M6 Reflection – Challenges Implementing STEM

What do you view as some of the challenges associated with implementing an effective STEM model given your current teaching context? What are some potential solutions and/or innovations you can create to eliminate some of these challenges?

As a beginning teacher, I think I have been more adventurous in the ways I approach lesson plans and creating curriculum that of some of my teacher peers. One of my greatest challenges is my content knowledge for teaching interdisciplinary topics. In efforts to construct lessons that incorporate complex scientific topics or technology (such as computer programming), I am limited by my experiences working in those fields. Even providing students with context specific activities, I only have academic settings to apply my understanding of application. I have never worked in industry so I cannot provide real world experiences. Thus, I rely heavily on other sources, such as textbooks and the internet to provide high quality content for my students. This is a lot of additional work for me as a teacher, I’ll discuss this later.

Practice five of the Next Generation Science Standards suggest the importance of the connection between mathematics and sciences. Mathematics is a way to explain many scientific phenomena, and so mathematics can be taught through many scientific ideas. The whole reason Calculus was created was because Sir Isaac Newton was interested in physics and needed a way to explain how things changed over very short periods of time. Hence, we should be taking an approach to mathematics in with this idea in mind: “If math is the aspirin, how do we create the headache? (Meyer, 2014)” My fear in generating math content, is that I am unable to create such a headache for my students.

Another, probably more common response to the lack of implementation of STEM is the time constraints faced by teachers (Petrinjak, 2012). Within my context many teachers are more worried about a students ability and content knowledge than their ability to create well integrated STEM classes. It is not in the job description for teachers to collaborate with others to design a STEM integrated learning unit. According to the principals at my school, many teachers are independent workers in an environment that needs more collaboration. Luckily, there are new initiatives to entice teacher to collaborate more with others.

Earlier this year, I read a book called Teaching as Inquiry (Weinbaum, et al, 2004) about engaging in inquiry groups with other teachers. This book provided insight into how to create a collaborative work environment with other teachers to help improve my own teaching, be that STEM integration, classroom management practices or the like. Many anecdotes throughout the chapters empowered me to view colleagues as a support team, especially when teaching similar content. Other teachers have a lot of background knowledge too, collaborating with them to build a unit both teacher can use greatly reduces working time overall. Similar to the way that we are working collaboratively for the STEM Research class to design a project based learning unit, the time spent working collaboratively is much more useful than time spent along attempting to integrate STEM.

Working as a team can help a developing teacher find the “headache” needed to inspire some learning around STEM which can serve as the “aspirin.” Over the past year, I’ve had many headaches trying to figure out a STEM application, I could have cured that so quickly by asking a colleague for a simple application, someone who had the content knowledge I was lacking. Part of the Weinbaum book talked about creating a colleague climate. The saying, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back” is all too true, as a new teacher working to implement STEM, many favors will need to be asked.

ICCSS2NGSSn my current context, I will be teaching Algebra 1 which is taught primarily to the 9th grade class. My school has a freshman program meant to help reduce the dropout rates early on. These cohort groups include science, English, history, and health, but Mathematics is missing from this equation. The teachers of these cohorts have a very special, administration facilitated, opportunity to work together, get to know students and collaborate in learning. Unfortunately, I am out of this collaborative look because students entering 9th grade are at vastly different levels of math (unlike the other topics). In the coming years, I want to start creating a structure around how to improve this cohort model to include math classes, even when students are not on track. Mayes & Koala (2012) published an alignment between mathematics and science practices, if teachers are able to work together could help with the collaboration process. These show important 21st century skills students need as a STEM model.

As mentioned earlier, time is a significant constraint on teachers as they work. In our lecture this week, Dr. Henrickson mentioned the need for teachers reject the need to create their own materials for every class session. They do not! A lot of curriculum out there is perfect for the needs of our students, there is a lot to pick from. Teachers DO need to be able to assess students needs and be able to select lessons that meet the standards aimed to be met. By selecting content rich activities, using an engagement learning method, students learn much more by inquiry than by traditional forms of education (Eddy, 2015), including IRE (Initiate, Response, Evaluate) or by providing students with copious amounts of worksheets (Wiliam, 2011). According to Eddy (2015) students need to have some background knowledge before the active learning is effective, but when students are asking questions about what they are learning, what learning that does occur is much stronger. She claims that the process may be slower, but the learning is significantly better (yes, statistically significant).

A few weeks ago, I attended a Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) workshop. Their process was developed for a chemistry undergraduate classroom to engage students in inquiry learning, but help guide them through the process. The POGIL workshop helped me understand that the scientific process is an inquiry based model and can be implemented in any classroom. Through active learning and student inquiry, along with “hinge point” questions or other formative assessment (William, 2011), teachers can improve their students content knowledge in a STEM integrated classroom. Some lecturing is required to help students gain essential skills, but overall, regular questions can be adapted to fit this model when facilitated by a teacher.

Overall, the challenges with implementing STEM is a challenging project. The major obstacles for me include content knowledge of STEM topics the the teacher collaboration to improve a rounded STEM program. The connection between math and science is strong, engineering can be incorporated in the problem solving aspect and technology is a tool to help scientists and mathematicians complete their work more economically, this is clear. What is not clear is how teacher will work together, either with each other or industry experts to create a learning plan for students to become STEM educated. Small steps as a new teacher will help get my school there, but many teachers will need to make larger differences to make a significant systematic impact.


Eddy, S. (2015). Active Learning Across the Sciences: Does It Work in College Classroom and Can We Make It Inclusive? POGIL Northwest Regional Workshop. Portland: Lewis and Clark College.

Mayes, R., & Koballa, T. R. (2012, December). Exploring the Science Framework: Making connections in math with the Common Core State Standards. NSTA K-12 Journal .

Meyer, D. (2015, June 17). If Math Is The Aspirin, Then How Do You Create The Headache? Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Petrinjak, L. (2012, June 8). Gauging the STEM Effect. Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., & Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York: Teachers College Press

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

P1 – Intentional Inquiry and Planning

P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. This means that classroom teacher plans instruction around a learning target and creates a lesson which encourages students to critically think about the function of the learning target. Within the realm of mathematics, students should build intuition around how mathematical processes and can therefore build from current understandings to unique situations in the future. For a teacher, building this intuition must be well planned.

Student Work Matrix POGILStudent Work Matrix POGIL2Student Work Matrix POGIL3 Student Work Matrix POGIL4

Student Work Matrix POGIL5Student Work Matrix POGIL6

In the images, I’m presenting the work of a group of students who completed a group inquiry activity that was monitored me. While POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) activities are highly structured and I lack the training to adequately design a true POGIL, this is my best attempt at guiding students through mathematical concepts using discovery as the motivator for the lesson. This POGIL is about matrix multiplication, the purpose of this activity was to build on their prior experiences of matrices, create intuition about mathematical practices, and assist students in making meaning behind matrix multiplication. Many students know the procedure, yet few understood how this process was applicable in the real world.

This classroom activity was built and designed by me, although I used a textbook to find problems with student interest in mind and adapted the questions to fit my instructional goals. Since this activity was designed by me, this demonstrates I am able to ask students good questions which lead to conceptual understanding. This also shows my ability to plan for 100 minutes of instruction and facilitate an activity, probing students for more advanced thinking.

While planning this activity, I learned about how challenging it is to create clear questions which lead students to understanding of the learning targets. Since I teach multiple sections of the same course, after each class, I revised my questions to ensure each question challenges students and leads them to more complete understanding of matrix multiplication. Students also state they enjoy the POGIL’s as a learning activity. Students get to work in groups and ask questions to their peers. Providing group based activities, students break the routine of back to back 100 minute learning segments. Additionally, this provides students the opportunity to practice new skills without the traditional “drill and kill” of many math classroom. Practicing with inquiry also helps students create meaningful understanding rather than the process of symbol manipulation alone.

When designing lessons, it may be useful within my lesson plans to prepare questions each day which probe at the students understanding. Also, I think that creating a classroom goal everyday (and actively writing it down in the lesson plan) will help lead to a meaningful result from the lesson. With a goal like “Students can understand the meaning and operations of matrix multiplication,” I can create quality lessons, ask questions which probe for understanding, and measure the effectiveness of my lesson.