Enrich, Design, Engage, and Integrate: 4 (more) Keys to Education Reform through STEM

Two months ago, I began to outline the top 8 implementation models for STEM initiatives that are emerging across the country. Due to time and space constraints, I only got through the top 4.  And then, well… life happened!  And as many of you know … life doesn’t always go as planned.  Originally, I intended to post a follow-up post to the first 4 keys within a week.  But here I am 2 months later, after a life-changing health crisis and a significant change in focus for my work  (more on that in a future post…)

Nonetheless, my focus on STEM education has not wavered AND this is one blog post that I feel compelled to finish, given the fact that the data is current and was collected from educators and STEM advocates just like you.

So, today, I’d like to share the remaining 4 trends that have emerged in my research, as well as how these STEM initiatives are framed and managed, based on input from the education leaders driving them.  It was not by design, but the last post focused mostly on the administrative framework, describing trends of collaboration, inspiring teachers through training and PD, and focus on STEM schools.  In contrast, the trends that follow today tend to include more of the instructional characteristics of successful STEM initiatives.  It is interesting to note that many STEM programs combine one or more trait from each list, for example a PD program (Inspire) for teachers that focuses on the engineering design process (Design).  These categories are not mutually exclusive.  However they are specific enough to distinguish strategies that are being met with success when looking to integrate STEM into a new or existing school.


It is encouraging to notice that there is a distinct effort being placed on enriching the existing school day.  Whether it is after-school programs, summer camps, pullout programs for gifted and talented students, or supplemental education services for school improvement, schools have taken notice of the huge opportunity available to them in having an impact on student achievement and engagement in STEM subjects.  Examples include LEGO Robotics, environmental education, GIS (global information systems) applications, and much more.  The exciting part about this trend is that it is not only driven by the school system.  More often than not, programs are being spearheaded and implemented by business and industry leaders motivated to improve the STEM education offered to our students.  Some examples of out-of-school STEM initiatives follow:

“Specific use during afterschool programing. The goal is to incorporate STEM activities into the curriculum.” – Grant Funding Administrator, WA

“We are running intercessions and math/science summer programs.” – Program Manager, CA

 “We are creating informal education programs at our museum and would like to make sure we incorporate STEM education.” – Museum Administrator, CO

“We work with schools, districts, and other non-profits on STEM rich outreach, formal and informal education and graduate professional development education.” – Non-profit administrator, NV


This is one of the most common topics I hear about from schools and educators who are looking for support for improving STEM education – how can they incorporate engineering into their curriculum and instruction?  Especially when the vast majority of educators have no idea of what engineering is!  My response has always been simple, “Engineering education is not a concept, it is a process.  Your job as an educator is to teach your students how to solve problems.  And to do that they need a disciplined process, the engineering design process.”  It is so exciting to hear from school administrators and dedicated teachers who are doing just that!

“We are integrating engineering standards into secondary curriculum, and developing a partnership with career tech to teach Pre Engineering classes at both of our high schools.” – Curriculum Administrator, OK

“We have created a new high school, [district] School of Engineering, with support from the New Schools Project.  We continue to roll out to our science teachers professional development  supporting project-based learning.” – Curriculum Administrator, NC

“I employ STEM in my classroom as part of my curriclum. It is applied from an engineering perspective.” – High School Teacher, GA

” Our challenge is the integration of engineering skills and activities at upper elementary level.” – Grant Funding Administrator, KS


Another favorite of mine, the idea that STEM can’t be taught through lectures but rather through experiences.  Schools all over the country are recognizing how important it is to capture the attention of their students so that they take control of their learning and are invested in the ideas they are exploring.  In my experience, the best way to do this is to make learning relevant, authentic, and meaningful.

“We have been exploring authentic problem-based learning for some time. I am especially interested in integrating different subject areas so that students come to know that learning is not compartmentalized. I look forward to looking at the STEM approach to this learning.” – Curriculum Administrator, BC

“I work for a national environmental service learning organization partnering with school districts around the country to engage students K-12 in solving real life environmental and community issues by tying service learning into science, math and social science curricula.” – Industry Professional, SC

“We are a STEM Magnet School and we are developing our curriculum now based on project-based learning and place-based learning strategies.” – School Principal, MN

We are a K-12 Special Education facility.  We incorporate project-based learning in astronomy with elementary students, middle schoolers, and Earth Science and Environmental Science high schoolers. I receive NASA material and use it regularly.  I also inform my high schoolers of the STEM grants for post-graduate opportunities in community colleges.” – Elementary Teacher, NC


If there were a way to sum up all of the different ways STEM is being implemented in schools today, this would be the way:  Integration.  Integrating science with math, integrating curriculum with projects, integrating technology with teaching, and integrating classroom learning with real world problem solving.  Teachers are getting creative with how they think about preparing their students for the 21st Century and for their future.

” STEM participation varies depending on the school in the district. Beginning to include STEM units across the district in some grades.” – Curriculum Administrator, TX

” We are infusing STEM activities into our curriculum at each grade level.” – Enrichment Specialist, MD

” We are a technical school so STEM programs are used throughout, however, we are in the process of becoming more intentional or systematic about when and where we use STEM projects and units.” – Math Content Specialist, DE

” I am working to develop a curriculum prototype that is universally designed, STEAM, seamless modules, using PBL and within a gaming platform for k-12.” – Curriculum Developer, NH

Please do not hesitate to contact me (or simply comment below) to share how you are reforming education through STEM!

This entry was published on November 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm. It’s filed under Engineering Education, Innovation, Leadership, LEGO Robotics, Math Education, Project Based Learning, STEM Education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Enrich, Design, Engage, and Integrate: 4 (more) Keys to Education Reform through STEM

  1. outstanding post and you have helped me focus our STEM efforts

    thank you =)

  2. Pingback: Be a part of the 2012 AuthenticSTEM Guide to STEM Education Resources | Educate to Innovate with STEM

  3. Pingback: Be a part of the 2012 AuthenticSTEM Guide to STEM Education Resources | AuthenticSTEM

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