Resources from STEM Smart Workshops

The Successful STEM Resource Library includes programs and projects featured at STEM Smart workshops, as well as briefs based on research and recommendations from the National Research Council reports, Successful K-12 STEM Education and Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education.
The engineering design approach for teaching science concepts has led to middle school student knowledge gains in core science concepts when compared with a scripted inquiry approach. By blending math and science disciplines, engineering design provides a strong mechanism to facilitate integrated instruction and connections among concepts and to the real world, building student understanding and appreciation for both content areas. While empirical research validates the use of engineering design at the secondary level, such efforts are almost nonexistent in the elementary classroom, particularly in rural schools that often lack any type of curriculum integration. The Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED) vision is to increase grade 3–6 student learning of science by developing Indiana’s first integrated, engineering design-based approach to elementary/intermediate school science education. Engineering, science, technology, and education faculty for Purdue University work directly with 90 elementary/intermediate inservice teachers, 70 preservice elementary teachers, and 2,500 students in the four partnering Indiana school districts: Taylor Community School Corporation, Plymouth School Corporation, Lafayette School Corporation, and Tippecanoe School Corporation.
Closing the achievement gap in our nation between native English speakers and English language learners will require educators to address the needs of the English language learners. Along with being the fastest growing segment of the school population, English language learners are also among the most academically vulnerable students in schools today (Wong-Fillmore & Snow, 2000). In science achievement, in particular, English language learners score significantly below their native English-speaking peers. The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress data shows only 28% of fourth-grade English language learners scored at or above basic level for science compared with 71% of native English speakers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005). Moreover, this achievement gap between native speakers of English and English language learners is persistent. The average science scores of eighth- and twelfth-graders identified as being English language learners did not change significantly between 1996, 2000, and 2004, remaining markedly below those of native English speakers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005).
CyGaMEs invites youth ages nine and older to play its award-winning, online, instructional videogame Selene to learn the Solar System’s basic geological processes: “Blast away at what will quickly become a full-fledged, pockmarked moon like our own. Replicate the Moon’s 4.5-billion-year history. Follow with our MoonGazers hands-on activities.” Prepared with new knowledge that makes Moon viewing meaningful, Selene players go outside to explore the Moon from their own backyards. CyGaMEs, a principled approach to instructional game design and embedded assessment, applies cognitive science analogical reasoning theory to translate a to-be-learned conceptual domain into an instructional game world’s relational structure, gameplay, and game goals. Rigorous specification maps relational structure from targeted STEM content to game world. CyGaMEs is used in formal, informal, and non-formal contexts. CyGaMEs Selene causes and measures learning as players discover and apply STEM concepts. CyGaMEs’ embedded assessment “timed report” collects data every 10 seconds, measuring learning trajectories and identifying learning moments. CyGaMEs’ flowometer measures affect, supporting trace of perceived experience and investigation of interplay between learning and affect. CyGaMEs supportsevaluation and assessment. CyGaMEs offers online research environments designed for experimental control and random assignment. It provides rigorous empirical evidence; supports robust, strategic research of causal claims disentangled from student selection; and enhances effective teaching, game-based cyberlearning, and embedded assessment. CyGaMEs also offers professional development. Aptly designed videogame worlds provide common experiences that prepare educators and learners to achieve success. CyGaMEs enhances control over what games do: engage learning through doing, discovery, and inquiry.
Pre-college teachers and administrators hold many theories about how best to interest and prepare students for success as STEM majors in college. Effective or not, based in fact or in faith, these beliefs play out in our nation’s classrooms. While many research studies have shown large and statistically significant effects of particular interventions or innovations, most often they examine small, homogeneous populations such as single schools or classrooms. Our research team has utilized epidemiological methods to mine the backgrounds of more than 20,000 college students taking introductory science and mathematics courses for predictors of performance and persistence while controlling for demographic differences.
SimCalc has pursued a mission of “democratizing access to the mathematics of change and variation,” which translates to introducing students in grades 6–12 to the powerful ideas underlying calculus while simultaneously enriching the mathematics already covered at those grade levels. SimCalc signature MathWorlds software gives students the ability to sketch graphs and see resulting motions. In addition to MathWorlds, the digital textbook, Dynabook, combines elements from SimCalc, Geometer’s Sketchpad and data analysis software to teach core ideas of proportionality from algebraic, geometric, and statistical perspectives. In connection with paper curriculum materials, students learn to connect key concepts, such as rate, across algebraic expressions, graphs, tables, and narrative stories. The project results showed greater learning gains for students in classrooms implementing SimCalc, especially for more advanced mathematics concepts. The results were also robust in varied settings with diverse teachers and students. Across boys and girls, white and Hispanic populations, impoverished and middle-class schools, rural and suburban regions, and teachers with many different attitudes, beliefs, and levels of knowledge, students learned more when their teachers implemented SimCalc. New SimCalc designs aim to enhance student participation in SimCalc classrooms by allowing the teacher to easily distribute, collect, display, and aggregate student work over a wireless network. It also includes elements designed to help teachers see the connections among those uses of proportional reasoning and the ways that such tools can be used in classroom instruction with middle school students.
A series of national reports urge science education to go beyond emphasis on basic science facts to support science learning that results in deep understanding of scientific ideas and an ability to engage meaningfully in the practices of science (Bransford et al., 2000; Duschl et al., 2007). Inquiry practices—asking questions, finding ways to explore them empirically, investigating and evaluating competing alternative models, arguing from evidence—are judged to be severely lacking in the enacted U.S. curriculum. The report, Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, emphasizes the need for instruction that is inquiry-based and problem-centered and that engages students in the practices of science. Strong instruction should be accompanied by a supportive system of assessment that links classroom, district, and state reports of science learning progress.
The inclusion of engineering into the Next Generation Science Standards leaves both science education and engineering educators with cause for both excitement and alarm. Science education watchers, for example, fear loss of science instruction time and obfuscation of the nature of science, while teachers may assume that “build a bridge Fridays” will provide sufficient science instruction for an entire week. Engineering counterparts fear that a focus on student competition to build structures will pass as engineering while presenting students with a narrow view of engineering careers and omitting key engineering principles. Alternatively, integration of engineering with math and science instruction may be viewed as an educational opportunity—a means to engage students through compelling real-world societal challenges, and to leverage the natural linkages between science and engineering to facilitate learning both subjects.
“Specialized schools still represent a tiny fraction of U.S. public education. However, they may not only produce better results than traditional programs; they also can serve as models for schools seeking to improve.” Read this brief to investigate further into what we can learn from specialized STEM-focused learning institutions.
SpelBots are a team of female, African American students who conduct robotics research, compete in worldwide robotics and computer science competitions, and conduct K–12 outreach. The long-range vision of this project is to leverage the SpelBots activities to provide career role models in cutting-edge computer science and robotics from underrepresented communities. This project will bring attitude-changing computer science and robotics showcase presentations to underrepresented students and their teachers, and in conjunction with these showcases, promote the formation and mentoring of robotics and computer science clubs among K–12 students using social media as well as local workshops. The program aims to recruit, mentor, and train undergraduate African American women students in computer science and robotics research, outreach, and competition projects. In addition, this project provides advising for students at local historically black colleges and universities. The goals of the SpelBots are to (1) investigate the effectiveness of the showcase approach to exposing, exciting, recruiting, and mentoring underrepresented middle and high school students in computing, (2) study the impact of recruitment and retention activities in computer science among African American women, specifically, and underrepresented students, generally, in order to disseminate best practices, and (3) increase the amount of autonomous humanoid and mobile robotics research performed by African American undergraduate women.
The Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership (MMP) comprises the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). As an initiative of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, a community-wide PK-16 collaborative, the MMP began in fall 2003 with a five-year $20 million award from the NSF Mathematics and Science Partnership program. The MMP involves mathematics and mathematics education faculty in collaboration with PK-12 educators in building the capacity of schools for continuous improvement toward student success with challenging mathematics.