Core Connections: Why Language Arts Is Vital to Teaching Technology and Engineering
Van Loo, Bill, Children's Technology and Engineering
The Introduction to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects states: "The Standards insist that instruction I in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school." Teachers of all subjects, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), share in the responsibility to make connections between language arts and domain-specific content. This article specifically addresses ways in which teachers can connect technology and engineering instruction with English language arts. The examples provided in this article are from a unit called "Inventors and Inventions," in which second and third grade students examine how technology has evolved throughout history.
By definition, the language we use has meaning. Many times, students can get confused simply because they don't understand the words we use. The Common Core standards describe it this way: "The standards expect that students will grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading. The standards will help students determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their repertoire of words and phrases."
Many times when describing a topic, I pause to ask whether or not students know the word I've chosen. Sometimes I've used a particular word because there's no better substitute; this has the effect of expanding a student's vocabulary.
A good example of this comes from use of the word "redesign." I used this word at the end of a lesson in the Inventors and Inventions unit, during which students had built models that sometimes worked, and sometimes didn't, leading to the need to redesign them. Some students were unclear about what "redesign" really meant. A few minutes of class discussion followed, and then a magical thing took place: I turned the class over to the classroom teacher, and she continued the language lesson! She talked about prefixes, and how the prefix "re-" can be used in all sorts of words. This was an unplanned teachable moment that the classroom teacher seized upon, but imagine how powerful it could be to do this in a consistent, planned fashion.
nonfiction informational texts
The Common Core standards also include this statement: "Through reading...challenging informational texts in a range of subjects, students are expected to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective." With its focus on nonfiction informational text, the Common Core Standards for Language Arts make clear the need for students to engage in texts that convey knowledge. Our subject areas, technology and engineering, are ripe with texts that can be used to meet these standards.
One example of these sort of texts are biographies. During the Inventors and Inventions unit, we walked backwards through history, touching on a number of important inventions. One of these was the invention of powered flight, pioneered by the Wright Brothers.
In the first class session for this topic, I started with gathering the class and using the first 15 minutes reading aloud from a book about the Wright Brothers. While I was not accustomed to extended read-aloud time with the students, I really enjoyed it, and the class listened with rapt attention.
After I finished reading, I gave students their choice of books to read about the Wright Brothers and the invention of powered flight. I had collected 10 or 15 different books from both our school library and our local district library, which gave students a range of books from which to choose. They spent the remainder of this class period using a 3-level reading guide to look for facts, form opinions, and think through issues raised by the text. …