take from one another. The math teacher I work with often says that a student can get math anywhere – they come to us because they want to have a biomedical career, and math and science are tools for them to use in that career.”
Like York and Stamper, Adams sees the benefits of different opinions and teaching styles within a collaboration.
“I think more comes from a collaboration if you approach the same problem from different views,” Adams said. “What is very important is that the collaboration has a clear idea of what the expected outcome is. Working with someone who doesn’t think like you can be difficult, but as long as there is a shared view of the outcome, you are both working toward the same goal, and the process can then be experimental.”
Adams collaborates with other content teachers in a “village” setting where teachers of different subjects are placed in teaching teams. She said that one of the most important things she does is making students realize what they learn in their core classes has real-world applications and making sure core content teachers are a part of that.
At the beginning of the year, Adams – along with Algebra II, biology and Human Body systems teachers – complete a Project Lead The Way component, Bone and DNA Detectives. Students find human skeletal remains and use forensic anthropological skills to determine gender, age, height and ethnicity. With that information, they use leads from missing person reports to analyze DNA comparisons to identify the body.
The teachers are active together the first day of the project, then they break off into their individual rooms to advance the lesson. At the end of the unit, they return together so students can present their findings.
“We really try to coordinate so the students have a lot of intersections going on,” Adams said. “We move the science and biomedical science curricula around to best fit these intersections (the math, too, when possible).”
Jerry Burke, a welding teacher at Jeffersontown High School (Jefferson County), who routinely works with chemistry teacher Melissa Payne, is pleased with their collaboration efforts, but is ready to improve upon their practices.
“I feel that our chemistry and welding collaboration within the manufacturing scheme is one in a million,” Burke said.
Burke and Payne have added a geometry teacher to their collaboration this year. Working with mainly sophomores, they use the Shielded Metal Arc Welding process, Oxy-fuel systems and Gas Metal Arc Welding.
“We’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Burke said. “We will continue to connect relative terms such as currents of welding and electron flow as students better understand polarities, the chemical compositions of electrodes and the significance of each electrode.”
In his classes, Burke emphasizes the periodic table as part of his welding theory so that students can better understand the chemistry aspects of welding, both positive and negative.
Payne said that while her focus is chemistry-based, she makes sure her examples are consistent with the materials used in welding.
“When I teach about different types of matter (elements, compounds and mixtures), I use metal samples from welding class,” Payne said. “I use the flux from welding and discuss how the different mixtures are made. The compounds that they use in welding from carbon dioxide to acetone are my examples when we discuss bonding.”
Payne said that when students complete their first weld, they bring it to the lab to do the destructive testing on it. They test the corrosive resistance using a variety of chemicals that would be found in the air, water or on land, and they do a bend test to see how much force it takes to break it.
Students must complete a written report and include ways to improve their techniques.
“We will continue to enhance our deliverabilities to ensure that first and foremost, students are capable of reaching all the standards and benchmarks,” Burke said. “The number one objective is to ensure that every student is capable of these tasks and graduates college- and career-ready.”
Career and Technical Education
Dale Winkler, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-4286
Julye Adams, email@example.com, (502) 570-4920
Jerry Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 485-8275
Cary York, email@example.com, (859) 885-7240