Manual Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: A Primer

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We coded 34 concept maps as described above and then counted how many people included each theme in their concept maps. After all maps were coded for the themes, we counted the occurrence of each theme, recorded these for each individual, and compiled the total inclusion of each theme. This allowed us to respond to our main research question. To address our two sub-questions, we then looked at the frequency of theme inclusion for each context group RSA, TrMS, PD faculty and also determined the frequency of inclusion of each theme by general role groups: STEM teachers 18 secondary math, science, technology, engineering, CTE teachers , non-STEM teachers 5 secondary special education or ELL teachers , school or district administrators 5 , and non-school-based external partners 6 partners from businesses or organizations or regional PD providers.

We present a discussion of our analyses in the next section. The use of concept maps to elicit conceptualizations of STEM education has multiple limitations. Although we allowed participants to construct their maps in non-traditional ways, including writing a paragraph instead of mapping, some may have felt uncomfortable portraying their ideas using this type of representation or may not have included all their ideas. While the interviews provided an opportunity for participants to add to or expand upon their representations, participants may have held ideas they did not want to share, lacked the ability or language to represent, or perhaps were not considering at the time of the interview.

Moreover, participants may not have mentioned certain ideas they perceived as obvious, such as the inclusion of all students in STEM experiences. There are also limitations related to the participant pool. There were limited numbers of non-STEM teachers 5 , administrators 5 , and external partners 6 in comparison with the number of STEM teachers 18 who participated. However, the concept maps and interviews with all participants provide insight into the variation that is possible in making sense of STEM education.

We first tabulated the inclusion of theme by individuals and calculated the percentage of participants who included each theme. Interview data provided detail on how each participant conceptualized these themes. The reading, the writing, the art, the creativity. You know?

Brenda, interview, January 29, A member of the PD faculty who was also the principal of an elementary STEM school talked about how real-world problems helped the teachers develop integrated curricula:. What we do is intentionally interweave the S, the T, the E, the M into instruction. So, at a typical elementary or middle school, often subjects are segmented and segregated, kind of siloed.

Our commitment is that our students are doing STEM every day ….

We intentionally plan STEM … we take the standards and cut them all apart and then piece them all together so we have consistent themes or overarching problems for students to solve. Bridget interview, September 30, A middle school science teacher from RSA also included real-world connections and instructional decision-making on his map. In his interview, he explained why real-world connections were important and how he developed these:.

And so I started with real world scenarios, just because to me the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, kind of the end goal is getting students more fully prepared for real life. And so having them deal with real world scenarios helps them to do that. Couple of different ways to do that, one I had input from professionals …. And then opportunities to see and experience that real world, or real work, environment or conditions. Hunter interview, November 4, Participants represented these three themes integration, real-world connections, and instructional practices separately on their maps but, as seen by these comments, often revealed significant relationships among these themes in their interviews.

The opportunity for students to develop and practice twenty-first century skills and dispositions was also included on over half of the concept maps. Participants listed specific skills, such as collaboration, communication, and perseverance. Expanding on this area in interviews, some connected these skills to career and life opportunities. As a TrMS math teacher described:. I think the end goal, what I would really want is students who can problem solve. Olivia interview, January 26, Less than one third of the participants included an explicit reference to STEM education as providing opportunities for all students to participate and be successful Equ.

We further discuss the low representation of these categories in the next section. We first calculated the frequency of the inclusion of each theme for each context group. Aside from the attributes common across all participants interdisciplinary, instructional practices, and real-world problem solving , the statewide PD faculty, a group composed of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, commonly focused on broader concepts such as the global, societal value of STEM education Val.

The development of partnerships between schools and STEM professionals was addressed in multiple sessions during the institute, and two thirds of the PD faculty retained ideas about this attribute of STEM education when constructing their concept maps. Ideas related to technology Tech were not commonly included on the PD faculty maps. Three of the four who included technology were people who worked most directly with it: the STEM school principal whose third- through eighth-grade students all had iPod touches or laptops, one of the business partners, and the district-level CTE director.

Equity was a major theme of the institute, including a focused session at the beginning of the week and embedded in multiple sessions throughout. Only one third of the PD faculty included standards Stan , although standards received significant attention in a number of sessions during the institute.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

Also, less than half of this group included ideas about the student learning experience StLE or twenty-first century skills 21CS. The roles of PD faculty outside of the context of the institute might better explain why these three themes were not more frequently included on the concept maps of this group. We will discuss that in a subsequent section.

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An eighth-grade science teacher explained:. I mean my kids go off and see three different math teachers. Anthony interview, December 9, Again, the context was important. Many of the comments reflected a negative relationship between the need to address standards and the desire to enact interdisciplinary, project-based curricula. Shawn, an eighth-grade teacher who had developed a new STEM elective course, commented on standards in this way:. Interview, December 9, These participants worked in two traditional middle schools in a district and state context where teachers were attempting to understand how to support students in meeting CCSS for mathematics and language arts, as measured by state achievement test data.

While the curricular units provided by the TESI project were aligned, the other instructional materials provided by the district were purchased prior to these new standards. For a week, students who had struggled with the content of their math or science courses joined their teachers in tackling engineering design challenges.


Only four teachers explicitly identified this as an important feature of STEM education. Others may have implied ideas about equity in other aspects of their concept maps, but there were no other explicit words or ideas either on maps or in interviews that we could code for this theme. Three themes were seldom included or not included at all.

This reflected a focus of their school philosophy, where building sustainable partnerships was supported with a half-time faculty position dedicated to cultivating business and academic partners to support student learning. Similar to the other context groups, only 5 of the 13 participants from RSA included ideas about technology Tech , although the technology was an explicit component of the school.

Making sense of “STEM education” in K-12 contexts

The robotics and pre-engineering teacher discussed her vision for how technology should be integral to a STEM school:. For maker space, fabrication projects, things like that. I mean both room as well as having the tools available. You know I mean just. Rachel interview, November 6, The technology was of great importance to some of the RSA participants but not considered by the majority. Ideas related to standards Stan were included on less than one third of the concept maps of the participants from RSA. While these teachers worked in the same state context as the TrMS teachers, they were located in a different district.

More importantly, their school context differed. Teachers may have been more focused on the need to develop curriculum to address the school vision of interdisciplinary, project-based learning than to align with standards. You do everything you can to support student success and you make it happen.

Because every child can learn, every child wants to learn and be successful. And we just have practices and things in place in K that separate out, that rank, and we know in our hearts and in our minds that not all students learn everything at the same pace, the same rate. Sandra interview, June 4, Also, the robotics teacher connected the curriculum ideas on her map to the challenge she faced in getting more girls interested in STEM areas Rachel interview, November 6, Others did not specifically reference ideas related to equitable student opportunities.

Teachers of STEM-specific courses comprised the largest group, with 18 participants. Thus, it is not surprising that the most commonly included themes by individual and by context group are also those that STEM teachers most commonly included. They must identify or develop interdisciplinary curricula IntDis and determine how to bridge from in-school to real-world problems RWPS. They understand that supporting students in the project- or problem-based learning experiences StLE will require instructional approaches that may differ from traditional, teacher-centered practices InstPrac.

The interdisciplinary nature of STEM learning was by far the most salient feature for non-STEM teachers as well, and a significant focus by the administrators and external partners.

But like literally every single thing is intermingled. All of it just goes together. Brittany interview, November 10, Real-world problem solving RWPS and ideas about instructional practices InstPrac were also included by the majority of non-STEM teachers, but the remaining themes were not consistently included.

Many of the non-STEM teachers connected the need for an interdisciplinary approach to real-world problem solving yet faced challenges in connecting this approach to the standards they felt necessary to address. I wish we had more time. School and district administrators all included ideas related to instructional practices, and most also included ideas about the student learning experience StLE and interdisciplinary curricula IntDis.

The Future of Learning in STEM Education

Administrators largely recognized most of the thematic elements of STEM education, except for the more global value Val. In comparison, nearly all the external partners regional PD providers and business or organization partners included ideas related to this broader value of STEM education Val as well as connections to real-world problems RWPS. External partners included external partnerships at a higher frequency than other groups.

Administrators, who tend to have responsibilities that relate to a large number of educational issues, gave explicit attention to numerous elements. Similarly, the broader outlook of the external partners, reflected in their attention to global values of STEM education in their concept maps, is consistent with their duties and responsibilities inside the STEM education system. The ways in which the teacher participants made sense of STEM education was also consistent with their roles and responsibilities.

Most teachers found interdisciplinary and real-world connections to be especially relevant. However, STEM teachers were also more likely to consider content standards, instructional approaches commonly associated with STEM education such as project-based learning, and twenty-first century skills in their conceptions.

Non-STEM teachers were much more attentive to more general attributes of instruction, such as student-centered practices, engagement, and participation.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Education : Noa Lemoine :

Those working with the implementation of STEM education are well aware that while core elements have been identified Kelley and Knowles ; LaForce et al. In this way, enacting STEM education entails innovation and motivates sensemaking. What is seen as most important to attend to or innovate around may differ in relation to professional roles and contexts. Sensemaking provided a useful framework Fig. Context appears to have some relationship with the ideas about STEM education noticed and retained by participants.

On the other hand, the professional identities of non-STEM teachers e. Teachers at the two middle schools were enacting STEM curricula in the context of a traditional middle school, with compartmentalized science and mathematics and a curricular focus aligned with statewide tests. Given these constraints, teachers in a more traditional school context may not take up ideas about STEM education that they encounter in professional learning experiences as readily as those in a STEM school context.