M3 bPortfolio Reflection – STEM Research

My ideas of STEM have changed slightly, but significantly since beginning the course. I have learned about the different models of STEM (Henrikson, 2015):

  • SteM – Science and Math are the “bookends” and most important
  • STEM – Integrated focus for both math and science – T&E are integrated and focused on contend and application
  • S | T | E | M – each discipline stands on its own
  • s(TE)m – increased focus on CTE classes that help prepare for selected careers in science, math, technology an engineering.

The best model according to Lantz (2009) is that STEM should be well integrated into the curriculum and that teachers should be collaborating to create cohesive units of instruction that help students learn about all topics together. One tool for accomplishing a truly effective STEM model that was discussed in our class discussions was common planning time across disciplines to help teach similar concepts in different classes. Verlaine (discussion post in Module 2) shared her collaborative approach within her school district, a push for cross curricular teaching. Additionally, Verlaine supported her claims of this effectiveness of teaching similar subject by citing psychological research (Medina, 2008) for increasing long-term memory by repeating information multiple times, within a short period of time using different modalities.

Wiliams (2011) discusses how the use of questioning is important for teachers to formatively asses student understanding to inform next steps in teaching. I assume he would support the STEM model, where each element has an equal share of a given lesson. This assumption is based on his desire to ask inquiry questions such as, “What do you notice?” Earlier this year, I was introduced to an NCTM lesson called “The Hexagon Train Task.” I was part of a group of math and science teachers, we were given four yellow plastic hexagons and asked to line them up “end to end” where a long side would touch another. We were then asked to ]reflect on what we noticed about the aligned hexagons. Some mentioned the color, some discussed the perimeter, others discussed the shape, but overall our ideas were broadened to to accept the next question because of our ability to think abstractly was opened. Soon after, we were asked to think about perimeter and how this could be calculated for longer “trains.” We were just told the purpose of the activity (only slightly though, but the instructor had a clear academic purpose for the lesson, sequences). Having the opportunity to think generally before getting specific allowed both the math and the science people around the table consider a question without fear of being incorrect. Sometimes I struggle with IRE (Initiate, Response, Evaluate) which is off putting to many students, I think I can incorporate more of this open discussion and individual reflection into my lessons this coming year.

Some of our discussions in Module 2 & 3 were about purpose with instruction. STEM cannot be accomplished without clear purpose. Provided that many of us took a methods course about Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe (2005) which stated the purpose of the lesson should drive the activities and goals should establish each lesson (rather than the other way around). This method (backwards design), is at the heart of educational research and is supported by Williams (2011, p. 61). In our class discussions for Module 3 about Project/Problem Based Learning, comments arose about the intent of the learning, rather than the activity itself. Lura’s post about the Rube Goldberg Machine commented on her investigation of PBL activities found on the internet. She mentioned, “Many so-called ‘STEM’ lessons that I did find weren’t anything new, just standard math or science lessons with some videos added about applications” I think this is part of the challenge with PBL is that the purpose should be the beginning of the project, not the act of completing a project, making a presentation or doing STEM. The purpose should be to meet educational standards where multiple modalities should be used to approach concepts. Projects could include multiple standards from a variety of subjects, but that’s not necessary.

Overall, I have learned that STEM should be well integrated. To accomplish this, teachers from different subjects need to work together and students need to work in collaborative groups facilitated by a teacher. The planning can be though common planning time (which is becoming more typical in schools) or it could be through another framework of providing collaborative work time for teachers. Lessons should be revised and adjusted based on formative feedback and through a teachers understanding of unique students needs. Finally, when planning projects, there is a general consensus (although not by all) that the purpose should come first and activities should support the learning of those targets.


Henrikson, R. (Lecturer) (2015, June 22). Module 2 What is STEM. EDU6978 Module 2 Course Lecture. Lecture conducted from , Seattle, WA.

Lantz Jr, H.B. (2009). Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. What form? What function. Baltimore, MD:  Report, CurrTech Integrations.

Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiliam, D. (2011).  Embedded formative assessment.  Bloomington, IN:  Solution Tree.

Instructional Strategies Observation

This observation compares two very different types of instruction instruction strategies between STEM related topics. The first strategy is project- and inquiry-based instruction the other is a game to demonstrate a concept. In the first class, a class titled “The Physics of Flight,” students are tasked with creating a protection system for a payload on a bottle rocket they will launch at the end of the week. Students are provided a budget, materials and a critical friend who must approve the design before the build. Students must use their knowledge of drag, friction, air pressure and mass (topics of physics) to design their payload protection system to minimize damage. Students who are careful with their design and focus on the prior knowledge built more robust systems.

The project is a long term project where students will revise their plans and rebuild their payload protection system many times as they learn more about the physics required for flying and space. What I like about this project and instructional strategy is that it is very real world. Students have to work within a budget, they need to be creative, their plans need to be approved by a critical friend and finally they can actually build and test their end product and have the opportunity to revise their original plans. I asked a student about what they would do differently, they mentioned that they would not have used such heavy material to protect their payload because the mass is difficult to slow down when the object is falling. They need a lighter protection system to be slower. I think these students are really learning about the concepts of physics in a real world environment. Some students were confident in their protection systems and the teacher didn’t challenge their thinking much after they took their mind off the task. If I were to provide feedback I would encourage this teacher to talk one on one with the students who claimed they were done and ask them about how their learning changed design elements on their product. This would re-engage these students who felt they already knew how to do the activity well. I think that mathematical modeling is one of the most useful applications of math, so I may use the project based strategy to provide a project for my students to apply their math knowledge to the real world.

The other instructional strategy that I observed was a game to unpack a scientific concept. The students were studying the carbon cycle and the teacher wanted to emphasize that particles of carbon get stuck in different areas. For instance, carbon that forms oil will be stuck in the ground for a long time until it is drilled up and then moved through the air as oil emissions. Students played a game were each student was a carbon molecule and they started evenly distributed. Students would roll dice and read a legend to determine their fate as a carbon. Some tabled became very full while others were less full because carbon stays in certain forms longer. Students recorded their fate and then at the end of the game the teacher had students discuss what happened to their molecule. I think this was beneficial since it was an activity where students could move around the classroom and see/feel what a carbon would be in the larger scheme of the carbon cycle. I especially liked that the class debriefed the activity so that those student who could not make the conclusion about the activity could be clued into what learning was supposed to take place. This type of activity could implemented in a statistics unit where randomness can be visualized.

Between these two instruction strategies, I think they were both effective because they had clear goal for the students and were well planned out. Students were able to articulate the goals of the activity and the activity was differentiated so learning could be achieved despite different learning styles. The take away from these observations was that I need to incorporate more movement into my classroom and differentiate instruction with intentional activities for students.