Shakespeare vs. Chemistry; English Teachers Think outside the Box to Teach Reading, Writing to STEM Students

By Rupp, Allison | News Sentinel, April 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

Shakespeare vs. Chemistry; English Teachers Think outside the Box to Teach Reading, Writing to STEM Students


Rupp, Allison, News Sentinel


Hypothesis, equation, formula and lab report are words usually associated with a science or math classroom.

However, certain English teachers in Knox County Schools use these words to teach William Shakespeare's "Othello," persuasive writing and figurative language.

In schools with students designated as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, learners, teachers have had to get creative to teach kids who generally don't like reading and writing how to read and write.

"If you are reading 'The Scarlet Letter' and you don't do anything to bring in science or math, they will hate you, and you will hate it," said Jennifer Pace, an English teacher within the STEM Academy at Hardin Valley Academy. "They hate poetry. They hate to write."

Though STEM students have been put on a math and science track, they still have to learn state standards and pass state English exams.

English teachers at Hardin Valley, L&N STEM Academy and Farragut High School said they've had to change the way they teach to reach math and science kids, but it's made them better teachers overall.

Teacher Beth Love said she was nervous when she first heard she was in the STEM Academy at Hardin Valley. Math and science were never her strong subjects. Most of her job is spent marketing English to students and explaining why they need to learn to write a literary essay or read Shakespeare, even if they plan to be an engineer or mathematician. She always tries to give them real-world applications. Whether they're an astronaut or scientist, they might have to write a grant, pitch a project to a client or give a presentation, Love said.

Tressie Norton's L&N students write business letters and emails to learn to write. Recently, students crafted emails to the librarian at Lawson-McGhee Public Library.

"Knowing that the letter goes to a real person ups the motivation," Norton said.

Even though she is an English and journalism teacher, Norton said she feels more like a communications teacher. She's become more "skill-oriented" in instruction. "If you put a complex math problem in front of them, they can solve it immedi-ately," Norton said. "But if you ask them to talk about it, it's a whole different story."

Norton said she knows she's not going to produce a mass amount of English majors at the end of the year, but if she can get STEM students to talk about current events in front of the class and write technically, the year will be a success.

English teachers have had to come up with ways to excite and interest STEM students about reading and writing as well as make them understand concepts.

"Liberal arts kids get it," said Meshon Crateau, an English teacher at Hardin Valley. "They can write. …

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