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Pennsylvania Association for Career and Technical Education Fall 2012 Newsletter


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Fitting the Common Core Standards Into CTE

Common Core Expert Describes What CTE Does Right and Ways to Improve 

With plans in Pennsylvania to move to the common core national set of standards next year, schools are looking to incorporate these new standards into their teaching. And CTE instructors are examining how their current practices fit into the common core.

According to Dan Perna, currently focusing on the common core and instructional strategies with nine technical schools in Pennsylvania, “schools can develop a strategy to take the common core statements and develop them into practices.”

There is a rule Perna uses for CTE teachers incorporating the common core. “Think of the standards of practice as the end result and the common core as the practice to get you there.”

The Literacy Side
“The common core on the literacy side can be activities practiced on a regular or sustained basis,” says Perna about the literacy common core standards in a CTE setting.

Perna’s Sites for the Common Core 

The Lexile Framework for Reading is a valuable piece of information about either an individual's reading ability or the difficulty of a text.

ASCD has a special section where all of their resources on the common core are housed.

This site explains the foundations of the common core state standards and provides a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a consortium of 23 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers.

“If I am a CTE teacher outside of the reading specialty focusing on the common core, I am saying to myself, ‘what can I do to have the common core be a way to practice skills my students need to have?’”

Perna explains that in the culinary arts a program of study goal might be food presentation techniques. A common core statement in reading is to site specific text analysis.  To combine these two statements, the teacher would ask students to find the place in their book on how to prepare a chef salad and mark it.

The next step is to take the specific evidence and put together a conclusion. So a teacher can use a graphic organizer and tell the students to write down five steps on how to prepare a chef’s salad after they read the passage. The final step is the students make the chef salad.

“The idea of the common core is to comprehend what you read,” says Perna. “So you go from the first step being the physical finding of the information, the second step of synthesizing and drawing conclusions, and the third step of demonstration and application.”

The one area of the common core that Perna advises many teachers on is determining meaning.  He explains that vocabulary to most teachers is giving out a list of words, but the common core does not say students need to memorize definitions. The standards call for students to determine meaning. “This is an important reading skill,” says Perna. “We all guess at words as we read. We determine an approach that works for us to figure out a meaning.”

The common core literacy standards, “removed the silos that content-area standards put in place,” says Perna. “Teachers are now responsible for developing literacy skills regardless of what they teach.”

The Math Side
Perna uses a short story to explain the difference between the math and literacy common core.  “I can speak to a group of teachers and ask them if they have read the common core standards and all their hands go up. Then I will ask if they have read the math common core and only the math teachers’ hands stay up.”

According to Perna, the math common core standards are different than the literacy standards. The math standards are a set of statements directed at specific content rather than a set of skills that cut across the curriculum like the literacy standards.

“It is a challenge for technical teachers,” says Perna. “The terminology in the math common core standards was not developed for technical teachers.”

Perna believes that schools need to determine their own strategy, but schools should be “cautious about having non-math teachers teach high school math standards. If they do this, they better align the instruction and curriculum to the standards.”

Perna advises that if the math standards will be taught across the curriculum, there needs to be additional professional development to help teachers understand what the common core statements in math mean to their area.

ACTE's Common Core Resources 




One way Perna suggests schools do this is to have CTE teachers working directly with a math teacher. “The math teacher can work with the CTE teachers to go over what they do in their programs and how it relates to the standard.”

For example, schools can have math and CTE teachers team teach or come together for lesson preparation. “The critical thing would be to have math teachers sit down with the tech teachers and discuss what math-related curriculum is being taught. Then the math teacher will assess what standards they are teaching.”

What We Can Learn From CTE Teachers
Perna explains that CTE instructors have done a lot of what other teachers will need to do with the common core.

“Tech teachers truly understand competencies. They know this through the programs of study,” Perna explains. “Too much curriculum is based on content and not on skill. What tech teachers do is look at what skill is the standard asking for. This is an approach that benefits all teaching.”

For Perna, the basics of the common core for all teachers are to understand the terminology in the standard and have the students practice the skills outlined in the standards.

“It is contextual learning while the students are learning their own content,” explains Perna. “It gives teachers the answers to, ‘why am I instructing?’ It gives greater purpose to their teaching.”

PACTE Fall 2012 Newsletter Perna Article

Career Exploration in the CTE Classroom: When You Know What They Know

A student decides to enter a program at a career and technical center because the job looked cool on a television show. Or maybe they think it is a quick way to get a job without an advanced degree. Or maybe they think they can earn a lot of money really fast.

What does a teacher do to dispel those myths, teach students the skills for their chosen profession, and get students on the correct path? The answer is career exploration.

Karen Rivosecchi, a faculty member and department chair at the IUP Center for Career and Technical Personnel Preparation, and Elizabeth Zelina, graphic arts and printing instructor at the Beaver County Career and Technology Center, have been working on ways to help teachers understand what their students know about the profession they are studying. These efforts better align instruction and help students get to where they want to be.

“It is important for instructors to know what their students know because they need to relate the occupation to their students’ interests and abilities,” says Rivosecchi.  “It gives students that spark and keeps them engaged. It gives them the relevance for how to use the skills they are learning. It also gives teachers the opportunities to dispel any myths that the students may have.” 

Classroom Activities
It does not take any bells and whistles for career and technical education instructors to explore career options with their students.

Rivosecchi describes an initial writing assignment for students where they describe their ideal career, the salary they think they will earn, and the education they think they will need for their profession. “With this assignment you can see what misconceptions students have and you can help them not go through their education with false information,” says Rivosecchi. “It also provides teachers the opportunity for encouragement. They can tell students, ‘if this is where you want to go and you need to further your education, your portfolio work here will be great when you interview.’  Or ‘your work here can get you advanced placement at the community college and you can start ahead.’ It helps them see where they will end up.”

Rivosecchi also says, “This is a great writing practice in addition to the career exploration. The free writing really allows the instructor to see their students’ knowledge level.”

Zelina describes a career poster activity. The students construct a timeline poster of their next 15 years. The poster shows where they expect to be, how they will get there, where they will live, and other important information about their path. The students age a photo of themselves 15 years to go with the poster.

“It is a reality check for them,” says Zelina. “It also gives them a set of skills that they need to learn in the classroom.”

Zelina also puts students’ resumes on a board and when they are accepted or hired, their acceptance letter goes up on the board with their resume.  “It motivates everyone,” she says.

What It Means for the Classroom
Zelina has seen some changes in her classroom since adding these activities to her instruction. “The students are more engaged because they notice that you are thinking of them. The students know that their teachers want them to get where they want to be.”

Online Resources 

O Net Online–The U.S. Department of Labor’s career exploration and job analysis tool.

The Vocational Information Center–This website is an education directory that provides links to online resources for career exploration, technical education, workforce development, technical schools, and related vocational learning resources.

Pennsylvania Career Guide–The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, publishes an annual career guide and accompanying resource guide.

The activities were an eye opener for Zelina. She always figured her students knew certain things about the profession because they chose to be in the program, but they didn’t.  This knowledge changed how Zelina introduced topics. She explains more about the careers involved with the skills she is teaching.

For example, many of her students did not understand the differences between a two-year versus a four-year postsecondary institution, the different levels of degrees, and what you can accomplish with those degrees. “It is interesting to know what students know, but teachers also need to explain what their students can do,” she says.

For Rivosecchi, she sees that it helps her teachers cater their instruction and draw in relevant resources. “If the teacher understands that her students have an interest in attending The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then the teacher might want to bring in a speaker from the school or alumni from the center who are at the institute.  This way the students can see what the path would be like.”

Rivosecchi believes the most important piece is to highlight alumni from the center’s program. “It is someone who walked in their shoes,” she explains. She emphasized having alumni that have followed various paths and inviting alumni who are working at various levels in the occupational area to speak to the class. “This shows all levels of students that you can find a place in the career path.”

Zelina adds that it allowed her to see what her students were really interested in, dispel myths, and show her students realistically how to get to their destination. Zelina also started catering to other areas her students may not be aware of, offer college visits, and other options.

For example, Zelina had a student who was interested in criminal justice. Zelina incorporated forensic and crime scene photography into her classroom to help her student. “I had the student focus on textures and other skills that I knew you would need in a criminal justice field.”

Rivosecchi said she has seen other examples in the health professions. One student-teacher had students whose goals were somewhere on the nursing career ladder. However, the students did not know what the differences were for a licensed practical nurse, a registered nurse, or a nursing assistant. The teachers would teach specific skills for the students based on their intended position so the students could see what path they were on with the skills they learned. One health program used a guide sheet so that the students could see the SAT scores they needed to have, how far in advance they need to apply to nursing programs, and the health checks that they may not realize were needed. 

Final Thoughts
Zelina says the best thing about career exploration is that it gives instructors incredible insight into their students.

For Rivosecchi, it helps her teachers understand why they are teaching. “I tell my teachers that you can teach students all the skills, but if you do not make the right connection, it falls short for them.”

PACTE Fall 2012 Newsletter Exploration

CTC’s House Project Brings Profits, Experience to Center

Students at the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center (SCCTC) have one credential many in the carpentry field do not have. They built sellable, livable homes.

Students enrolled in the SCCTC’s carpentry/cabinetmaking and electrical/plumbing/heating programs are involved in the house building project. Approximately 70 ninth- through twelfth-grade students take the theory they learn in their classroom instruction and take it to the field site.

“Building these homes is a requirement of the program,” says worksite coordinator Gary Fenton. “We are trying to get them ready to work.”

In an effort to prepare students to participate in the house construction, carpentry/cabinetmaking instructor, Bruce Castelli, and electrical/plumbing/heating instructors, Stephen Reinhart and John Gazzillo, deliver theory and skills training in the classrooms. Both programs also have an integrated literacy and math curriculum to prepare students academically and technically to further their education at the jobsite with Fenton.

Currently, Fenton is working with carpentry students to put up the vinyl siding. After a few days of instruction the students come out to the home and start putting on the siding. “When they get to a part with a window, I bring everyone over and then we do some more instruction about how to cut around a window,” says Fenton.

Fenton says that graduates of the program have become self-employed, work for area contractors, or were accepted to two-year postsecondary programs.

“The best part of this program is that it gives students live exposure to construction,” says Fenton. “My students have a sense that someone is buying this house. There is a better sense of quality control and the students have great pride in their workmanship since we are selling it.”

And his students agree. Josh Harris, a senior in the building trades program has helped with the framing and the siding. “My favorite part of the project was the framing. It is the fastest part and the most profitable part,” he said.  “A student can’t get any better experience than this.”

Brian Biskin, a junior in the electrical/plumbing/heating program, has begun putting in the electrical and installing scaffolding. He says that “you learn as much as you can as quickly as you can,” in this program.

Every two years a house is completed and sold. The first house, a 1,500-sqaure-foot ranch home, sold for $168,000. The second home, a 1,800-square-foot home with stone work, sold for $205,000.

The third home is a vinyl and brick, 2,100-square-foot, two-story home. It sits on 2.1 acres of land along Hunsinger Road in Springville. The three-bedroom home features two and a half baths, a deck, a wraparound porch, office/den area, and a two-car garage.

The house projects are funded through the school. The price of the home pays for the materials, plus any additional profit the school board decides they would like to make. The houses are sold during a sealed bid auction for under market value.

Fenton said that during the last school year students from the carpentry/cabinetmaking program were working on rough siding the home and students from the electrical/plumbing/heating program were installing the rough plumbing and electrical. The house is scheduled to be finished during the 2012-13 school year.

“The house projects have been such a success in the past that we will look forward to multiple bids from the community,” says Alice Davis, director at the center. “Board members, administration, staff, and of course the students have a deeper sense of pride as each new home is built.”

PACTE Fall 2012 Newsletter SUS

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The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is the nation’s largest not-for-profit association committed to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers. ACTE represents the community of CTE professionals, including educators, administrators, researchers, guidance counselors and others at all levels of education. ACTE is committed to excellence in providing advocacy, public awareness and access to resources, professional development and leadership opportunities.

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ACTE is committed to enhancing the job performance and satisfaction of its members; to increasing public awareness and appreciation for career and technical programs; and to assuring growth in local, state and federal funding for these programs by communicating and working with legislators and government leaders.


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