STEM & Digital Learning
Districts strive to provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning opportunities for all students, and to embed opportunities for coding, computer science, and computational thinking throughout the curriculum. This can be challenging for under-resourced districts with high accountability pressures who often struggle to include time for STEM, beyond math, in the school day, or to find qualified educators to teach advanced STEM courses. To succeed in higher-level STEM classes, students need a foundation in digital skills, from basics like typing and logging into applications, to advanced competencies like 3D printing and robotics. Districts want STEM to be more accessible, including for female students and students of color. Districts also find that parents need more information about STEM, and why STEM opportunities are important for their children.
Staff from urban districts responded this challenge is widespread
High school staff responded they experience this challenge often
Ideas from the Field
- Partnerships with nonprofit organizations or private companies are key to some districts gaining access to sophisticated STEM equipment. One district partnered with a 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 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 STEM while other districts are working to actively increase access to rigorous coursework in high school.
- Training and coaching remain a primary approach to strengthen teacher skills in STEM subjects. One district encourages teachers to practice solving math and STEM problems in different ways while another ensures that all teachers, even at kindergarten, are receiving specific math and STEM professional development opportunities in order to improve educator competency.
Related Innovation Portfolios
Innovative programs inspire computing, coding, and competition from Pre-K to ninth gradeExpansive robotics program strengthens problem-solving and collaboration for students across grade and skill levels
Growing a culture of digital and media literacy to prepare students for college, career, and the future they chooseBuilding teacher leadership capacity through a personalized learning cohort model
Our IT Department’s average age is 13Empowering students to solve the district’s technology problems
In the Words of District Staff
“Basic coding is seen as an “extra” fun thing instead of it another language or another [skill] to integrate … As an educator, you don't need to know everything [about coding]. Are you willing to dive in with your kids? That’s a mindset change to work on.”
“For our parents, it’s just, “what is STEM?” They’re still in the dark about what we’re trying to accomplish with STEM, and what the benefits are for their students to be involved in that type of program. Just what does STEM do for students, academically or even to prepare them for the future?”
“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.”
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.
STEM Innovation Spotlights - From the Office of Educational Technology, in partnership with Digital Promise, a research synthesis exploring the impact of integrating innovative digital technology in STEM and ten video spotlights highlighting effective uses of technology.
NEA STEM Resources - From the NEA, a collection of curricula and professional development resources focused on Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics for preK-12.