Math/STEM - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Student Learning


The Challenge

Districts are striving to increase math and STEM achievement. They are looking for effective mathematics and science curricula and instructional strategies that match new standards requiring a deeper understanding of concepts. Additionally, many students are entering higher education programs requiring remedial math classes, which is associated with higher non-completion rates. Some districts find it difficult to provide science learning opportunities (especially in the early grades) and to embed opportunities for coding, computer science, and computational thinking throughout the curriculum. This challenge is compounded for under-resourced districts with high accountability pressures struggling to find time in the school day and/or find qualified educators to address these subjects.

In the Words of District Leaders

I think we need to have more science at the elementary level. But what hurts us is that it's more math and ELA driven. So our students don't get the science that I would like them to get.

“Getting STEAM in some of the non-traditional subjects has been a little bit slower than we were hoping, but we are focusing on that, especially STEAM in the Language Arts and Social Science areas. We have some pockets in our school, but … we want to be consistent in every discipline throughout all of our schools.”

“We realized that a lot of our kids don’t get to community college or don’t stay in community college because when they have to take the math placement test, they do so poorly that they are required to take four remedial courses before they ever get to a credit course for community college. That’s sufficiently discouraging for them to drop out.”

Ideas from the Field

  • Training and coaching remain a primary approach to strengthen teacher skills in math and STEM. One district encourages math teachers to practice solving math in different ways while another ensures that all teachers, even at kindergarten, are receiving specific math professional development opportunities in order to improve educator competency.
  • Partnerships with nonprofit organizations or private companies are key to some districts gaining access to sophisticated STEM equipment. One district partnered with an manufacturing plant; the plant’s engineer challenged students to create a specific part that the industry was struggling to build. The students solved this problem, not only building their own skills and confidence, but also helping the partner company push their business forward. In another district, a partnership has resulted in “bio-science equipment that rivals a university.”
  • New or expanded pathways initiatives to increase math/STEM achievement is another emerging trend. These pathways may be elementary to secondary, or secondary to post-secondary. Some districts are using personalized learning to help students identify their own gaps in math/STEM while other districts are working to actively increase access to rigorous coursework in high school.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about supporting math and STEM learning:

Math Learning topic page – From Digital Promise, this page provides an introduction and key findings from the research on the learning and teaching of mathematics, including links to additional resources.

STEM Learning Practices topic page – From Digital Promise, this page provides an introduction and key findings from the research on STEM Education and Multimedia Learning, including links to additional resources.

Math PK-2 model – From Digital Promise, a research-driven, holistic representation of all of the critical variables that affect how PK-2nd graders learn math, including proven instructional strategies.

Youcubed – From youcubed at Stanford, this site offers research-based teaching methods, math tasks, videos, and ideas meant to significantly reduce math failure and inequality.

STEM for All Video Showcase – From TERC, this searchable site features 3-minute videos on NSF-sponsored research on a wide variety of STEM learning topics.

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