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Embed STE(A)M in Instruction

STRATEGY: Embed STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), computer science, and workforce connections throughout instruction.

Effective school and district leaders embed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), computer science, and workforce connections throughout instruction to develop students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. Through intentional connections between standards, assessments, and lesson design across science, technology, engineering, and math, STEM instructional models afford students access to an integrated curriculum with multiple opportunities to engage in authentic, challenge-based learning and design thinking to solve real-world problems. STEM competencies are essential for learners to be able to function in the twenty-first century workplace.


STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” not only as individual academic subjects, but also as an interdisciplinary subject (or area of study). Through the integration of the four disciplines, STEM education assigns priority to the development of critical thinking, creativity, science literacy, and problem-solving skills to enable the next generation of innovators. To this end, STEM education emphasizes design thinking, investigation, and inquiry and devotes explicit attention to the development and application of these skills in real-world contexts.

First Steps to Consider

STEM ensures that important scientific, mathematical, technological, and engineering-linked concepts and practices are understood and applied in an interdisciplinary manner. STEM is about developing scientific, technological, and mathematical insights, concepts, and practices and using them to solve complex questions and real-world problems. For a student to be proficient, STEM disciplines require not only content knowledge but also specific thinking dispositions, frequently referred to as the “5 C’s”: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical and computational thinking.

Quick wins

  • Establish a STEM advisory committee to develop a shared vision for STEM education that includes parents and representatives from the school, community, higher education institutions, and industry, and engage the committee in ongoing monitoring of the vision.
  • Identify potential gaps in student readiness and teacher professional development.
  • Identify priorities and common goals for STEM education to develop and execute a thoughtful, strategic plan.
  • Establish a STEM framework for teaching and learning that advances problem-solving learning through the application of STEM concepts and practices.
  • Sequence how STEM knowledge, skills, and attitudes will be addressed in the curriculum.
  • Identify budgetary needs required to increase resources for STEM learning.

First Steps

    • Increase awareness of the benefits of STEM literacy for all students.

Adopt policies and standards for quality STEM professional learning to support teachers with STEM practices and principles and to share research related to STEM goals.

  • Promote a school climate and culture that advances an innovative, entrepreneurial, and inquisitive mindset where students and teachers are unafraid to take risks associated with STEM educational expectations.
  • Leverage professional learning communities and face-to-face time with teachers to develop and promote a consistent understanding of STEM and to support cross-curricular collaboration and professional learning.
  • Support teachers with the design of STEM experiences that are developmentally appropriate and extend students’ opportunities to solve real-world challenges.
  • Establish systems built around excellence and equity that afford students universal access to STEM experiences and programs.
  • Establish school structures that facilitate the implementation of an interdisciplinary approach to STEM education and personalized learning experiences for students.
  • Adjust the master schedule as needed to accommodate STEM experiences and programs.
  • Establish and sustain partnerships with local business, industry, and higher education.
  • Create, identify, and promote STEM career pathways.
  • Create, identify, and promote externship programs for students and teachers to increase applied learning and work-based learning experiences for both.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to measure the effectiveness of the adopted STEM framework and to inform progressive expectations associated with STEM education.

Complexities & Pitfalls

To create and promote high-quality STEM education, school leaders must avoid common pitfalls. They must also be prepared to persist through the challenges that will come from shifting from a product to process-focused learning design.

Common pitfalls

  • Failing to promote equitable access to STEM learning experiences or only implementing STEM in specialized schools (e.g., Career and Technology Education Centers).
  • Challenging recruitment and retention issues impacting the number of STEM teachers available to advance equitable STEM education and opportunities.
  • Adequate access among teachers to research, resources, knowledge, and expertise to support the effective implementation of STEM pedagogy.
  • Lack of coordination and alignment among schools, higher education, and industry related to STEM objectives, resulting in limited opportunities and outcomes.
  • Funding limitations.

Guiding Questions

  • How will the shared vision and purpose for STEM education be developed and communicated? What are the short-term and long-term goals for the STEM education program? What immediate and future budgetary implications are there for implementing STEM in the school?
  • How will STEM standards be integrated into the existing curriculum to ensure that students master STEM competencies? Which standards align with local issues that would allow for real-world application of the STEM competencies?
  • How will the STEM framework or instructional model inform the implementation of STEM instructional practices? How will the STEM framework or instructional model support student-centered instruction and students as agents of their learning?
  • How will professional learning support teachers with shifting instructional practices to ensure fidelity of implementation of STEM pedagogy?
  • How will students experience STEM in the school? What types of extracurricular STEM programs will students experience? Who will sponsor extracurricular STEM programs?
  • How might school leaders support teachers in the creation and implementation of STEM lessons and activities?
  • What strategy will be employed to provide opportunities for teacher to plan STEM lessons and activities collaboratively? What grouping configurations will best support the learning outcomes expected? (Grade-level teams? Subject-alike teams? Cross-curricular teams?)
  • To what degree are STEM experiences and programs being implemented in the school?
  • What options exists for enabling STEM professionals to become teachers through alternative certification options?
  • How will the effectiveness of the STEM education program, lessons, and activities be evaluated?