Implementation of effective STEM teaching strategies

STEM is more than just math, science, engineering and technology. It is a movement to develop the deep mathematical and scientific backgrounds students need to be competitive in the 21st-century workforce.

STEM develops a set of  reasoning, thinking, investigative, teamwork,  and creative skills that students can utilize in any area of their lives. STEM shouldn’t be a standalone class. It’s a way to intentionally incorporate different subjects across an existing curriculum.

PLTW Engineering courses basically does the STEM planning for you, however, how you implement these strategies is important!

Here are some basic guidelines for creating ANY STEM lesson:

1. STEM lessons focus on real-world issues and problems. In STEM lessons, students address real social, economic, and environmental problems and seek solutions. In the PLTW Principles of Engineering course students are carefully moved from concept to application to problem-solving using the engineering design process.

2. STEM lessons are guided by the Engineering Design Process. The EDP provides a flexible process that takes students from identifying a problem—or a design challenge—to creating and developing a solution. In this process, students define problems, conduct background research, develop multiple ideas for solutions, develop and create a prototype, and then test, evaluate, and redesign them. In the PLTW pre-engineering classes this process is integral to everything we do.

3. STEM lessons immerse students in hands-on inquiry and open-ended exploration. In STEM lessons, the path to learning is open ended, within constraints. (Constraints generally involve things like available materials.) The students’ work is hands-on and collaborative, and decisions about solutions are student-generated. Students communicate to share ideas and redesign their prototypes as needed. They control their own ideas and design their own investigations.  I love listening to my classes as they problem-solve together.

4. STEM lessons involve students in productive teamwork. Helping students work together as a productive team is never an easy job. It is such a natural part of the PLTW classroom that this is a no brainer.  Students will not be in the workforce working as individuals.  They will work in the collaborative teams which makes PLTW course a great preparation for the workplace.

5. STEM lessons apply rigorous math and science content your students are learning. In your STEM lessons, you should purposely connect and integrate content from math and science courses.  PLTW course do this for you.  There are never question like “Why do we need to know how to do this.”

6. STEM lessons allow for multiple right answers and reframe failure as a necessary part of learning. Often times science labs are in a recipe format so that all teams would replicate the same results or verify or refute a hypothesis. Students were studying specific science content and the whole idea was to provide insight into cause and effect by manipulating variables.  A STEM lesson allows for multiple pathways and multiple discoveries.  I love that I can outline basic constraints and allow students to head in whatever direction they like.

The awesome thing about teaching PLTW courses is that this planning is already done for you!



Reflection on being a STEM Facillitator

I’ve returned to the classroom after nearly ten years as an administrator. While in the administrative mode I preached, to whomever would listen, the importance of transforming the classroom from the traditional “set and get” atmosphere into a place where learning is collaborative, active, natural, and a reflection of the world in which our students will live and one day work.

This came fairly natural to me as a former STEM teacher (Though it didn’t have that acronym in those day!).  Science is active and if done right, is relevant and interesting.  It reconnects students to the natural curiosity that they had as a child.  Somewhere in the educational system that natural curiosity gets squashed underneath traditional ways of delivering information to students.  Many of our current classrooms still reflect the needs of the industrial revolution!

“I know they can do it, I can let go.
I know they can do it, I will let go.
I see they can do it . . .
I have let go.”

In working with teachers it was always a matter of convincing them to “let go”.  Many do not believe that students will learn on their own, or rather, they don’t WANT to learn on their own.  This has not been my experience.  It’s often when I throw a problem out there and let them wrestle with it that I get the greatest results.  Real learning is found in that struggle.  It’s found in not bailing them out, but finding a balance of support without removing the struggle from them.  As teachers many of us are rescuers, we can’t stand watching the struggle.   I’ve seen new teachers  fall victim to that student who is so used to being bailed out that he/she refused to dive in.  They say things like, “You’re the teacher, you’re supposed to tell us how to do this!” This can make teachers attempting to change their style from stage on the stage to guide on the side, feel that they are failing or doing it wrong.  They aren’t.  It’s a matter of being able to let go and allow learning to take place.

I tell my students that they are going to struggle.  That I’m going to let them.  I tell them that is where the learning is, but they are not alone.  I allow them to collaborate, work together and problem solve.  Technology puts endless resources in their hands.  In an Project Lead the Way engineering classroom, that’s critical!

I currently have a very “brainiac” group of students who are willing to collaborate with one another, problem solve, and ask really intelligent questions when they get stumped.  I rarely get the cope out statements like,

Student: “I just don’t get it.”

Teacher: “Don’t get what?”

Student: “Any of it.”

If you’ve been a teacher for any amount of time at all, that conversation is something that has made you want to pull your hair out.

One of my biggest struggles has been not feeling needed.  I’m often wandering the classroom just waiting for someone to “need” me.  Often they don’t.  So I’ve learned to wander and question.  I ask questions that that make them think and require them to communicate their reasoning or thought process behind a particular solution.  I’ve learned SO much from listening to them.  Why did I ever think learning was only happening when all they were doing was listen to me?

I also question my teaching methods.  Would something else be more successful?  Is there something I should have covered more thoroughly or done a better job of modeling?  What misconceptions do I need to address.  The list is endless.

Learning to be a facilitator has come pretty natural to me, I think because science just naturally lends itself to that kind of classroom.  There are still areas where I need to let go, or require students to be more responsible for their own learning.  It’s a work in progress, even after 29 year in education.

Innovation Day Reflection


Innovation Day was innovative!  No one really new what to expect.  There was great excitement, plenty of activity, creativity on display, and room for improvement.  As we talked through the day about Innovation Days across the globe, teachers and I discuss the thought behind the first Innovation day and how we might get that concept started from day one next year.

The national Innovation Day was February 6th this year.  The idea behind this day is to spot a problem, think of a solution, and create something as a result! Innovation Day is all about imagining new, better ways of doing things. How will we be innovative next year?

  • We’ll start at the beginning of the year in homerooms and advisory classes.  Students will have August to identify a real world problem and present the problem to their teachers.
  • Multiple examples via video will be provided to get kids thinking in the right directions.
  • Students will have periodic innovation days throughout the year to research their problem and attempt to come up with a solution.
  • I will create a “Teacher’s Guide to Innovation Day” document that teachers will use to walk students through the steps of innovation, then marketing and even possibly patenting their ideas.
  • The best projects from each advisory class will appear on CMS and WES first “Shark Tank”.  This will be held in the CMS auditorium.
  • They will have to present their ideas and market them.
  • A silent auction could actually be held on innovation day at the Frisco Center, where students could sell their products to the public to make money for the makerspace.
  • We will use the Invention Convention Guidebook as a curriculum resource.

What’s already done:

The Student Inventors Journal has been adapted and recreated for our purposes using Google Docs.

What needs to be done:

  • The makerspace will need to be supplied with equipment and tools that students may need to build their inventions.
  • Create Teacher Guide
  • Approval for Fund Raiser forms will need to be turned in.
  • Sharks for the Shark Tank will need to be identified and invited.
  • Schedule the Main Convention
  • Team of Teachers Donley, Blundell, Pugh, Wheeler, Lillie

Community Involvement

  • Sharks for the Shark Tank
  • Board of Ed and Foundation Judge the Invention Fair
  • Setting up Booths (community displays) of innovation


  • Presentation Boards
  • Soldering Gun
  • Storage Bins
  • Tools of all kinds