Bright Outlook

I ran across this document today and even though it is from 2015, it is worth a look! “Occupations with Bright Outlooks in Tennessee’s Job Markets.”

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development provided this document. Of note is the STEM-designated jobs. Quickly access them by clicking links in the table of contents!

While searching out engineering companies near my town of Johnson City, TN, so that I could find a female engineer to “job shadow” for a day, I discovered that Eastman Chemical Company isn’t the only “big” company to host engineering jobs in the tri-cities area. Check out Moog, Inc., and Aerojet Rocketdyne. I’m excited about these companies because my son is graduating from Drexel University this June as an engineer. He is looking at Huntsville, AL, for a job, but I just let him know what’s available near me! I’d love to have him and his family live nearby!!

BUZZ: Blended Learning & Integrated STEM

So many buzz words exist in education today. Just Google the phrase “educational buzz words” for a sampling! Or check out this critical thinkers guide to educational fads (preview only). Obviously some stand the test of time and graduate from fad designation to become truly worthy of educators’ attention. Two that hold the gold standard for the future are blended learning and integrated STEM. In fact, if used in tandem, no child would be left behind, so to speak!

But blended learning is not the same as integrated STEM, and a good understanding about the differences between both helps teachers chart a path toward rich and engaging 21st century pedagogy. As you’ll see, these two should be working together in practice because of their similarities and novel approach toward education, but both are big changes in how we traditionally do school in the United States and require a sharp learning curve during implementation.

Read on, dear teacher. It does not have to be overwhelming even though there is a learning curve. And it can work with your school’s required pacing guide and standards. It can also work with you going solo or working with colleagues. Going solo is easiest if you run an elementary classroom and teach all subjects to your kiddos. If you are a single-subject teacher, then you need to get your colleagues on board. In my practice as a second and sixth grade teacher, I’ve experienced it both ways. First, I became a blended learning classroom in second grade and later began sprinkling in integrated STEM units. When I became an ELA teacher for sixth graders, I worked with my team teachers who taught math, science, and social studies to pull off integrated STEM, but blended learning happened in my classroom regardless.

Okay so to begin your journey, this should help provide a basic understanding of blended learning, which by definition is as follows:

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:


at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;

at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;

and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

Source: Christensen Institute

Seven models represent different ways to blend and are best described at the Blended Learning Universe. This graphic provides the framework:


Now that you have that background information, here is a little inspiration for blending. This is a video of my 2nd graders at Seward Elementary School (Alaska).

What then, is integrated STEM and how does it contrast with blended learning? Moore et al. (2014) defined integrated STEM education as “an effort to combine some or all of the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one class, unit, or lesson that is based on connections between the subjects and real-world problems” (p. 38). Integrated STEM curriculum models can contain STEM content learning objectives primarily focused on one subject, but contexts can come from other STEM subjects (Moore et al.). Therefore, it is clear that by “blending” science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics, we are not talking about a blended learning model of teaching.

[Learn more details about integrated STEM by clicking the links in the right sidebar.]

Blended Learning and integrated STEM are entirely different yet the two exist to complement each other beautifully. For example, blended learning isn’t just about online learning, as some think, but more about making space for real-world relationships and authentic learning. This is also the aim of integrated STEM, which uses a project- or problem-based learning approach that asks students to work together to create a solution and solve problems in the real world.

Buzz: Design Thinking – Check it Out!

The Design Thinking process, from Stanford University, involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. In classrooms, students can learn to solve problems, invent, and create solutions by using the same process as the world’s inventors and thinkers. This sounds familiar to integrated STEM, doesn’t it?


To help you imagine the classroom that uses both blended and integrated STEM, picture students going from station to station in your classroom. Each station focuses on a different aspect of the problem or project at hand. If you teach all subjects, the stations are arranged to include elements from all subject areas. For example, at one station students solve mathematical problems related to the project, while at another station students test prototypes that they built at yet another station. Still, another station students reflect in writing on what is and isn’t working in a class journals–adding on to what previous students said. A social studies station could have students analyze if their solution is adaptable to different cultural approaches, offers alternative explanations and solutions, and is feasible given regional differences. Using stations as a way to organize the learning promotes inclusion of experts from local businesses. Imagine having an engineer present at the design station once a week and a journalist regularly overseeing the technical writing that accompanies the project.

That brings me to volunteers from local businesses, often dubbed “corporate citizenship.” At first thought, are you doubting the feasibility of this? In fact, statistics show that many companies in the United States encourage mentoring and volunteering programs to pave the way for a larger workforce down the road. The following infographic by Bayer and the 4-H sum up many valid points about STEM education and the future:

Source: (I have no affiliation with either Bayer or National 4-H Council.)

Since corporate volunteerism really is a digression from this blog post topic (yet an extremely important topic), please take time by initiating a Google search using keywords such as corporate volunteerism. Here’s a start:

Image Licensed for Reuse

So what do you do to get started in your classroom with blended learning and/or integrated STEM? First, start a conversation with your colleagues, administrators, and IT directors at district office. See what they’re thinking, planning, and maybe already doing about it. Then give it a try – one step at a time. For example, you might choose to do a 3-day PBL unit, or take a week and structure your lessons in a station rotation model. Finally, continue to learn what you can about both topics by visiting these websites:

Enjoy your journey toward empowering STEM learning!


Moore, T., Stohlmann, M., Wang, H., Tank, K., Glancy, A., & Roehrig, G. (2014). Implementation and integration of engineering in K-12 STEM education. In S. Purzer, J. Strobel, & M. Cardella (Eds.), Engineering in Pre-College Settings: Synthesizing Research, Policy, and Practices (pp. 35–60). West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar

Fortune 100 Best

Fortune magazine (March 2019) just named the 100 best companies to work for and highlighted the fact that among those companies, 186,897 jobs are now open. The majority of these companies offer STEM positions that range from accountant to software developer to engineer. If this doesn’t indicate the need to increase STEM graduates from American schools, then nothing does! Data tell us that we aren’t doing a good enough job on that count as shown in the following graphic, but rather than digressing into that lengthy (but important) topic, I’d like to look at a couple of the companies that made the top 100 list.

Zoom in on Adobe, number 22 on the list. Fortune magazine reports that it has 2,500 open jobs. When I visited Adobe’s job site today, it listed 1,092 open jobs–607 engineering positions. When I researched the company further, what struck me immediately is its focus on an equitable work place, which is especially important in STEM fields. Check out this video.

Adobe’s website describes what engineers can expect if they join the company:

  • Product development and product management As an engineer or product manager for the leader in digital marketing and digital media, you’ll get an unprecedented opportunity to work at the intersection of creative content, data science, and experience delivery.
  • Cloud technology Join us on the cutting edge of SaaS delivery, where you’ll help bring together big data, analytics, cloud management, and digital content in a unified cloud platform that’s unlike anything else in the market.
  • Research labs Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and content intelligence — join our team of scientists to explore these disciplines and everything that’s coming next.
  • Information technology Come run the systems that run Adobe’s business. As a member of our IT team, you’ll deliver the always-on technology services and manage the telemetry and data that drive mission-critical decisions. You’ll use your technology chops, creative thinking, people skills, and end-to-end view of how the company operates to help us solve unique problems.


Look at the last sentence just above! Creative thinking – people skills! These are so critical to 21st century jobs, and integrated STEM is designed to teach students these skills through collaborative multi-week projects. As you can see, Adobe is all about having an equitable workplace and hiring employees with good people skills and creative thinking.

An occasional PBL scattered throughout the school year is not conducive to producing graduates with people skills and creative thinking abilities!

To digress a bit, many fear in this day and age that young people are lacking in social skills since they stay buried in their electronics. (Read this short opinion piece on the subject or this well-researched article that includes a Tedx talk.) I know it is debatable, as some say they ARE socializing – just in ways unfamiliar to those who came before social media. Still, I believe that body language is integral to good communication, and surely those on their phones are not learning such cues. And to digress just a bit further, I’m all for using phones as a tool in school. However, with that said, the most important tool we can use is face-to-face communication while problem solving. How many classrooms do that regularly, as in daily? An occasional PBL scattered throughout the school year is not conducive to producing graduates with people skills and creative thinking abilities!

Could it be possible that integrated STEM pedagogy becomes the cure-all for what ails society today? It certainly can’t fix everything, but it sure does teach our students to work together daily, it engages students in meaningful and authentic learning, and the icing on the cake–it blends standards from so many subjects and realms* into one unit! However, such sweeping change in schooling doesn’t happen overnight. It takes policy change at the national level down to the school board level. It takes funding. It takes believers. It takes professional development for current teachers and a change in focus at teaching colleges. We have a long way to go.

It’s imperative that we work harder on making those changes because of the current and future job market and because of our shameful STEM-graduate statistics. Looking at the Fortune article’s list of the top 100, I’ve noticed that many companies would require proficient mathematicians or programmers, such as Intuit, Pinnacle Financial Partners, USAA, Veterans United Home Loans, Capital One Financial, and so on. Other companies delve into artificial intelligence, such as Nvidia. Surfing its website gives me goosebumps and makes me wish I were a better scientist and technologist. I only have to roll over the menu headings to see that Nvidia is all about autonomous machines, deep learning and AI, self-driving cars, gaming and entertainment.

To me, Fortune’s article is a menu of delicious jobs just waiting for our brilliant young people. So let’s get busy changing how we do school in the USA. We need to pump out STEM graduates so that companies do not need to go outside of our country to hire their workforce.

*I say “realms” while thinking about the P21 standards or the ISTE standards (to name just a couple)–not standards that all teachers are familiar with yet or that school districts fully embrace, so they’re standards that are out there in whatever realm.

Science Curriculums

cause for concern

Stephen Sawchuk writes on February 28, 2019 in Education Week:

The first independent review to weigh whether new science curriculum series are truly aligned to a set of national standards was issued this morning—and mostly, the materials fell well short of expectations. 

Four of the series—Discovery’s Science Techbook, Carolina Biological Supply Company’s Science and Technology Concepts, and two versions of Teachers’ Curriculum Institute’s Bring Science Alive!—were deemed insufficiently aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. One series, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Science Dimensions, was considered partially aligned. Only one series, Amplify’s Amplify Science, got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability, according to the nonprofit EdReports, which conducted the reviews.

This is serious cause for concern at a time when we so desperately need schools to provide top-notch science education to our students. Publishers of curriculum ought to create materials that support the rigorous Next Generation Science Standards, which require students to use scientific and engineering practices and therefore prepare them to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century–yet they fall short on many counts, as illustrated in the following infographic.

One approach to working with such curricula is team teaching that focuses on integrated STEM education, which combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one “class” or pathway for teaching and learning that is based on connections between those subjects and real-world problems. Further, English Language Arts, social studies, and other subjects can and should be integrated into these learning pathways. It becomes a new way to conduct learning, yet most schools are not set up for this. Current schools still compartmentalize learning, making one subject disconnected from another.

This reminds me of the medical industry and its culture of compartmentalizing the body into disconnected parts that are treated in isolation from the whole body. At one time, medicine in the United States focused on the whole patient–back in the day of homeopathic doctors. This came to an end around the time that the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Slowly, homeopathic doctors got pushed to the side and new thinking blossomed in which doctors treated a stomach ache with one thing, a headache with another, and so on. They forgot about the harmony between all parts. They became specialists focused on one part of the whole–just like teachers today who know about science or math or language but don’t have experience or training integrating their specialty with other areas of learning.

Specialized teaching and learning in America began during the industrial revolution. This short YouTube video says it well:

Clearly, we don’t need this model any longer. We need a holistic approach to education that teaches children to think critically and allows them opportunities to make meaning of their learning through authentic problems and projects. That is to say, what we need is integrated STEM. The EdWeek article points out that the biggest problem with the curriculums it studied is that they do not consistently include crosscutting concepts and disciplinary content. They are not using an integrated approach.

If teachers are aware of the shortcomings of the standard curriculums they are told to use and are also versed in methods for teaching integrated STEM, a teamwork approach can provide what is needed to make learning a truly authentic, 21st century experience for students. Yet won’t this put a huge burden on teachers today? They must recreate themselves as teachers and often appeal to administration to allow them to go off the pacing guides, veer from standard curricular practices, and be innovative!

When light gets shed on inadequacies from curriculum providers, difficulties faced by teachers, and everything in between, it stirs up the desire for change. Even though the EdWeek article was met with denial, shining light on such shortfalls is a good start toward reform.

Melinda Gates with Good News

On Facebook today, Melinda Gates said:

The University of Washington is right across the lake from our home, and even closer to our hearts. It’s where Bill’s parents met—and where a much-younger Bill would sneak into computer labs to “borrow” some time with their computers before he founded Microsoft.
That’s why we’re so excited to see the opening of the university’s new computer science building—which will double UW’s annual enrollment capacity for computer science.
Already, UW’s share of women in computing is nearly twice the national average. Our hope is that this addition will only continue to expand the school’s incredible opportunities in technology for more young women and people of color.
I can’t wait to see what these students do.

Melinda Gates, Facebook, March 4, 2019

I’m a big fan of Mrs. Gates because she champions women and people of color in STEM.

Review: A.J. Juliani Workshop

How to Turn Any Unit into a Project-Based Learning Experience

If you’re an educator and you don’t know about this Scratch Your Itch podcaster, #bemorechef blogger, tweeter @ajjulianai, father of four young children (nine and under), author, and oh-so-much-more teacher leader who advocates “intentional innovation,” then it’s time you got to know about him. While there are many teacher leaders to follow, Juliani is really interesting and remains my favorite!

He offers many resources for educators from free webinars to workshops for your conference, organization, or school to downloadable resources and units on Teachers Pay Teachers. This week, he offered a free webinar titled “How to Turn Any Unit into a Project-Based Learning Experience.” I found this exceptionally appealing because it underlies my belief that we need to change the way we do education. I believe integrated STEM, which uses PBL, is the ticket to that change.

How so? Well in a nut shell, project- and problem-based learning (PBL) experiences allow students to engage in their learning in ways that traditional sit-and-get methods deny. These experiences give students choice, enrich their P21 skills (learn more here), and can actually cover the standards that you’re so hooked on teaching. And that’s not meant as a reproach–but as a recognition of our need as teachers to assure students are equipped to pass standardized tests–especially for those educators whose evaluation scores are tied directly to student performance on those tests. (That put the fear in me as a teacher.)

So what did I learn in Juliani’s webinar? The title is the best introduction to his webinar. In short, it’s about turning standards-driven units into authentic project-based learning in five steps.

Every student in our schools is someone else’s whole world.

Tom Murray

Caring deeply for education is the main motivator for Juliani. He views each child through fatherly lenses–knowing, that as Tom Murray says, they are someone else’s whole world. From this vantage point, finding the best methods for engaging students in authentic learning becomes almost religious in its nature for him.

Consider curriculum, standards, and pacing guides. In this workshop, Juliani asks us to stop and think about how we might mesh those with PBL? Now also consider that there isn’t a magic bullet, he says. In fact, you can expect to go through a process and do some work. The end results will make it worth it, and research already informs us that all around the world, teachers see their students achieve at higher levels when using a PBL approach to learning.

Before the workshop launched into the five steps, we took a brief tour of many career concerns that paint our children’s futures. What careers will exist for them in 5 or 10 years, especially when automatons are replacing many jobs, and many jobs haven’t even been envisioned yet? What skills do employers seek (problem solving, teamwork, communication, initiative, flexibility, etc.), and are those skills testable on standardized tests? Why does student engagement drop substantially from grade school to high school?

The last question is answered with a graphic about the principles of learning and engagement. Apparently, the principles haven’t changed over time. They state that learning must be human, social, language-based, and meaning-centered. Do you see the build-up to PBL here? Anyhow, while the principles haven’t changed, the definitions have. In other words, being social looks way different in 2019 than it did in 1960. (Do you have your smartphone out at the moment?) So have the other principles. Do you see the build-up here to the need to change our education system?

And what is engagement anyhow? According to Juliani, it means “getting kids excited about our content, interests, curricula.” With engagement as the foundation of his five steps, the workshop turns to the heart of the matter. So what follows are Juliani’s five steps for taking any unit, any current curriculum we have from our pacing guides, and turning it into a project-based learning unit.


Have a reason for project-based learning that starts with a problem, challenge, or inquiry other than standards. For example, you have a product in mind that you would like students to create, or a natural phenomenon that piques everyone’s curiostiy, or awareness of an issue, or students’ personal interests, or a problem to solve locally or globally. Life is so much more interesting when you look at it from ideas such as these rather than from a list of standards that students should know. Do you teach to be evaluated, or do you teach for personal reasons? Similarly, do students learn for the sake of standardized tests or because they are interested in something?


Have a focus on what students are going to learn–what knowledge and skills they will acquire and master in your unit. Learning may be based on student interests, but you as the teacher are aware of the standards that connect to learning how to research, learning how to analyze and apply through inquiry, learning how to write, present, evaluate, and create through inquiry (think Bloom’s New Taxonomy here), and more. You will discover that a well-done PBL unit covers more standards in a few weeks than if you taught by singling out standards to teach day-by-day. Also, consider that there are more standards than just your math, science, and ELA ones. For example, take a look at ISTE’s standards and P21’s framework.

In traditional instruction, students receive information. In PBL instruction, students discover information.

A.J. Juliani


Have in mind what students might make, create, or design, and who they are creating for and why. How will this demonstrate what they have learned? Be intentional about this so that STEP 1 and STEP 2 are included in this stage. Be authentic and have purpose. Create something that matters. Share it! Finally, be aware that this stage completely allows students to personalize how they demonstrate their understanding. That equals engagement, if you ask me.

Global Goals for Sustainable Development
A great example of authenticity connects middle schoolers to “The Global Goals” and asks them to choose one of the seventeen as a focus for their projects, then research the goal while answering what the world needs to know about it and what can be done about it.


Be clear about how to scaffold and structure the experience for learning and choose a consistent process. Juliani relates a story about his first big mistake in PBL, which was not including this step. His students were excited about the whole idea, but they didn’t really know what to do and where to begin. They didn’t know the steps needed to make it happen. The few who had some idea of what to do tended to do all the work themselves while their teammates simply checked out mentally. This step is very important and must get equal attention in your PBL unit planning. Think: We are not a guide on the side, but a guide–a guide on the ride. Give your students a plan and call them to action, Juliani says as he referenced Miss Frizzle and Dumbledore, and scaffold student ownership so that nobody gets left behind.

Need to learn how to get students to do the talking? Visit A.J. Juliani’s 3-step process at You’ll learn about the discussion game, the fish bowl, and the symposium.

Finally, select a framework or a design-thinking process that structures the learning and stick with it. Be sure to plan check-ins and student conferences along the way. Here is a list of resources referenced in this workshop:


Know when students will self-assess, revise, and reflect, and assess their learning and their process–not just their final product.

This isn’t about the projects. It’s not about the final product – it is about the project-based learning experience. The L in PBL is the most important part of PBL.

A.J. Juliani

An interesting and important distinction made at this point of the workshop centers on the difference between failure, which is permanent, and failing, which is temporary and is about the process. The learning process in PBL should be iterative, should include failing again and again until something finally works, and should include unlearning and relearning. This is where success meets student ownership! “We did it,” they shout!

Juliani wraps up his workshop talking about some final, important considerations. For starters, how do we use peer feedback and rubrics? I really found the GRIT rubric that he discussed to be useful and interesting. The acronym stands for guts, resiliency, integrity, and tenacity. Click here to learn more about it.

He also talked about the changes in the role of a teacher in a modern classroom by comparing Blockbuster to Netflix. Netflix took Blockbuster’s model (cheap, convenient) and made it more accessible to everyone. How do we shift our role as teachers? He suggests that our job as teachers is “to help kids learn to prepare themselves for anything” as opposed to us preparing them for something. It fits nicely with the Blockbuster/Netflix analogy, doesn’t it?

Finally, teachers worry about the time constraints, the curriculum map, the test, and so on. How does Juliani iron out these questions? He does so by citing the research that demonstrates the effectiveness of project-based learning on retention and understanding, which ultimately leads to better standardized test scores. The traditional approach isn’t what prepares students better. Want to see the research? Go to and you will find supporting evidence for that statement.

The Importance of STEM in K-12 Education Video

Here’s a nifty little video that has valid introductory points about the need for more STEM graduates to assure the USA’s place in the changing world economy. It suggests a couple of boiled-down fixes for the problem: Model-Eliciting Activites and Project-Based Learning. Then it lists 10 best practices for teaching math and science. If you like info in a nutshell, this is it.

What it lacks is any mention of the lack of diversity in STEM fields and the need to attract women and people of color into such studies and careers. It also lacks any mention of integrating STEM or of including English Language Arts, social studies, music, and art in its practice. But what can you expect from a short and sweet advertisement for a university program?

Despite the criticism, I’m still sharing it to whet your appetite. I liked it! Just stay with Ed on its Head and you’ll learn more and more about integrated STEM and other novel ideas for improving education in our country.

A.J. Juliani

If you’ve not heard of A.J. Juliani, and you are interested in better teaching, head over to his site to learn more and to sign up for his emails.

Heck – jump right in and sign up for his seminar Monday night, which I’ll be reviewing here after the fact.

Here’s his email to me (listserv):

From:  <aj @>
Date: Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 3:29 PM
Subject: 5-Step Process for Creating Authentic PBL That Covers Standards and Curriculum

Wow, we’ve got over 700 people registered for the free workshop tomorrow night. It is all about taking any unit and turning it into a PBL experience that covers standards and your curriculum. I’m going to show you the 5-step process to do just that!

The Free Online Workshop is happening this Monday night at 9pm EST. You can sign-up to be a part of the training right here!

Sign-Up For My Free Workshop: How To Turn Any Unit into A Project-Based Learning Experience

Can’t wait to share this process with you and see how you can take PBL to the next level of authentic learning!