Integrated Coursework and Simultaneous Credit...Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
By: Steve Gratz
During the summer after my first year of teaching, I went over to my colleague, Jim Boyd’s, biology classroom and snooped around to see what I might be able to “borrow” to enhance my teaching — I was working on embedding more science principles into my agriculture curriculum. While I was rummaging around his classroom, I found a syllabus from his 10th grade biology class, and I realized it closely paralleled my sophomore class agriculture syllabus. However, it did so through principles rather than the context from which I taught. For example, Mr. Boyd taught cells: homeostasis, respiration, photosynthesis, mitosis and meiosis; and genetics: fundamentals, DNA, RNA, inheritance and expression. I taught AgriScience 200 (Animal and Plant Biology): genetics, anatomy and physiology, growth and development, reproduction, and nutrition. The parallels were uncanny.
Aside from spending a majority of that summer conducting home visits to students, I invested many hours rewriting the agriculture curriculum with my colleague Brad Moffitt. Brad and I graduated together from The Ohio State University, and we focused on embedding more science principles into our agriculture curricula throughout our teaching careers.
During the fall semester of my second year of teaching, Jim stopped down to my classroom and asked me about my curriculum. I quickly shared with him my syllabus from my sophomore agriculture class. He carefully reviewed it, paused and said, “No wonder your students know the answers to all my questions, you are teaching biology in your ag class.” This was sheer luck and not planned on my part, but it really motivated me to continue to highlight the embedded science in the agriculture curriculum.
In addition to teaching animal and plant biology, I also remember introducing gel electrophoresis to my students. Gel electrophoresis is a laboratory method used to separate DNA fragments (or other macromolecules, such as RNA and proteins) according to molecular size. In gel electrophoresis, the molecules to be separated are pushed by an electrical field through a gel that contains small pores. Of course, gel electrophoresis has evolved tenfold since the last time I was in the classroom. These are just a few examples life sciences embedded in agriculture.
The National FFA saw the importance of embedding more science principles in the agriculture curriculum. In fact, it created a recognition program for teachers of agriculture who brought science to the forefront. Brad (1985) and I (1986) were both recognized by the National FFA for outstanding work in agriscience. We both experienced increases in program enrollment because of the curricular change. However, we weren’t satisfied and set our sights on ensuring that our students could receive science credit through our agriscience courses. In Ohio, local districts control the awarding of credit, and we saw a handful of schools granting science credit for students in agriculture courses due to the embedded sciences.
When I started working at the Ohio Department of Education, I provided leadership to the agriscience initiative that was sweeping the country. At the Department, I immediately started working to ensure more students could receive science credit through agricultural education. I recall visiting with staff from the Office of Educator Licensure to determine the coursework agriculture teachers needed to become certified science teachers. After several meetings, we determined that agriculture teachers needed a physics class to receive certification to teach science. I reached out to Ohio State and arranged for a physics course to be taught on Saturdays to help agriculture teachers get science teaching certificates.
With the passage of House Bill 59, schools may now integrate academic content in a subject area into a course in a different subject area, including a career-technical education course. Upon successful completion of the integrated course, a student may receive credit for subject areas that were integrated into the course. Moreover, credits earned for subject area content delivered through integrated academic and career-technical instruction are eligible to meet the graduation requirements.
Integrated coursework benefits students by creating authentic learning experiences, deepening student understanding and creating space in students’ schedules for additional learning experiences. These experiences can include elective courses, College Credit Plus, work-based learning or other innovative educational practices. Integrated coursework mimics real-world situations and makes learning more authentic. Students are actively engaged in learning because the design of the integrated curriculum creates challenging, meaningful tasks that help students connect information.
Innovative school leaders who take advantage of the integrated coursework initiative really can change a student’s experience in and out of school. I’ve witnessed this as a teacher and by visiting schools across the state. Below are videos showing how schools have integrated different subject areas into different courses. The Department will continue to capture examples of integrated coursework as this initiative gains momentum.
Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.