Integrated STEM Education Experiences: Reviewing the Research^{1}

Many claims are made about the benefits to students’ learning and thinking of integrating education across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this chapter we explore the evidence relevant to whether and how integrated approaches to STEM education support a range of outcomes within and across the disciplines. The full range of outcomes was described in Chapter 2. Here, we consider two main types of outcomes: those related to learning and achievement and those related to interest and identity.

As noted in Chapter 2, integrated STEM instruction is typically accomplished through the use of problem-, project-, or design-based tasks to engage students in addressing complex contexts that reflect real-world situations. For example, students might be invited to build an oven that is environmentally friendly or functional in settings where people do not have access to electricity. The students would use the engineering process to create a solar oven and in doing so investigate a wide range of STEM concepts such as the thermal properties of materials and how density affects a material’s performance as a thermal insulator. They might use mathematics for measuring, and for graphing and interpreting data, and even develop a mathematical model of device behavior to inform the process of design.

_______________________

^{1} This chapter is based on the literature review overseen by David Heil and Associates and on commissioned papers by Angela Calabrese Barton, Michigan State University, Mary Gauvain, University of California, Riverside, and K. Ann Renninger, Swarthmore College.

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3
Integrated STEM Education Experiences:
Reviewing the Research 1
M
any claims are made about the benefits to students’ learning and
thinking of integrating education across science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this chapter we explore
the evidence relevant to whether and how integrated approaches to STEM
education support a range of outcomes within and across the disciplines.
The full range of outcomes was described in Chapter 2. Here, we consider
two main types of outcomes: those related to learning and achievement and
those related to interest and identity.
As noted in Chapter 2, integrated STEM instruction is typically accom-
plished through the use of problem-, project-, or design-based tasks to
engage students in addressing complex contexts that reflect real-world
situations. For example, students might be invited to build an oven that
is environmentally friendly or functional in settings where people do not
have access to electricity. The students would use the engineering process to
create a solar oven and in doing so investigate a wide range of STEM con-
cepts such as the thermal properties of materials and how density affects a
material’s performance as a thermal insulator. They might use mathematics
for measuring, and for graphing and interpreting data, and even develop
a mathematical model of device behavior to inform the process of design.
1 This chapter is based on the literature review overseen by David Heil and Associates
and on commissioned papers by Angela Calabrese Barton, Michigan State University, Mary
Gauvain, University of California, Riverside, and K. Ann Renninger, Swarthmore College.
51

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52 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
Through iterative design cycles the students would engage in planning, creat-
ing, testing, and improving their inventions.
As illustrated in this example, we define integration to mean working
in the context of complex phenomena or situations on tasks that require
students to use knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines.
LEARNING AND ACHIEVEMENT
Research on the impact of integrated experiences on students’ achievement,
disciplinary knowledge, problem-solving ability, and ability to make con-
nections between domains is not extensive, and concerns related to both
the design of studies and the reporting of results hamper the ability to make
strong claims about the effectiveness of integrated approaches. Nonetheless,
preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the well-designed studies. The
findings suggest that integration can lead to improved conceptual learning
in the disciplines but that the effects differ, depending on the nature of the
integration, the outcomes measured, and the students’ prior knowledge and
experience.
Most studies of STEM learning consider each discipline singly and do
not measure students’ ability to make connections across disciplines or their
proficiency with skills such as collaboration or general problem solving. In
addition, learning is often assessed using standardized achievement tests,
which may not effectively measure the full range of learning and reasoning
outcomes supported by integrated experiences. Assessment instruments on
integration are rare because theories and tests have generally focused on con-
tent area–specific concepts and procedures and because, as explained in
Chapter 2, there is no widely accepted definition of integrative thinking.
Beyond these assessment challenges, there are fundamental conceptual
difficulties as well. A major difficulty follows from the simple fact that disci-
plinary knowledge is structured—understanding disciplinary ideas depends
on understanding how they fit with other, related ideas. Concepts make sense
not as isolated facts but as elements of integrated bodies (or structures) of
knowledge, and learning means developing or “building” those structures,
often over extended spans of time.
Although education research has made some progress in understanding
how to help students construct coherent bases of disciplinary knowledge,
domain-general learning principles provide limited guidance. Instead, how

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 53
to support the development of disciplinary knowledge remains largely an
empirical enterprise, in which cycles of research and trials with students
and teachers gradually yield information about the most fruitful starting
points, what conceptual resources students bring, and the kinds of instruc-
tion that are needed. Because integrated knowledge structures are devel-
oped gradually, it takes time—weeks, months, or years—for esearchers r
to track their growth of student knowledge. Consequently, information
about how to best help students learn with understanding is still limited
to relatively few topics and has not yet resulted in widespread changes in
educational practices.
Given these difficulties, it is not surprising that very little is known about
how to organize curriculum and instruction so that emerging knowledge in
different disciplines will mesh smoothly and at the right time to yield the
kind of integration that supports coherent learning. Without very careful
attention to developing coherent knowledge structures, the danger is that
one or more of the “integrated” disciplines will receive short shrift in its
development.
Integrating Mathematics and Science
The most well-studied integrated STEM education pairing is that of math-
ematics and science (e.g., Berlin and Lee 2003, 2005; Czerniak et al. 1999;
Hurley 2001; Pang and Good 2000), but the number of studies that report
the effects of integration on student learning in these two subjects separately
is small. Moreover, the studies often are not explicit about the theory guid-
ing how learning in the two subjects is coordinated and developed. Czerniak
and colleagues (1999) noted in a review of the literature that there were few
empirical studies of the integration of mathematics and science; many of
the published articles promoted assumed benefits of integration or were
theoretical in nature. Yet among the few empirical articles, Czerniak and
colleagues saw a general trend toward a positive influence of integration
on science and mathematics learning, although they pointed out that the
descriptions of integration were so impoverished that it is difficult to make
generalizations about the different approaches described.
Hurley (2001) conducted a meta-analysis of 31 studies that compared
integrated mathematics and science instruction to a nonintegrated control
group and reported mathematics and/or science achievement measures. She

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54 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
found positive effects of integration on scores in both math (ES = .27)2 and
science (ES = .37), which is consistent with other meta-analyses that report
small to medium positive effects of integration (Hartzler 2000), although the
effects varied both by subject and by the year the study was conducted. The
lowest overall effect size for math achievement (ES = .07) was observed in
the 10 most recent studies reviewed (1980s–1990s) and was lower than the
effect for science achievement in all time periods.
Hurley also separated the achievement results by the level of integration
(as described in the study reports) using the following categories:
• Sequenced: science and mathematics are planned and taught sequen-
tially, with one preceding the other.
• Parallel: science and mathematics are planned and taught simulta-
neously through parallel concepts.
• Partial: science and mathematics are taught partially together and
partially as separate disciplines in the same classes.
• Enhanced: either science or mathematics is the major discipline
of instruction, with the other discipline apparent throughout the
instruction.
• Total: science and mathematics are taught together in intended
equality.
The effect size for mathematics achievement was positive and large when
using a sequenced integration model (for mathematics ES = .85, for science
ES = .34) but much lower for all other models of integration, ranging from
−.11 for parallel instruction to .20 for total integration; parallel instruction
also produced a negative effect size in science (ES = −.09). Both enhanced
instruction (.66) and total integration (.96) produced large positive effect
sizes for science.
Hurley also examined the 31 studies by grade level. At the elementary
level there was only one study that examined mathematics. At the middle
school level, two studies had outcomes for both science and mathematics.
At the high school level, six studies had science outcomes and four mathe
2 Effect size (ES) was calculated by subtracting the control group mean from the treat-
ment group mean and dividing by the combined standard deviation of the treatment and
control groups, following the recommendation of Hedges et al. (1989). Small effect sizes are
around .3 or less, medium effect sizes around .5, and large effect sizes .8 or above. A nega-
tive effect size indicates that the traditional group outperformed the experimental group.

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 55
matics outcomes. At the college level, two studies had outcomes for science
and three for mathematics.
At both the middle and high school levels the effect sizes for science
were higher than those for mathematics, indicating that it may be difficult
to enhance mathematics achievement by integrating the math into another
disciplinary context. Similar results in an unpublished meta-analysis of math
and science integration also suggest that there are fewer positive benefits
of integration for mathematics outcomes compared to science outcomes
(Hartzler 2000). One possible explanation is that attempts to integrate sci-
ence ideas with ideas from mathematics may interrupt a sequential approach
thought to help students investigate and elaborate the rich relations among
mathematical concepts and procedures (Lehrer and Schauble 2000).
In contrast, Lehrer and Schauble (2006) found enhanced development
of scientific concepts known to be challenging to students in the elementary
grades when the students use mathematics as a resource for representing
and modeling natural systems. These more carefully articulated studies of
the use of mathematical systems as tools for learning about natural systems
suggest that effect sizes may depend on details of the instructional approach
that are obscured by simple characterizations of the temporal sequence of
integration.
According to other studies, the nature of the mathematical tools and sys-
tems of representation available to students determine the depth and breadth
of learning about core ideas in science because mathematical forms
c
orrespond to forms of understanding natural systems. For example, Sherin
(2001) noted that university students’ models of force and motion were
bound with symbolic equations. When students worked with the relations
among quantities expressed by equations, they occasionally generated novel
equations that prompted elaboration and reconsideration of core concepts.
DiSessa (2000) posits that new forms of mathematical expression supported
by computational media can make new ways of understanding science
and mathematics accessible to larger numbers of students. For example,
tudies of student learning about complex systems indicate that agent-based
s
d
escriptions—descriptions that represent phenomena as a large collection of
interacting individuals—support learning about phenomena that are tradi
tionally difficult to learn, such as electricity (Sengupta and Wilensky 2011),
statistical mechanics (Wilensky 2003), and natural selection and population
dynamics (Dickes and Sengupta 2012; Wilensky and Reisman 2006).
Collectively, these studies suggest that the integration of mathematics
and science can be supported by engaging students in the invention and

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56 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
revision of mathematical models of natural systems. A strong implication
is that learning science entails learning to express the behavior of natural
systems as mathematical models, making this form of integration not merely
supportive of but indispensible to learning science.
Learning Science and Mathematics in the
Context of Engineering Design3
Design-based approaches, a hallmark of engineering education, have
received particular attention for their potential as a rich context for inte-
grated STEM. The effect of engineering on learning in science and mathe-
matics was examined in the NAE/NRC report Engineering in K–12 Education
(2009). The authoring committee found preliminary but promising evidence
of a positive impact of engineering on learning in science and mathematics.
However, two published empirical studies of Project Lead the Way (PLTW),
a major program in engineering education for middle and high schools,
showed mixed results when state achievement test scores were the basis of
comparison. In schools serving a high proportion of low-income families,
all students showed significant overall gains in mathematics and science
achievement scores between 8th and 10th grade regardless of their course
enrollment. However, students enrolled in one or more PLTW engineering
classes showed statistically less improvement in mathematics scores and
a nonstatistical difference in science achievement scores over that period,
compared with a control group (Tran and Nathan 2010a). In schools serv-
ing predominantly affluent families, PLTW students exhibited small gains
in mathematics achievement but no improvement in science achievement
compared with students in a control sample (Tran and Nathan 2010b).
The results of these two studies provide additional evidence that enhanc-
ing math achievement through integration with other disciplines is difficult
to do, and it is likely that students need additional support in place to see how
specific mathematics concepts and skills are integrated with the engineering
activities in order to exhibit substantial gains in mathematics achievement.
These studies also fail to show substantially larger gains for students partici-
pating in project-based engineering courses, underscoring the inconsistency
in current research on integrated STEM instruction.
3 This section is based in part on a commissioned paper by Petrosino et al. (2008) for the
NAE/NRC Committee on Engineering Education K–12.

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 57
Other research has demonstrated the effectiveness of learning science
concepts through design in some but not all situations (Baumgartner and
Reiser 1997; Fortus et al. 2004; Mehalik et al. 2005, 2008; Penner et al. 1997,
1998; Sadler et al. 2000). This approach can be effective if concepts are
introduced when students engage with the design activity (Baumgartner and
Reiser 1997; Fortus et al. 2004; Mehalik et al. 2007) or when design failure
provokes conceptual change as students redesign an artifact to meet a goal
(Lehrer et al. 2008). In addition, participant structures such as research
groups (Lehrer et al. 2008) and design sharing sessions (pinup sessions)
(Kolodner 2002) can provide conversational forums for clarifying and elabo-
rating relations between designed artifacts and scientific concepts. These
collective forms of activity are described more fully in Chapter 4.
Studies reveal that students may not spontaneously make connections
between the devices being designed and the related scientific concepts
(Crismond 2001; Kozma 2003; Nathan et al. 2013) and that they tend to focus
on aesthetic or ergonomic aspects of design (Crismond 2001; Penner et al.
1998). Connections between the representations and notation systems used
for design and for science need to be made explicit to students (Fortus et al.
2004; Nathan et al. 2013), or the material must be presented in such a way
that students grasp that they can invent and revise systems of representation
to understand how a natural or designed system works. Furthermore, the
scientific knowledge gained through design may be highly contextualized,
unless the activities are developed to support transfer of knowledge from
one context to another, for example by using designs that highlight similar
concepts across contexts (Fortus et al. 2004, 2005).
Design can elicit naïve conceptions from students. Explaining how a
device functions presents an opportunity for the exploration of appropri-
ate scientific concepts, especially in the case of redesign. However, without
instructional support nothing inherent in the design process will necessarily
challenge students’ ideas (Crismond 2001; Penner et al. 1997). Sadler and
colleagues (2000) demonstrated the potential of redesign as an avenue to
challenge naïve conceptions through rapid cycles of design activity that allow
for many iterations to refine the student’s understanding (see also Penner et
al. 1997, 1998). Redesign may be particularly useful for instruction because
many elements of the designed object are already working, and only a few
need to be focused upon and changed (Crismond and Adams, 2012).
When students engage in an engineering design task, they are likely to
develop contextually dependent ideas about designing (e.g., “rules of thumb”
and “how-to” knowledge). At least initially, without instructional support,

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58 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
their design ideas are unlikely to connect to or be coherent with normative
science ideas that might inform their designs.
Crismond (2001) showed that whereas experts recognize opportunities
to connect with science ideas, nonexpert designers miss them. Even after
lots of experience in given design contexts, individuals can reach an expert
level but connect very different ideas to the context depending on their own
conceptual frame. For example, aquarium hobbyists are likely to consider
the practical challenges of designing an aquarium to support a specific range
of aquatic organisms, whereas academic biologists may be more likely to
focus on very general notions about how energy exchanges drive the system
(Hmelo-Silver et al. 2007).
These findings highlight the need to carefully frame the instructional
goals and settings to support students in making links to concepts in science.
Box 3-1 provides an example of design as a context for integration.
A study of two elective digital electronics classes in two urban high
schools examined instructional strategies that can support students in build-
ing connections across different representations of a phenomenon or situa-
tion when they are engaged in the complexities of design (Nathan et al. 2013).
One classroom in each school was videotaped over 3 or 4 contiguous days; the
participating students were in grades 10–12. In one school students partici-
pated in a unit on a voting booth security system; in the other they designed
and built a digital circuit that tallied votes and passed resolutions only when a
majority affirmed the resolution (with a tie favoring the vote of the president).
Analyses of the instructional moves made by the teachers and interac-
tions between the teachers and students suggest that a key mechanism of
integrated STEM education is cohesion of central concepts across the math-
ematics and science representations, engineering objects, design and con-
struction activities, and social structures in the classroom. When cohesion
was supported, students made useful connections across STEM disciplines,
as was evident by their ability to move more fluidly among discipline-specific
representations (e.g., Boolean algebraic expressions, schematized logic gates,
and wiring of the digital circuits) and perform effective troubleshooting.
Cohesion was effected through four pedagogical mechanisms:
1. identification of invariant relations and disciplinary concepts
regardless of the surface features (Nathan et al. 2013);
2. coordination that “supports students’ reasoning and meaning mak-
ing by constructing clear links across representations and activities”
(Nathan et al. 2013, p. 110);

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 59
BOX 3-1
Example of Using Design as a Context for Integration
In a study with 6th graders, the activity of designing vessels that float
was used to make learning from experimentation more relevant to the
students (Schauble et al. 1995). After being given a design brief, students
individually constructed vessels and added weight until the vessel sank.
They then graphed their vessel with others that had similar carrying
c
apacities. This was followed by further individual work in which students
drew designs from various views and reflected on their previous design in
a journal. Working in teams, students negotiated their designs by experi-
menting with various aspects of them. These efforts were supplemented
by teacher and whole-class discussions of concepts such as buoyancy
and relative density. By synthesizing the data from the experimentation,
students could go on to plan their final design.
During this activity across several classrooms, a number of instruc-
tional challenges emerged. Although reflection is critical to learning, it
was difficult to balance reflection activities with time spent on the more
dynamic portions of the design process. It was also difficult to keep
students focused on the design rather than on diversions while still valu-
ing their background knowledge. And it was challenging to ensure that
students not only remained focused on their goal of making the best
vessel but also understood how various aspects of design could lead to
improvements.
Analysis of interviews with the students before and after the activ-
ity revealed that they learned science through design and showed an
i
mproved understanding of experimentation. It also revealed that from
an instructional perspective it was important to change only one variable
at a time. This was true even when variables that would not affect the
outcome of an experiment were altered. Instances in which teachers sub-
stituted or altered one irrelevant variable (such as using different types of
weights that look different but are the same weight) led to confusion for
the students, who were still developing an understanding of experimen-
tal procedure. Furthermore, teachers rarely discussed patterns in data,
assumng that they were obvious to the students; this was demonstrated
i
not to be the case. Finally, students were not spontaneously aware of
the value of examining the unsuccessful vessels for attributes to be
e
xcluded; this useful skill can be nurtured by explicitly drawing attention
to it (Schauble et al. 1995).
This example highlights the importance of framing and instructional
support in design activity for integrated STEM learning.

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60 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
3. forward projection to orient students to connections between cur-
rent events or representations and future ideas and activities, which
“facilitates planning, highlights pending importance, and prepares
students for future learning opportunities” (Nathan et al. 2013,
p. 110); and
4. backward projection to previously encountered ideas and events,
which “prompts students to engage in reflection and emphasizes
making connections between new and prior knowledge” (Nathan
et al. 2013, p. 110).
Learning Mathematics in the Context of Technology
Although evidence reviewed thus far indicates that it may be difficult to sup-
port mathematics learning in integrated contexts, at least two studies suggest
it can be done when explicit attention is given to mathematics learning.
Stone and colleagues (2008) studied mathematics-enhanced career and
technical education (CTE) courses in high school that covered multiple
occupational contexts—business and marketing, auto technology, health and
information technology, and agriculture (but not engineering). CTE teachers
were randomly assigned to teach courses either with enhanced mathe atics
m
or using traditional approaches. The teachers in the enhanced courses
received guidance on how to structure their classes and additional profes-
sional development and were partnered with a mathematics teacher. They
provided explicit opportunities for students to focus on the mathematics
concepts, rather than just using math in the occupational context. Students
in the two courses performed at similar levels in terms of technical skills,
but those in the math-enhanced courses did better on measures of general
math ability compared to students in the regular technical education courses.
A study of efforts to “infuse” mathematics in a 20-day middle school
engineering/technology (ETE) course (referenced in Chapter 2) also showed
promising results (Burghardt et al. 2010).4 Mathematics concepts and skills
were introduced in the ETE curriculum at critical points through focused
lessons to facilitate students’ ability to make connections between the dis-
ciplines. The mechanism used was a bedroom design activity, engaging
students in the planning, design, and physical modeling of a “bedroom”
that must meet specific cost and building requirements (e.g., the window
4 Infusion (the term used by the study authors) is similar to the enhanced approach to
integration described by Hurley (2001).

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 61
area must be at least 20 percent of the floor area, the minimum room size is
120 square feet, the minimum closet size is 8 square feet). Eighth-grade stu-
dents from 13 middle schools participated in the curriculum. Each teacher
involved in the infusion curriculum was compared with a teacher in a “busi-
ness as usual” technology class.
Students in both the infusion and comparison classrooms completed
an assessment of mathematics concepts that were relevant to the bedroom
design unit before and after instruction in the unit. Students in the infusion
classes showed greater gains in scores from pre- to post-test than those in the
control classes. It is important to point out, though, that the concepts on
the mathematics test were closely aligned to the bedroom design unit and it is
not clear from the study whether the students in the comparison classrooms
were exposed to these concepts.
In a recent analysis of nationally representative data from the Education
Longitudinal Study of 2002, Bozick and Dalton (2013) explored the effects
of enrollment in CTE courses on mathematics achievement. Controlling
for the characteristics of the students’ background and those of the school
or district, the authors found that enrollment in occupational courses
did not compromise mathematics achievement when such courses were
taken instead of academic courses. When examined alone, engineering and
technology courses—a subset of occupational courses that the authors say
incorporate quantitative skills, problem solving, and logic—were unrelated
to mathematics achievement.
Learning about Engineering and Technology
Very few studies have examined outcomes related to understanding engi-
neering and technology, but pilot studies conducted as part of a large-scale
curriculum intervention in New Jersey show some promising results.
Engineering Our Future New Jersey (EOFNJ) is a collaborative effort of
Stevens Institute of Technology, the New Jersey Department of Education,
the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) at the Museum of
Science, Boston, and others to bring exemplary technology and engineering
curricula, such as Engineering is Elementary (EiE) and A World in Motion,
to mainstream New Jersey K–12 education. The goal of EOFNJ is to ensure
that within the next five years all K–12 students in New Jersey experience
engineering curricula with a focus on innovation, as a required component
of their elementary, middle, and high school education. Pilot studies were
conducted at each school level.

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66 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
BOX 3-2 Continued
bulbs with CFLs. They used a video recorder to document the process
and to interview teachers and students on the topic. Chantelle’s two
friends led the effort, organized the spreadsheet, and made the sugges-
tions for where to go in the building; Chantelle pointed to the lightbulbs
in each video shot.
Chantelle’s role changed, however, when the girls began to edit the
video into a short documentary. She directed the editing, choreographed
each new scene, and added text and graphics to pull out the message.
As the group began to run out of time to finish the movie, Chantelle
e
dited the film in her spare time. The project took about 6 weeks.
The lightbulb audit received such rave reviews by peers in the club
that the girls were persuaded to seek permission to present their find-
ings to their school’s student congress and school leaders. When the
local electric company got word of the video from the school principal,
it donated 1000 CFLs for the youth to distribute to their peers at school.
Furthermore, Chantelle asked to present the project to her science
class, a level of active participation that stood in stark contrast to her
previous everyday participation. Not only did she present the material,
she engaged the class by asking her peers questions about why they
should care about lightbulbs. She positioned herself both as the expert
and as someone who cares about her fellow students and about the
connections between science and their world. The following school year,
when her 7th-grade class studied energy transformations, Chantelle
eagerly volunteered in class discussion. She became deeply engaged in
her science class across a variety of lessons and was described by her
teacher as someone he wishes he could “clone.”
Chantelle’s story is illustrative of one of the more positive identity
pathways Calabrese Barton and her collaborators have observed among
middle school youth. Her experience shows that identity work is ongoing
and cumulative and can be either facilitated or constrained by opportuni-
ties in the spaces where a student encounters science.
This case study also vividly illustrates the role of integrated STEM
experiences and place- and project-based learning in fostering a produc-
tive science identity, which in turn enabled greater participation in the
classroom, greater opportunities to learn, and the sense that a future
in science is possible. Had the researchers only studied Chantelle’s
achievement, or only studied her at a moment in time, they would have
missed her developmental pathway.

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 67
Many studies of identity in STEM disciplines have been tied, in some
form, to concerns about equity, in the context of underrepresentation and
as a factor in pipeline losses. Studies have documented K–12 classroom
and school practices that may contribute to certain students’ choices to dis-
engage from STEM, such as African American girls (Calabrese Barton et al.
2012) who felt they had to choose friendships over extracurricular science
in order to make academic success acceptable. Brown (2004, 2006) similarly
observed that students “disidentified” with science to avoid cultural conflict.
Identity research may also help to explain why some instructional
reforms succeed or fail even when they take into account gender, race, and
language concerns (e.g., Carlone et al. 2011).
Evidence that Integrated STEM Supports
Development of Interest and Identity
In addition to the case study illustrated in Box 3-2, evaluations of and
research on integrated STEM programs provide preliminary evidence that
such programs support the development of interest, identity, and continua-
tion in STEM. As noted, however, measures of interest and of continuation in
STEM are more common in studies of out-of-school programs, and in most
cases the outcomes are measured without careful attention to the specific
mechanisms that support the development of interest. Documentation of
the development of identity is less common, and the few studies that have
examined it in the context of integrated STEM are qualitative.
Interest
Studies and evaluations reviewed by the committee provide some evidence
that integrated STEM programs can support the development and mainte-
nance of interest in STEM. The programs or interventions considered were
school-based projects and curriculum units, afterschool programs, and
summer camps.
The study by Burghardt and colleagues (2010) of the infusion of math-
ematics into an ETE curriculum for middle school students (described in
the previous section) documented outcomes related to interest. Students
in the infusion curriculum and those in a comparison curriculum completed
surveys of their attitudes toward mathematics and technology both before
and after the intervention. Survey questions assessed the students’ interest

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68 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
in mathematics and their perceptions of the importance of mathematics for
technology and the relevance of mathematics. Comparison of the post urvey
s
responses of the two groups showed that students in the mathematics-infused
curriculum reported that the subject was more important and interesting
than did the students in the comparison group (controlling for responses
on the presurvey). There were no significant differences between the groups
on relevance. However, changes between the presurvey and postsurvey data
revealed a decrease in reports from students in the infusion curriculum
about the relevance of mathematics to their lives (Burghardt et al. 2010).
An unpublished study of a school-based engineering project for 6th
and 7th graders similarly showed positive effects on students’ attitudes. The
study included a comparison group of students who did not participate in
the roject, and students were surveyed both before and after the roject.
p p
S
tudents who participated in the project (designing a prosthetic arm)
reported increased interest in engineering as a potential career as well as
increased confidence in mathematics and science, although girls scored lower
than boys in terms of their interest in engineering as a career and in their
beliefs that they could become engineers (High et al. 2010).
Turning to out-of-school programs, in an unpublished evaluation of
the Techbridge program, 367 girls (44 percent of the total number of girls)
who had participated in the program from 2000 to 2007 completed surveys.
Nearly 90 percent of the respondents reported that Techbridge had increased
their interest in STEM; asked to identify what got them most interested in
STEM, 72 percent cited hands-on projects and 16 percent said it was field
trips (Ancheta 2008).
Evaluation of another enrichment program for high school youth,
integrating engineering with biology concepts in a health care context using
lecture and hands-on activities, also revealed positive effects on interest. On
post-program surveys 50 percent of participants reported increased interest
and more positive attitudes toward science and engineering (Monterastelli
et al. 2011).
In a study of an all-girl summer camp with a STEM focus, the girls’ self-
report of the likelihood of their pursuing a career in mathematics, science, or
engineering rose from an average of 6.3 to 7.4 on a 10-point scale (Plotowski
et al. 2008).
The results of other studies have been less clear. An unpublished evalua-
tion of Project Exploration in Chicago, an out-of-school program for middle
school–aged girls and minority students, summarized findings from surveys
and interviews of participants during and after their participation. The

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 69
responses showed greater interest and confidence in science, but these were
not assessed at the beginning of the program and no control group was used
(Chi and Snow 2010).
Four studies of robotics programs showed somewhat mixed results. A
published study of a 4-H robotics program revealed no significant differ-
ences in attitude between program participants and a control group of non-
participants (Baker et al. 2008). But in an unpublished evaluation of FIRST
robotics, an out-of-school program where students work in teams to design
and build robots, students’ self-report on retrospective surveys (57 percent
response rate) indicated higher interest in science and technology (89 per-
cent of respondents) and in science and technology careers (69 percent of
respondents) (Melchoir et al. 2005). In an evaluation of an out-of-school
program that engages students in computer programming and engineering
using robotic kits, 76 percent of students showed an improvement in their
attitudes toward science and technology on pre and post surveys (Martin
et al. 2011). Finally, in an evaluation of a robotics and geospatial program,
about half of students reported more positive attitudes at the end of the
program (Nugent et al. 2010).
Identity
Few of the studies considered by the committee examined identity. A com-
missioned paper on the topic reported that only three were conducted in the
context of integrated STEM programs, and they were qualitative case studies.
The first study examined identity development in the context of science
clubs for low-income middle school youth to pursue projects of their own
choosing (Rahm 2008). The study showed that youth who were successful
in the science clubs took on positions and roles that integrated their own
histories and cultural backgrounds with science and that these roles were rec-
ognized by individuals who were more knowledgeable, such as the eachers
t
running the clubs. The researcher posited that the formally acknowledged
hybrid roles allowed the youth to try out ideas and ways of being that may
have previously seemed out of reach or culturally incongruent (i.e., inconsis-
tent with the culture of the students’ families or communities). She further
suggested that the flexibility of the program, the value of doing a project
both in and for the community, or the openness that allowed the students to
define their own projects may all have been important elements in support-
ing development of a STEM-related identity (Rahm 2008).

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70 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
A similar argument is made by Calabrese Barton and Tan (2010a) in the
context of a technology-rich integrated science and engineering program
focused on green energy. The researchers argue that as the youth in the
program appropriated tools and resources through the program in ways
that were culturally congruent, they developed roles as “community science
experts”—they were seen as experts on matters in the community and in sci-
ence, able to bring the two together. The study report describes the process
by which the youth chose to investigate the urban heat island effect in their
city and how they designed their study through scientific, engineering, and
place-based concerns. They then wove these concerns together in a series
of digital narratives to educate their community about their findings. Their
role as experts was recognized and legitimized by teachers, scientists, and
community members, and this acknowledgment was essential in supporting
both their identity development and their learning (Calabrese Barton and
Tan 2010a).
In a follow-up study, Calabrese Barton and Tan (2010b) analyzed the
participants’ narratives describing their involvement in the green energy
project over multiple years. These narratives revealed how the youths’ identi-
ties as community science experts and activists were carried from project to
project and into new communities through public service announcements,
scientific documentaries, and a new green roof for the building where the
club was held, which the youth described as visible reminders of their hard
work, what they know, and whom they influenced.
The findings from these three studies suggest that identity develop-
ment may be supported by integrated experiences because such experiences
support a range of ways of knowing, employ project- or problem-based
approaches that allow youth to follow their interests, and can focus on prob-
lems relevant in local communities.
Summary
The findings about whether integrated STEM supports interest and continu-
ation in STEM are mixed; there are promising indications, but the studies
vary in quality. The measures of interest are typically not very sophisticated
and do not take into account different phases of interest development. Also,
many studies use before/after designs without any comparison groups. This
is not a very powerful design for determining causal effects, so results are
difficult to interpret.

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INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION EXPERIENCES 71
Research on identity is at a very preliminary stage. The studies reviewed
were qualitative and involved a very limited number of participants, but
seem to indicate that open-endedness and links to students’ culture and com-
munity are important, as is the opportunity for students to be recognized
as experts.
For both types of research, larger-scale studies and studies that incorpo-
rate a wider range of methods are needed.
CONCLUSIONS
Research on integrated STEM experiences suggests that they may be prom-
ising for supporting both learning in and across the STEM disciplines and
the development of STEM-related interest and identity. The research base
is limited, however, in terms of the design of the studies, the populations of
students involved in them, the outcome measures used, and the extent to
which research examines the mechanisms underlying learning in integrated
STEM contexts.
In terms of learning and achievement, for integrated STEM education
to be successful students need to be able to move back and forth between
the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge and skill and their application
to problems that call on competencies from multiple disciplines. Students
need to be competent with discipline-specific representations and be able to
translate between discipline-specific representations thereby exhibiting what
some scholars refer to as “representational fluency.” Participation in shared
practices, such as modeling in engineering, science, and mathematics, may
support such fluency.
Integrated STEM experiences do appear to provide opportunities for
students to productively engage in ways that can transform their iden-
tity with respect to STEM, and this effect may be particularly strong for
populations that have historically struggled in STEM classes and are under
represented in STEM higher education programs and professions.
The committee’s review of the research illuminated specific areas where
further research is needed. For example, there is a need for more studies
that measure or document students’ ability to make connections across
disciplines or to demonstrate representational fluency. Few studies focus on
the development of interest and identity in formal educational settings, and
even fewer address their development in the context of integrated STEM,
in either formal or informal settings. Finally, although there is a body of

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72 STEM INTEGRATION IN K–12 EDUCATION
research showing how integrated STEM experiences can be designed to
foster connections between science and mathematics, there is a clear need
to extend this research to more grade levels and to show more connections
with engineering and technology.
More generally, the evidence base needs to be both deepened and broad-
ened to support strong conclusions about the effectiveness of integrated
STEM and an understanding of underlying mechanisms. Weaknesses in
the research that need to be addressed include impoverished descriptions
of interventions, lack of common terms and theories, and the need to use a
wider range of methods with a better match of the questions to the designs.
Current measures and descriptions of integration, as both a pedagogical
method and a student outcome, lack reliability and validity.
All of these research-related issues are explored in greater depth in
Chapter 6.
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