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STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research (2014)

Chapter: 2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education

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Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
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2

A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education

The study committee was tasked with identifying and characterizing existing approaches to integrated STEM education. As explained in Chapter 1, in determining the scope of the charge, we emphasized “connections” between and among the STEM subjects.1 Seen this way, integrated STEM education occupies a multidimensional space in the larger K–12 education landscape: Rather than a single, well-defined experience, it involves a range of experiences with some degree of connection. The experiences may occur in one or several class periods, or throughout a curriculum; they may be reflected in the organization of a single course or an entire school, or they may be presented in an after- or out-of-school activity.

Each variant of integrated STEM education suggests different planning approaches, resource needs, implementation challenges, and outcomes. In this chapter we present a framework (Figure 2-1) with four features: (1) goals of integrated STEM education, (2) outcomes of integrated STEM education, (3) the nature and scope of integrated STEM education, and (4)implementation of integrated STEM education. Each feature has specific subcomponents, as shown in Figure 2-1, thus providing a vocabulary for researchers, practitioners, and others to identify, describe, and investigate specific integrated STEM initiatives in the US K–12 education system. Boxes throughout the

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1 “Between and among” refers to connections between any two STEM subjects (e.g., most commonly math and science) and those among three or more.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

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FIGURE 2-1 Descriptive Framework Showing General Features and Subcomponents of Integrated STEM Education

chapter briefly describe examples drawn from our review of selected programs Figure for chapter 2 and projects that illustrate the concepts discussed. Table 2-1 (see p. 48) shows use of the framework to characterize an integrated STEM education program. The committee used the framework to help clarify its thinking in writing the report; Chapters 5 and 6 mirror the framework’s high-level structure. Chapter 3’s analysis of the research focuses on two key outcomes described in the framework: those related to learning and achievement and those related to interest and identity.

The committee recognizes that numerous variables could be incorporated in a descriptive framework. In research involving 16 STEM schools, for example, Researchers Without Borders (2012) identified over 100 “critical components” deemed important to the schools’ success. Our framework does not aim to be so comprehensive but rather to promote a more general, higher-level conceptualization of STEM education.

Although the framework treats the four features separately, they are meant to be interdependent in practice. These interdependencies are considered in Chapter 6 (Figure 6-1, Iterative Model of Educational Change).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

GOALS OF INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION

Goals are statements of what the developer of the particular educational intervention hopes to accomplish. The importance of attending to goals in the design of educational interventions cannot be overemphasized, as goals are the driver for an iterative process of educational change (see Fig. 6-1). Data gathered for the project revealed five major goals for students and two for educators:

Goals for Students

•   STEM literacy

•   21st century competencies

•   STEM workforce readiness

•   Interest and engagement

•   Ability to make connections among STEM disciplines

Goals for Educators

•   Increased STEM content knowledge

•   Increased pedagogical content knowledge

Some of these goals are quite high-level, such as encouraging more young people to enter STEM careers and increasing student interest in STEM subjects. Goals may also include more specific objectives, which are usually framed in a way that supports assessment (discussed in Chapter 5) of student learning or other outcomes. For example, an objective may be to provide students with learning experiences that support their ability to analyze how components of simple machines interact to produce desired outcomes).

In practice, goals and objectives are often used interchangeably, and some goals overlap. Many of the STEM programs and projects we examined claimed to address more than one goal, sometimes for both students and educators (Box 2-1). In some cases, goals seemed to serve more as indicators of general aspiration rather than as guides for the design and evaluation of programs, thus raising questions about the degree of focus on achieving goals as opposed to using them as statements of aspiration. Notwithstanding these complexities, it is important to try to identify the goals of a particular initiative; the absence of goals specified or even implied raises questions about the design of the initiative.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-1
Example of Multiple Goals: CSTEM Challenge

The CSTEM (communications, science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Challenge is a year-long competition involving student teams across elementary, middle, and high schools. Its goals include:

•   Empowering students to become innovators and technologically proficient problem solvers

•   Increasing students’ 21st century skills and STEM literacy

•   Enriching community understanding of STEM education and its importance in building capacity to prepare students for work and life in the 21st century

•   Increasing teacher capacity to deliver STEM content in grades pre-K–12

•   Serving as a channel for connecting classroom learning with the business sector to improve students’ college and career readiness skills

SOURCE: www.cstem.org.

STEM Literacy and 21st Century Competencies

Two high-level goals associated with integrated STEM education are STEM literacy and 21st century competencies.

STEM literacy is a relatively new idea that has not been well defined in literature or practice, although significant work has gone into elaborating aspects of literacy in the individual STEM disciplines (e.g., AAAS 1990; ITEEA 1996; NRC 1989). From these efforts it is possible to infer that STEM literacy might include some combination of (1) awareness of the roles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in modern society, (2) familiarity with at least some of the fundamental concepts from each area, and (3) a basic level of application fluency (e.g., the ability to critically evaluate the science or engineering content in a news report, conduct basic troubleshooting of common technologies, and perform basic mathematical operations relevant to daily life).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

Twenty-first century competencies2 are a blend of cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal characteristics that may support deeper learning and knowledge transfer. Cognitive competencies include critical thinking and innovation; interpersonal attributes include communication, collaboration, and responsibility; and intrapersonal traits include flexibility, initiative, and metacognition.

STEM Workforce Readiness

One goal of integrated STEM education is the development of a STEM-capable workforce. Efforts to achieve this goal may focus on increasing the number of individuals who (1) develop STEM skills through school-to-work, tech prep, or career and technical education (CTE) experiences in high school, (2) earn STEM-related degrees at the certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s levels, equipping them for jobs such as K–12 STEM teachers, medical assistants, nurses, and computer and engineering technicians, or (3) pursue professional degrees3 in one of the STEM fields. Such efforts may start at the high school level, as illustrated by the example in Box 2-2.

Interest and Engagement

Another frequently cited goal of integrated STEM education programs is to boost interest and engagement in the STEM subjects. Some programs stress STEM interest and engagement among all students; others focus on specific populations, such as those historically underrepresented in STEM fields (i.e., girls and certain minorities) (Box 2-3). Chapter 3 discusses what is known from research about engagement and the related concepts of motivation and persistence.

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2 We prefer the term “21st century competencies” to “21st century skills.” The two are related, but the former is a more robust concept that has been elaborated in recent work by the National Research Council (2012a).

3 For engineering, the first professional degree is at the bachelor’s level; for most areas of science, mathematics, and technology, the first professional degree is generally at the master’s level.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-2
Example of Career-Focused Goals: Build IT

Build IT: Girls Building Information Technology Fluency Through Design is an after-school and summer curriculum for middle school girls. One goal of the program, jointly run by SRI International and Girls Inc., is to increase girls’ interest in and desire to take high school algebra, geometry, and computer science courses in preparation for postsecondary STEM education and careers. The Build IT curriculum consists of six 10-week units (average 2.5 hours per week) over two years, as well as extensive professional development resources for informal, out-of-school-time educators and staff. The program also includes structured interactions between the participating students and IT professionals—research has found that these interactions encourage girls’ interest in IT careers (Koch et al. 2010).

BOX 2-3
Example of Engaging Girls in STEM: TechBridge

TechBridge (www.techbridgegirls.org) is a yearlong after-school program for girls in grades 5–12 that seeks to promote participants’ interests and skills in science, technology, and engineering. The program provides hands-on activities and career exploration experiences, exposure to role models and mentoring, and field trips to STEM-focused enterprises. TechBridge began in the San Francisco Bay area and expanded to other parts of the country through a collaboration with the Girl Scouts. Research on the program has examined the importance of (1) social relationships and racial diversity in encouraging engagement (Kekelis et al. 2005) and (2) role models in shaping girls’ interest in STEM subjects (Kekelis and Wei 2009).

Ability to Make Connections among STEM Disciplines

Integrated STEM education calls for making connections across disciplines, so it is important to develop student and educator awareness of these connections and to leverage the connections in ways that improve learning. For example, an understanding of the general idea of systems may be aided

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

by examining electrical systems, mechanical systems, ecosystems, and even mathematical systems to identify their common characteristics.

Connections may also depend on a synthesis of approaches from multiple disciplines to yield understanding of a core concept or big idea, resulting in knowledge that is more integrated, wider in scope, or more differentiated than is typical of understandings developed within the boundaries of an individual discipline.

The committee’s review of integrated STEM education programs found surprisingly few in which the goal of making connections was stated explicitly. But the design of many instructional materials and data from research and evaluation studies suggest that implied goals for students learning related to connections underlie many integrated STEM initiatives, as illustrated in the following competencies:

•   recognizing and applying concepts that have different meanings or applications across disciplinary contexts (i.e., transfer);

•   engaging in a STEM practice, such as engineering design, that uses knowledge from a different discipline, such as mathematics;

•   combining practices from two or more STEM disciplines (e.g., scientific experimentation and engineering design) to solve a problem or complete a project;

•   recognizing when a concept or practice is presented in an integrated way; and

•   drawing on disciplinary knowledge to support integrated learning experiences and knowing when to do so.

Educator-Specific Goals

Some integrated STEM education programs target in-service teachers rather than or in addition to students, often through professional development activities tied to a specific curriculum. Goals for these programs frequently aim to build teachers’ knowledge of subject-matter and pedagogical content knowledge relevant both to individual STEM subjects and to making connections between and among them (Box 2-4).

A related goal is to boost educators’ pedagogical skills in subjects to which they may have had little exposure. This is especially true for professional development programs targeted to afterschool educators, who typically have little coursework in mathematics, science, or engineering (Klenk et al. 2012).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-4
Example of Building Teacher Content Knowledge: Everyday STEM

The goal of Everyday STEM is to help K–5 teachers integrate STEM into what they already do in their classrooms. The program was designed by a group of Virginia-based elementary technology education teachers who believe that the hands-on learning made possible by engineering design activities will “encourage children of all learning styles and abilities to develop ownership of the essential knowledge expected of elementary students in our rapidly changing world.” The program provides teachers with instructional materials (from Pitsco) as well as a professional development course offered through the Content Teaching Academy of James Madison University. The course is intended to help teachers use design, engineering, and technology instructional resources to enhance children’s attainment of the Virginia Standards of Learning in science, mathematics, social studies/history, and language arts.

SOURCES: www.pitsco.com, www.jmu.edu/contentacademy/Engineering.shtml, www.childrensengineering.com.

OUTCOMES OF INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION

Education goals are closely related to outcomes. That is, a successful intervention should be tied to outcomes (or evidence) consistent with its goals. Our review of the literature and programs revealed six important outcomes for students and two for educators.

Outcomes for Students

•   Learning and achievement

•   21st century competencies

•   STEM course taking, educational persistence, and graduation rates

•   STEM-related employment

•   STEM interest, development of STEM identity

•   Ability to transfer understanding across STEM disciplines

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

Outcomes for Educators

•   Changes in practice

•   Increased STEM content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge

In reality, outcomes for some goals are difficult or impractical to measure. STEM literacy is a case in point. Because it has not yet been well defined and because it includes many different elements (see, for example, Bybee 2010), measuring STEM literacy as an outcome of a particular integrated educational experience can be problematic. However, individual aspects of STEM literacy—for example, understanding of specific science or mathematics concepts (Box 2-5) or awareness of how the STEM disciplines help shape our world—are measurable outcomes.

Similarly, development of 21st century competencies is a high-level goal with multiple components, such as improved communication or collaboration, and outcomes are likely to be tied to those individual components rather than to the overall concept.

In developing the framework the committee recognized that outcomes may be cognitive or affective, may reflect educational persistence, or may be some combination of these. Typically, cognitive outcomes are determined through standard measures of achievement, such as large-scale (e.g., state, national, or international) assessment; they may also be gauged through for-

BOX 2-5
Example of Understanding Science Concepts: Engineering is Elementary

Developers of the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum at the Museum of Science, Boston, have conducted research to determine whether and to what extent students participating in the program increase their knowledge of science concepts as a result of engaging in engineering design activities. For example, in a unit on designing lighting systems, EiE researchers found that students significantly increased their understanding of concepts related to the properties of light, such as reflection, transmission, and absorption (Lachapelle et al. 2011).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

mative or summative tests designed to measure learning related to a specific curriculum, course sequence, or activity.

In addition, interest is growing in the idea of assessing 21st century competencies such as flexible learning, ability to work with unstructured problems, communication, and teamwork as indicators of STEM learning (NRC 2012a). However, low-cost, valid, and reliable measures of these important competencies are not yet available (NRC 2012b).

Affective measures consider factors such as interest in or motivation to learn about STEM subjects as well as the development of a “STEM identity,” a measure of the degree to which STEM subjects and careers are personally relevant to the learner. Efforts to study outcomes related to STEM identity have focused on single subjects (Box 2-6) rather than the broader concept of STEM. Educational persistence reflects how successfully and for how long an individual pursues STEM-related studies. Measures may include high school course taking (beyond the classes required by state law) and graduation rates, declared intended major, postsecondary STEM course taking, and matriculation in a STEM-related postsecondary degree program (Maltese and Tai 2011).

The discussion in Chapter 3 of research on integrated STEM learning and thinking makes clear that there are significant methodological and design weaknesses that limit the committee’s ability to draw strong conclusions about outcomes of integrated STEM education. Part of the problem relates to the fact that some measured outcomes are not clearly connected to the intervention. In other cases, the design of the research itself may not allow inferences about outcomes. Suggestions for addressing some of these

BOX 2-6
Example of Boosting Interest in Mathematics: Bedroom Design Activity

Researchers at the Hofstra University Center for Technological Literacy have tested the impact of introducing a mathematics-infused engineering and technology education curriculum on student attitudes toward mathematics. Mathematics concepts addressed in the activity included geometric shapes, factoring, percentages, scale, mathematical nets, and the computation of pricing information. The researchers found that students who studied mathematics as part of a computer-based bedroom design activity thought mathematics was more important and interesting in the context of technology than their counterparts in a control group who learned math in a traditional technology education class (Burghardt et al. 2010).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-7
Example of Reducing Math Anxiety: MST Teacher Education Program

In 1998, The College of New Jersey inaugurated a K–5 teacher education program that combines coursework in mathematics, science, and technology (MST) with instruction in pedagogy. One intriguing finding is that the MST students, who begin the program with relatively high levels of math anxiety, have much less anxiety—comparable to that of TCNJ math majors—after taking certain MST math classes. In contrast, math anxiety among non-STEM majors taking these same math courses remained relatively high (O’Brien 2010). The program’s leaders believe these data may be explained by the initiative’s interdisciplinary approach.

shortcomings are addressed in Chapter 6, which outlines directions for future research. Despite the current paucity of outcomes data for STEM education initiatives, we believe it is important that the framework include outcomes, if only to bring attention to the importance of designing integrated STEM experiences in a way that enables measurement of their impact on students.

The framework accounts for the fact that many educators likely will be impacted by integrated STEM education, in both preservice and in-service settings. Outcomes for educators will be reflected in changes in practices (e.g., the adoption or increased use of teaching strategies that support student engagement with science inquiry or engineering design); in expectations for their knowledge of subject-matter or pedagogical content; or in gains in teacher efficacy. Educator outcomes also might include an increase in student interest in STEM subjects (Box 2-7) or in the development of STEM-related identity among students.

NATURE AND SCOPE OF INTEGRATION

In examining the research literature and selected examples of integrated STEM initiatives, the committee identified three important elements that determine the nature and scope of integration:

•   type of STEM connections,

•   disciplinary emphasis, and

•   duration, size, and complexity of initiative.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

Regarding the nature of connection, integrated STEM education may bring together concepts from more than one discipline (e.g., mathematics and science, or science, technology, and engineering); it may connect a concept from one subject to a practice of another, such as applying properties of geometric shapes (mathematics) to engineering design; or it may combine two practices, such as science inquiry (e.g., doing an experiment) and engineering design (in which data from a science experiment can be applied).

In integrated STEM education it is frequently the case that one STEM subject has a dominant role—the explicit or implicit focus of a project, program, or school is to develop students’ knowledge or skill mainly in one content area, such as mathematics (Box 2-8). The inclusion of concepts or practices from other subjects is often intended to support or deepen learning and understanding in the targeted subject.

In terms of scope, integrated STEM education initiatives exhibit a variety of relevant parameters, such as duration, setting, size, and complexity. Initiatives may occur as a single hour-long project or over one or several class periods, or they may be reflected in the organization of a single course, a multicourse curriculum, or an entire school. Most of the programs we examined have very small footprints, existing as pilot efforts involving just a few students. But some have been implemented much more broadly, sometimes across several schools or states, engaging hundreds or thousands of participants.

BOX 2-8
Example of a Dominant Discipline in STEM Integration: MathAlive!

MathAlive! (www.mathalive.com) is a 5,000-square-foot traveling exhibit that presents mathematics in the context of real-world applications. It is underwritten by Raytheon and was developed in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NASA, the National Society of Professional Engineers, MATHCOUNTS, and the Society of Women Engineers. The connections between math and the other STEM disciplines are explicit in the design of the exhibit interactives. For example, in “Easy on the Gas,” visitors are challenged to use systems engineering to create a mathematical simulation that relieves traffic gridlock and reduces fuel consumption. In “Ramp It Up,” visitors explore simple machines and design specifications to design a skateboard that can perform a specific trick.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

Complexity varies, too, from efforts that are designed to be plugged in to an established curriculum (with no other changes to the status quo) to those that ambitiously strive to design a new integrated learning experience in concert with professional development for the teachers who will deliver it, sometimes in the context of a whole-school design. Some efforts do this and more, including building in a component of research or evaluation.

Finally, as illustrated in the examples presented in this chapter and elsewhere in the report, considerable efforts are being made to expose young people to integrated STEM education experiences in settings outside the formal classroom.

The scope and nature of integration have a direct bearing on the time and resources needed for implementation; on the level of acceptance or resistance such initiatives receive from students, educators, and administrators; and on the types of outcomes that may be expected and the challenge of measuring them.

IMPLEMENTATION

A range of factors must be considered in the implementation of integrated STEM education. The committee focuses here on three:4

•   instructional design,

•   educator supports, and

•   adjustments to the learning environment.

Regarding instructional design, the programs we reviewed included a variety of approaches to teaching, from traditional, highly structured direct instruction to methods that are more student centered, experiential, and open ended, often involving variants of problem-based learning (Box 2-9).

Engineering design (Box 2-10), like problem-based learning (PBL), is associated with a large number of efforts to teach the STEM subjects in an integrated fashion. Science inquiry, engineering design, and PBL share features that can provide students with opportunities to apply STEM concepts and engage in STEM practices in interesting and relevant contexts.

By educator supports, we mean the opportunities provided to STEM educators to improve STEM content knowledge and pedagogical practices

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4 Additional factors related to implementing integrated STEM education are addressed in Chapter 5.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-9
Problem-Based Learning and Integrated STEM Education

Problem-based learning, or PBL, is an experiential instructional strategy that encourages students to be active learners by engaging them in loosely structured problems that resemble situations they might encounter in their lives and for which multiple solutions are possible. Though not synonymous with or required for connected STEM learning, many STEM integration initiatives examined by the committee used some form of PBL. The central features of PBL, according to Barrows (1996), are

•   student centeredness,

•   small group work,

•   teachers as facilitators or guides,

•   problems as both the focus and stimulus for learning, and

•   acquisition of new information through self-directed learning.

Other instructional designs, particularly project-based learning, share many of these traits, thus the terms problem-based and project-based learning are often confused or used interchangeably. Other terms sometimes associated with PBL-type instruction are authentic, real-world, challenge-based, and concrete, and each appears in the literature describing integrated STEM education.

Readers wishing more detail about problem- and project-based learning strategies may want to consult one or more of the following: Barron et al. 1998; Savery 2006; Strobel and van Barneveld 2009.

in ways that support subject-matter integration, typically through pre-and in-service professional development (Box 2-11).

Adjustments to the learning environment may entail extended class periods to allow students more time to repeat experiments or iterate and improve a design; extended lesson planning, team teaching, and other ways of developing a professional learning community (Box 2-12); or opportunities for partnering between STEM educators working in schools and those working outside schools, for example, in museums and higher-education institutions.

The factors discussed here are illustrative, not comprehensive. It is certainly appropriate to consider other factors in the implementation of integrated STEM education. For example, extensive research documents the importance of fidelity of implementation to the long-term success of educational innovations (e.g., O’Donnell 2008). Fidelity—the delivery of a

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-10
Engineering Design and Integrated STEM Education

The engineering design process, a problem-solving method, is used by engineers—along with knowledge from mathematics and science—to solve technical challenges. According to Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (ITEEA 2000), engineering design has a number of attributes.

First, it is purposeful; a designer begins with an explicit goal that is clearly understood; thus design can be pictured as a journey with a particular destination, rather than a sightseeing trip. Second, designs are shaped by specifications and constraints. Specifications spell out what the design is intended to accomplish. Constraints are limitations the designer must contend with, such as costs, size requirements, or the physical limitations of the materials used. In addition, the design process is systematic and iterative.

Engineering design can be a highly social and collaborative enterprise as well. Engineers engaged in design activities often work in teams and communicate with clients and others.

In K–12 education, engineering design has come to be seen as the central practice for students engaged in engineering activities (NAE and NRC 2009; NRC 2012b). The words and phrases used by different integrated STEM education efforts to describe the process vary, but the basic approaches are analogous and generally include the following steps (although not necessarily in this order):

Identify the problem or objective
Define goals and identify the constraints
Research and gather information
Create potential design solutions
Analyze the viability of solutions
Choose the most appropriate solution
Build and implement the design
Test and evaluate the design
Repeat all steps as necessary
Communicate the results

Readers wishing more details about design-based learning strategies may want to consult Crismond and Adams 2012.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

BOX 2-11
Example of Professional Development for Integration: Idaho STEM Summer Institute

The Idaho STEM Summer Institute is a four-day residential experience for approximately 300 grade 4–9 teacher teams from across the state. The 32-hour program involves lectures, panels, field trips, and lab activities and includes 20 hours of content/domain-specific instruction. An evaluation of teacher engagement developed by researchers at Boise State University found, among other outcomes, that educators increased their purposeful coordination with instruction in other content areas as a result of their participation in the program (Nadelson et al. 2012).

curriculum or other educational intervention in a manner consistent with its original design—is critical to produce outcome measures that can inform decisions to continue, modify, or terminate a particular intervention.

At the same time, there is an argument that differences in local circumstances and priorities justify modification of some aspects of an intervention, particularly if it is an innovative one (Berman 1981; Dusenbury et al. 2003). A large-scale study of educational change efforts in five school districts gave

BOX 2-12
Example of Professional Learning Community: Manor New Tech High School

Manor (Texas) New Technology High School (MNTHS) is one of over 100 schools in the New Tech Network (www.newtechnetwork.org), a nonprofit that supports project-based-learning approaches to education reform. Every Monday is a late start day for students while staff engage in professional development meetings and leadership committees. Teachers are encouraged to team teach across disciplines, and the school provides time for teachers to receive peer feedback on project designs and suggestions on how to adapt tactics as student projects progress. The school’s Teacher Advancement Program System provides time and compensation for teachers to take on additional responsibilities and roles, such as providing assistance and mentorship for newer teachers. Each Manor teacher participates in a minimum of 150 hours of professional development annually (E3 Alliance 2009).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

rise to the construct of mutual adaptation, which treats accommodations on the part of both the district and the organization delivering the educational intervention as both inevitable and, in many cases, desirable (Berman and McLaughlin 1976).

In all cases, careful documentation of implementation practices and program outcomes is needed to build understanding of the critical components of an innovation and to inform decisions about whether to continue programs.

USING THE FRAMEWORK

This framework will be useful to a variety of groups and for several purposes. It should enable administrators, teachers, curriculum developers, funders, and others to better understand what is a confusing and underresearched trend in the US education system. By clearly defining a small number of salient features, the framework can stimulate productive and meaningful discussion about efforts in the name of integrated STEM education.

The framework can be used to examine and compare features of programs that have characteristics of integrated STEM. Table 2-1 illustrates just such a characterization for an integrated STEM initiative examined by the committee.

The framework also will enable researchers in education and the cognitive sciences to start developing and testing hypotheses about the relationships among critical elements of integrated STEM education. For example, keeping other parameters constant, what might happen to student outcomes related to STEM identity when the nature of integration varies? As the framework is explored in this way and yields a better understanding of integrated STEM education, some underlying assumptions may prove not to be useful and the framework will need to be adjusted to account for new data. This is appropriate and desirable.

CONCLUSION

This chapter provides a relatively simple organizing scheme to help readers with a range of interests and expertise begin to make sense of integrated STEM education. The framework almost certainly will need to be revised as more is learned, through research and practice, about how the STEM subjects can be connected to support student learning and other outcomes.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

TABLE 2-1 Integrated STEM in the Harrisonburg City Public School System, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Target population: Students K–12 with emphasis on elementary grades.

HIGH-LEVEL FEATURE SUBCOMPONENT RELEVANT DETAILS
Goals STEM literacy Target specific STEM skills in students and teachers
 
Nature of integration S, T, E, and M

•   Engages students in engineering design process as a way to study core content through a variety of challenges (e.g., studying simple machines to discover what makes an elevator work and the design of bird beaks for capturing different kinds of foods)

•   Addresses standards in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

 
Implementation Educator supports

•   Uses STEM strategies developed at VA Tech; district STEM coordinator has modeled classroom activities in classes for teachers

•   Teachers provided with “proven units” during professional development sessions

•   Yearlong professional development provided for teachers

•   Teachers participate in developing research questions for design challenges

 
  Instructional approaches Engineering design–based program brings together elements from S, T, E, and M in a series of design challenges at each grade level in elementary grades
 
Outcomes Cross-subject competencies and identity change in students Based on anecdotal evidence only, students:

•   improved at integrative learning

•   felt success and saw friends succeed

 
  STEM-related changes in teacher practice Continual improvement of STEM model and lessons
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

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Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×

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Strobel, J., and A. van Barneveld. 2009. When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1). Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1541–5015.1046 (retrieved October 31, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 32
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 33
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 36
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 37
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 38
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 39
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 41
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 42
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"2 A Descriptive Framework for Integrated STEM Education." National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. 2014. STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18612.
×
Page 50
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STEM Integration in K-12 Education examines current efforts to connect the STEM disciplines in K-12 education. This report identifies and characterizes existing approaches to integrated STEM education, both in formal and after- and out-of-school settings. The report reviews the evidence for the impact of integrated approaches on various student outcomes, and it proposes a set of priority research questions to advance the understanding of integrated STEM education. STEM Integration in K-12 Education proposes a framework to provide a common perspective and vocabulary for researchers, practitioners, and others to identify, discuss, and investigate specific integrated STEM initiatives within the K-12 education system of the United States.

STEM Integration in K-12 Education makes recommendations for designers of integrated STEM experiences, assessment developers, and researchers to design and document effective integrated STEM education. This report will help to further their work and improve the chances that some forms of integrated STEM education will make a positive difference in student learning and interest and other valued outcomes.

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