ERIC Identifier: ED355456
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Integrating Science and Math in Vocational Education. ERIC
New technologies have generated increased and varied application of
scientifically based materials in the world of work, thereby increasing the
importance of science and math knowledge and skills for workers. For many
students, science and math are intimidating subjects. Low achieving and average
students tend to shy away from such courses as they represent unfamiliar and
difficult concepts. Stereotypic images and expectations, lack of
self-confidence, and failure to perceive relevance are some of the reasons that
females are so greatly underrepresented in courses in mathematics, science, and
technology (Fear-Fenn and Kapostasy 1992).
To be competitive in the work force, however, these barriers must be overcome
as the demand for workers with relevant science knowledge and problem-solving
skills increases. This ERIC DIGEST addresses National Education Goal 3, which
states in part that students will demonstrate competence in challenging subject
matter including mathematics and science. This DIGEST highlights exemplary
curricula and model programs and describes strategies for integrating science,
math, and vocational education.
Helping students learn more about science and technology and become more
skilled at problem solving and analysis has been the goal of recent educational
efforts. Many of these initiatives involve the integration of academic subjects
with vocational education in a combined curriculum and instructional delivery.
In this way, students have the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge to
specific occupational tasks and to solving problems typically encountered in
business and technical fields. Pritz (1989) notes that science provides the
foundations for creative thinking and cognitive development, which engenders a
depth of understanding that allows for generalizability and transfer across real
world tasks. This emphasis on science-vocational education integration is
consonant with the recommendation of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving
Necessary Skills (1991) that skills in systems and technology, necessary for all
workers, be taught in their "natural home in science courses" (p. 22).
The National Science Foundation (NSF)
recently funded several experimental integration projects. One involved the
collaborative efforts of the Illinois Board of Education, Northern Illinois
University's Department of Technology, five industrial partners, and five
northern Illinois schools (PHYS-MA-TECH 1992). The goal of the project was to
attract average high school students who typically avoid physics by providing an
integrated math, physics, and technology curriculum offered in a nontraditional
learning environment through team teaching and innovative delivery models.
To initiate the project, teams of math, physics, and technology teachers at
each high school analyzed existing course content for common concepts and
skills, which were used to develop the integrated curriculum. Because good
content and courses already existed, it was not necessary to create an entirely
new curriculum for a given course. Integrated instructional delivery was
essential to the project's success, and integrated teaching was made possible by
nontraditional scheduling. The PHYS-MA-TECH curriculum consists of 45
instructional activities, 6-13 from each of the 5 high schools. The real-world
context for the science and math content is apparent in some of the topics:
laser burglar alarm, exercise machines, ultrasound, smoke alarm, programmable
home thermostat, and bar coding.
Also funded by NSF, the Technology/Science/Mathematics Integration Project
conducted in Virginia middle schools (LaPorte and Sanders 1993) was based on the
rationale that science and math instruction tends to be strong in theory but
weak in practice, technology education the reverse. The project focused on
application of science and math principles to real-world problems, with
technological problem solving the common thread among the three disciplines.
A materials science and technology program resulted from a collaboration
among Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, Central Washington University,
Northwest Regional Educational Lab, and Richland (Washington) School District
(MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY 1990). This program uses integrated and cooperative
learning techniques to link both the scientific understanding of materials and
their composition to the technological application of materials in the world of
In Tennessee, a course integrating science and agricultural education
(Ricketts 1991) was created to enable college-bound students to participate in
an agriculture course that would count toward their college credit requirements.
This course has become a model for integrating vocational and academic education
and has been popular with students. Course enrollment figures for 1991-1992 (the
second year of the program) remained high.
These and other successful programs
that integrate curricula rely on the collaborative efforts of teachers across
disciplines. Because team teaching is a requirement of most integrated courses,
programs attempting this mode of instruction devote time and effort to training
teachers to integrate learning concepts. The MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY (1990)
program, for example, has the following requirements:
must have the opportunity to work with materials in industry or laboratory
settings before they begin teaching the course.
academic and vocational teachers should deliver this course together as students
learn both theory and practice simultaneously.
course must use the tools of the trade to the greatest extent possible.
use of community experts is highly desirable as is the support of a
business/industry advisory committee that can help locate resources, materials,
equipment, and internship opportunities for students and staff alike.
must use cooperative learning techniques.
Experience in cooperative and collaborative team teaching is also important
for teachers as they learn the content and instructional mode of other
disciplines. As teachers become more knowledgeable about each other and other
subject areas, their respect for others increases as does their confidence in
the benefits of integration. The importance of this to the success of
integration is apparent from Daugherty and Wicklein's (1993) study, which found
that the math and science teachers surveyed generally did not understand the
scope and purpose of technology education or how to integrate the disciplines.
Integrative efforts require open communication between science/math and
nonscience teachers. In creating interventions for special needs learners that
link science and vocational education, for example, it is imperative that
teachers practice interprofessional collaboration to address the varied learning
styles, characteristics, and needs of special students; strategies for teaching
difficult science concepts; and the sharing of laboratory facilities and
equipment (Greenan and Tucker 1990).
Some of the benefits teachers realize as a result of team teaching integrated
science, math, and vocational courses are as follows:
discipline becomes stronger on its own merit.
is increased mutual respect among teachers of various disciplines.
improve their teaching skills and expand their repertoire of strategies and
and motivation for teaching increase.
The Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) has been a leader
in integrated curriculum development. Based on CORD's experience in developing
Principles of Technology, Applied Physics, Applied Mathematics, and Applied
Biology and Chemistry, Hull (1990) recommends (1) using a systems approach
instead of teaching a series of discrete topics; (2) integrating math with
problem solving; and (3) integrating biology and chemistry in the context of
personal, work-related, and societal issues.
April 1993 is the 10th anniversary of A NATION
AT RISK (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983), which reported
the "steady decline in science achievement scores of U.S. 17-year-olds as
measured by national assessments of science in 1969, 1973, and 1977" (p. 9). It
appears that little progress has been made in the 10 years since A NATION AT
RISK presented the challenge for educational reform.
Results of the International Assessment of Educational Progress (Science), as
reported in USA TODAY ("Riskline" 1993) show U.S. students at the bottom of the
list of participating countries:
%Statistics such as these highlight the importance of upgrading the science
and math skills of U.S. students. Integrating science, math, and vocational
education is one way to accomplish this, offering many students who have
excluded science and math from their vocational programs the opportunity to
succeed in these disciplines. Programs such as those described here can offer
guidance to educators who see the need for and the benefit of moving in the
direction of integration.
Daugherty, M., and Wicklein, R. "Mathematics,
Science, and Technology Teachers' Perceptions of Technology Education." Journal
of Technology Education 4, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 30-45.
Fear-Fenn, M., and Kapostasy, K. K. Math + Science + Technology = Vocational
Preparation for Girls. Columbus: Center for Sex Equity, The Ohio State
University, 1992. (ED 341 863)
Greenan, J. P., and Tucker, P. "Integrating Science Knowledge and Skills in
Vocational Education Programs." Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education
13, no. 1 (Fall 1990): 19-22. (EJ 419 516)
Hull, D. M. "Interdisciplinary Relationships in Technical Education: The CORD
Perspective." Journal of Studies in Technical Careers 12, no. 3 (Summer 1990):
253-267. (EJ 434 009)
LaPorte, J., and Sanders, M. "The T/S/M Integration Project." Technology
Teacher 52, no. 6 (March 1993): 17-21.
Materials Technology: The Common Core Skills that Are Shaping the Future.
Richland, WA: Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories and Richland School
District 400; Ellensburg: Central Washington University; Portland, OR: Northwest
Regional Educational Laboratory, 1990. (ED 327 735)
National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk. Washington,
DC: NCEE, 1983. (ED 226 006)
PHYS-MA-TECH: An Integrated Partnership. DeKalb: Northern Illinois
Pritz, S. G. The Role of Vocational Education in Developing Students'
Academic Skills. Information Series no. 340. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, 1989. (ED 326 692)
Ricketts, S. C. "Science IA (Agriscience): A Science Credit for Agriculture."
American Vocational Association Convention paper, 1991. (ED 343 999)
"Riskline." USA Today, March 17, 1993, p. 5D.
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. What Work Requires of
Schools. Washington, DC: SCANS, U.S. Department of Labor, 1991. (ED 332 054)