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Wednesday / April 24

Three Tips for Meaningful STEM Integration During Science or Mathematics Instructional Time

This is the first of a series of four Corwin Connect articles from members of the author team of Simplifying STEM PreK-5 and 6-12.

Every scholar (preK-12) should have access to meaningful integrated STEM learning experiences, with no exceptions. However, the setting and structure for these experiences can vary from school to school. Engaging STEM learning experiences can take place in a designated lab space, during core mathematics or science instructional time, during a designated “special area” time, or through another structure. In any of the settings, schools do not need a big budget, state-of-the-art technology, or a fancy lab space for educators to leverage the STEM disciplines to offer scholars opportunities to deeply engage in seeking solutions to big issues in the school, community, region, or the world. Such experiences are critical to developing scholars’ STEM literacy and their knowledge and confidence as solution seekers, advocates, innovators, and change-makers in service of making the world a better place for all.

Regardless of the setting and structure, we present three helpful tips for meaningful STEM integration during science or mathematics instructional time. It may be tempting to decide that your class is already jammed packed trying to “cover” the science and/or mathematics standards that need to be taught. We aren’t suggesting you ditch your core instruction; rather we suggest you leverage powerful integrated STEM learning experiences that provide purpose and answers the “why” scholars need content and skills that can appear isolated and disconnected to their lives during siloed instruction. Integrated STEM learning experiences empower scholars to apply and leverage what they know and use it to make sense of the world in authentic ways.

Take a moment to consider a 30,000-foot view of the purpose of school and the purpose of learning the STEM disciplines (or really any discipline) in school. We argue that deep connected knowledge of content and its applications, development of practices within and across the disciplines, being a creative and innovative thinker and strong communicator, and using content knowledge to seek solutions in our world should be the goal—not memorizing thousands of facts or learning isolated definitions (something a quick Internet search provides at our fingertips).

There are several models for focusing on integrated STEM during designated science or mathematics instructional time. For example, some educators choose to implement an integrated STEM learning experience at the end of each instructional unit so scholars can meaningfully transfer and apply what they learned throughout the unit. Another model is to designate a specific block of time each week to engage in an integrated STEM learning experience that could take place during one time block or multiple blocks for weeks or even longer.

Below are three tips to integrate STEM into your classrooms:

STEM Integration Tip #1: Math as the Vehicle within a Science Context

One of the most natural ways to ground STEM integration is to seek opportunities to use mathematics as the vehicle through which to make sense of a phenomenon in a science context. This is often such a natural integration (the Next Generation Science Standards even points us to the specific connections), but we’ve lived in a siloed world for so long that we tend to miss the opportunities to maximize the math! And the math in integrated STEM is so much more than making a budget or graph. Dream big and consider ways scholars could deeply analyze real-world messy and complex data with no clear solution and build a case for their recommendation, make predictions from multiple technology simulated models, formulate a plan using multiple representations, use geometry and engineering design to seek their solution, and much more. Take-Away: Integrating multiple content standards in meaningful ways can make instruction more efficient and save time in the long-run, while gifting scholars a much more impactful and authentic learning experience.

STEM Integration Tip #2: Leverage the Practice Standards for Points of Intersection

The practice standards are a great place to seek integration as well. In fact, this idea is not new. With a quick internet search you can find Venn diagrams that were released about a decade ago that show the intersection points of Common Core Math Practices, Common Core English Language Arts, and Next Generation Science Standards practices. Fast forward to today, our team has considered how to synthesize the three primary sets of STEM practices (which should be similar no matter what state you are in). Our synthesis of these three sets of practice standards (NGSS, 2013; ITEEA, 2020; CCSSM, 2010) led to the creation of four Integrated STEM Practices:

  1. use critical and creative thinking to seek solutions,
  2. collaborate and use appropriate tools to engage in iterative design,
  3. communicate solutions based on evidence and data, and
  4. recognize and use structures in real-world systems.

More information about our Integrated STEM Practices and stories of their implementation can be found in the Simplifying STEM series by Jackson and colleagues (2024). Take-Away: It is a myth that integrating the STEM disciplines will dilute the content and practices of each individual discipline. We argue that when done intentionally and meaningfully the depth of content, practice, and application run much deeper than any contrived activity.

STEM Integration Tip #3: Find Your People (i.e. Collaborators)

Just because you are engaging scholars in integrated STEM during instructional time where you are typically the only educator, we encourage you to find your people and don’t go this alone! Potential collaborators can be found everywhere. One idea is to enlist community partners or family members of your scholars that have valuable expertise. You can also seek support for actual instructional time by enlisting the expertise of a special education teacher, multilingual scholar teacher, instructional assistants, family volunteers, or teacher candidates from a nearby university. Sample questions to start the conversation with potential partners might include:

  • How can we work together to best benefit each and every scholar?
  • What are our collective strengths with regard to content, pedagogy, and experiences with STEM Integration?
  • What do each of us feel most confident about regarding STEM integration?
  • What do each of us feel most nervous about regarding STEM integration? (questions adapted from Step into STEAM by Bush & Cook, 2019).

Take-Away: The strongest integrated STEM learning experiences are when the educators model the type of collaboration and shared contributions that we expect from our scholars.

Whatever your setting and structure, integrating meaningful STEM during your science and math instructional time will pay off for you and your scholars. Your scholars stand so much to gain from the authentic and purposeful explorations of meaningful applications of STEM in their community and you’ll also have the opportunity to deepen your understanding of the fluidity and connectedness among the disciplinary standards.

References

Bush, S. B., & Cook, K. L. (2019). Step into STEAM, grades K-5: Your standards-based action plan for deepening mathematics and science learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). (2020). Standards for technological and engineering literacy: The role of technology and engineering in STEM education. https://www.iteea.org/ST EL.aspx

Jackson, C., Roberts, T., Maiorca, C., Cook, K., Bush, S., & Mohr-Schroeder, M. (2024). Simplifying STEM: Four equitable practices to inspire meaningful learning (grades preK-5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Jackson, C., Cook, K., Bush, S., Mohr-Schroeder, M., Maiorca, C., & Roberts, T. (2024). Simplifying STEM: Four equitable practices to inspire meaningful learning (grades 6-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards: Mathematics. National Governors Association and Council of Chief State and School Officers. http:// www.corestandards.org/Math/

NGSS Lead States.(2013).Next generation science standards: For states, by states. The National Academies Press. www .nextgenscience.org/overview-dci

Written by

Dr. Sarah B. Bush, a former middle school mathematics teacher, is a Professor of K–12 STEM Education and the Lockheed Martin Eminent Scholar Chair at the University of Central Florida. At the University of Central Florida, she is the Director of the Lockheed Martin/UCF Mathematics and Science Academy and is the program coordinator of the Mathematics Education PhD track. She teaches primarily graduate courses in mathematics education. She is a prolific writer who has authored 12 books and more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Bush recently completed a term (2019–2022) as a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Board of Directors. She served as the lead writer and task force chair for NCTM’s Catalyzing Change in Middle School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations. Dr. Bush was the recipient of the 2021 School Science and Mathematics Association (SSMA) Award for Excellence in Integrating Science and Mathematics and 2018 recipient of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) Early Career Award. Dr. Bush seamlessly integrates her practical experience as a middle school mathematics teacher in public schools with her innovative scholarship to serve as an instructional leader in the field of mathematics education and STE(A)M education.

Dr. Kristin L. Cook, a former high school science teacher, is a Professor of Science Education in the School of Education at Bellarmine University. She received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction specializing in Science Education and Environmental Sciences from Indiana University. Dr. Cook teaches courses in K–12 science methods and STEAM Education. In addition to teaching initial certification and advanced graduate classes, Dr. Cook serves as a professional developer and consultant for K–12 STEAM-focused school reform and project and problem-based learning development. Dr. Cook is actively involved in federal grants and research that focus on engaging students and teachers with the community of science through the exploration of socioscientific inquiry and transdisciplinary STEAM instruction.

Dr. Bush and Dr. Cook are both co-authors on the newly published Simplifying STEM: Four Equitable Practices to Inspire Meaningful Learning for Grades PreK-5 and Grades 6-12 (Corwin, 2024). They are also the co-authors of Step into STEAM (Corwin, 2019) that will have a Second Edition publishing later in 2024.

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