Posted by: Carol | September 21, 2011

UCCI Institute and the “a-g” Project

Over the past month, you may have seen the announcements regarding the upcoming University of California Curriculum Integration (UCCI) Institute taking place this November, in Santa Barbara, CA.

What is that, you wonder?

I wondered myself, so took an opportunity presented to me, to attend one of these institutes as an observer, last spring. Here’s what I learned.

The What

UCCI Institute is the result of the “a-g” project, funded by the CTE Pathways Initiative. The “a-g” Project seeks to promote and support greater curricular integration in CTE and core academic classes offered in high schools, in order to increase the number of CTE offerings that are approved as “a-g” courses, and can, as a result, satisfy application requirements for students applying to the UC and CSU colleges. It brings together CTE teachers and academic teachers in an offsite setting for four days of intensive collaboration and professional development.

All the costs associated with attending the Institute, excluding transportation to the site, are covered by the “a-g” Project. But before you go rushing to apply, thinking this will be a great chance to catch up on your R&R in the beautiful surrounds of Santa Barbara on someone else’s dime, let me just tell you – this event is not for the faint of heart.

The UCCI Institute is a crash course in curriculum integration between two traditionally disparate educational offerings. The goal of UCCI Institute is to develop courses with dual utility – classes that would satisfy any CTE department’s requirements while simultaneously satisfying the requirements of the science/math/english/social studies department at any given high school. Doing this is harder than one may initially imagine. When you hear the words, “curriculum integration,” you may think, “Oh, that’s easy. We do that now. My culinary courses include some food science and we even read and discuss literature that involves topics of food and cooking.” You’d find yourself to be on the right track with those added elements, but not nearly far enough along the process to qualify your class as an “a-g” course.  Basically, in order for a CTE course (let’s say, a culinary class) to be integrated with an academic content area (let’s say biology) at the “a-g” approval level, you’d have to be able to take the integrated course directly to your science department, have them review the course syllabus, and feel completely comfortable making the statement, “This is a biology course.” Similarly, you’d have to be able to take the same exact course to CTE culinary arts instructors, have them review it, and feel as comfortable describing it as a CTE culinary arts class.

Challenging? No doubt. Doable? Absolutely.

The How

The days were long. Breakfast was served at 7 AM, and the first session would start at 8 AM. Most days, the final working session ended at 6:30 PM, after which dinner was served. Participants were sorted into one of six Curriculum Teams, and would meet with and work with their teams for about six hours a day, divided into four sessions. Each Curriculum Team was led by an experienced facilitator, and generally had an even split between CTE teachers and core academic teachers, with a smattering of administrators also present. Between the Curriculum Team sessions, full-group presentations and lectures were provided on a variety of topics, ranging from the use of technology and media in classrooms, to Common Core standards, to examples of high-performing CTE-integrated programs in California schools.

UCCI participants hard at work during a Curriculum Team session.

The Curriculum Team sessions were, on the whole, pretty intense. An enormous amount of work got done during those 4 days, and the meetings weren’t without controversy. Team members often had differing perspectives on the directions they thought the group should pursue, and in some of the teams, a significant portion of the first day and a half was spent on trying to establish clear goals along with  a common language and expectations around the tasks set before them. Once certain processes and concepts were ironed out, however, teams made extraordinary progress on drafting their new courses. The collaboration and commitment that were required by the process and generously extended by the participants were both impressive and inspiring to observe.

Along with the four days spent at the Institute, follow-up sessions were coordinated for team members to “meet,” via conferencing technologies in order to tie up loose ends on their new classes, before submitting them to the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) for approval.

The Why

I walked away from my time at the Institute with a strengthened appreciation of what is meant by “academically rigorous CTE coursework,” and what the increase in such offerings could mean for students across our state and the nation as well. One teacher at the Institute raised the question of, “Why is this necessary? Why can’t we just leave vocational ed as vocational ed?” His line of questioning suggested that to develop academically rigorous CTE courses was equivalent to making CTE courses – a recognized haven for some students who have a history of struggling in conventional academic classes – inaccessible to those very students.  The answer of course, is that all students can learn and succeed, given the right circumstances. Academically rigorous CTE courses can be the lynchpin to academic success for students whose key learning modalities often go unaddressed in conventional classrooms; to students who find conventional academic courses lacking in relevance; and to students who thrive in project-based learning situations and opportunities. And conversely, academically rigorous CTE courses can be the window to gaining practical, real-world, work experience for students who may otherwise be prohibited from such opportunities because of the weightier (for them) priority to meet their “a-g” requirements, within their packed school schedules.

That, and really,  how else can we begin to create a space where mastery of knife technique and the knowledge of mitosis are given equal respect and regard?

For more information on participating in a UCCI Institute, check out the website here. Applications for this fall’s Institute are due September 22, 2011.


  1. Looks like the UC is in charge……this does not fit with industry certification standards and programs. (EETC, NIMS, NATEF, ATTS, AWS)

    If these UC concepts for specific areas were used for music, students would never spend time in orchestra or band rehearsing music for performance. Instead, they would be doing all kinds of “integrated” stuff without ever touching the instrument they use to play in large groups.

    In CTE SHOP classes, students must practice using equipment and tools (like musicians practicing together and practicing on instruments to improve skills) to perfect “hands on” skills. This work has to go on every day over an entire life time. It looks to me like these integration activities will replace SHOP time with academic studies.

    It is great that a person in construction has learned about geometry, trig and measurement due to this integration movement. But if he/she never practiced and mastered how to use the tools of the trade during the SHOP class because it all was taken up with academic work, this person will be of little use in building a home as a trades person.

    Keep the SHOP classes for pure “hands on” work as related to industry certification standards.. Train the academic teachers in SHOP skills and have them teach those skills integrated into academic subjects.

  2. John, you make some good observations here. Perhaps I should have elaborated more in my write-up of these integrated courses, but the courses – to be truly integrated in the manner UCCI required – have to pass muster with CTE content & skills development as well as the academic content. So, for instance, if there were to be a construction course that was integrated for qualification as an “a-g” with geometry (via the template provided by the Institute), the course would have to include the required shop hours necessary to meet with certification guidelines, etc. It represents an interesting shift in the way curriculum integration has happened in the past, where any given class strongly favored either the CTE or the academic content/requirements to the detriment of the other. The “a-g” Project is seeking to develop courses where there is no sacrifice on either side, and I have to say, the teachers I observed working to develop these courses were doing a pretty good job of making sure that was the case.

  3. […] UCCI Institute, Spring 2012- The University of California is seeking motivated, talented high school educators to develop innovative new courses integrating Career Technical Education (CTE) with “a-g” subject areas, at the Spring 2012 UC Curriculum Integration (UCCI) Institutes, April 22-25, 2012 in Burlingame, California. The UCCI Institute model courses are designed to be approved as core “a-f” courses and designated as CTE courses. Participants are trained in “a-g” course submission requirements, and gain valuable skills with which to develop integrated “a-g” and CTE courses on their own. The two UCCI Institutes for Spring 2012 will focus on integrating the Arts, Media, and Entertainment CTE industry sector with the (“b”) English “a-g” subject area (those interested should apply here), and on the Building Trades and Construction CTE Industry Sector with the (“c”) Mathematics “a-g” subject area (those interested should apply here). The application deadline for this institute is March 5, 2012. You can read about our experience observing a past UCCI Insitute here. […]

  4. […] The UCCI is an intense but exciting professional development opportunity for secondary school educators. For those of you curious as to what it might be like, we blogged about one here. […]

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