I frequently had STEM students my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Introduction to Archaeology classes. In order to help make the courses resonate with these students I wove aspects of hard sciences throughout the courses. Below are a couple of specific examples.
For my Introduction to Archaeology class, I looked at the majors represented in the class and created mini-lectures connecting archaeology to today. For example, one semester I had multiple computer sciences students in the class. For one of the mini-lectures, I decided to trace the use of copper from its earliest utilization in prehistory through today’s uses in circuit boards and currency. The second time I taught the class, I had a couple of dentistry students in the class, so I made a mini-lecture about dental modification and dentistry in pre-history.
Medicine, nursing, and biology were some of the most popular majors in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class, so one week in the class was devoted to Medical Anthropology. For this week, the students watched a film about a botanist who uses ethnographic methods to learn about medicinal herbs used by the Bedouin people of Jordan. I love this film because it engages a wide range of STEM majors and demonstrates how it’s possible to incorporate ethnographic methods into non-anthropology careers. In the lecture for that week, I talk about how different cultures develop strategies to limit the transmission of HIV through education and prevention programs. In our class discussion, I ask the students to brainstorm culturally sensitive strategies for fighting Zika. This gives students an opportunity to work together and share their own expertise.
These are just a few examples of how I attempt to engage both STEM and non-STEM majors in my classes. In all of my courses, I end our first lecture with a list of all of the majors represented in the course, and I encourage the students to incorporate their areas of expertise into our discussions. I also use that list of majors to direct some of the special topics that we cover in the class. I think one of the keys to engaging students is being receptive to their knowledge and adapting the course to include information that is relevant to them.
For more ideas on how to assist your STEM students in their general education courses, come to InterACT’s next event: “Challenges in STEM University Education!” this Thursday.