STEM/STEAM CURRICULUM DESIGN
The Path to Success
The Heart of Education – A Core Purpose
We believe the heart of any school is its core purpose, its reason for being. To engage and motivate students, a school, and each course of study within it, must have a palpable sense of purpose. This purpose must not only prepare student for future learning, but more importantly must have readily seen apparent value to the student in the here and now.
Over the past 400 years, there have been many core purposes to education. The earliest colonial settlers fleeing religious persecution from England regarded education as means to salvation. During the height of the industrial revolution, education for industry became a core purpose. In the early 20th century, education for social adaptation and assimilation emerged as a new core purpose.
What are Schools’ Core Purposes in the 21st Century?
We believe that a school’s purpose must be sufficiently defined so it can guide the organization of the curriculum as a whole. We have found many school mission statements to be woefully insufficient as a guide to meaningful curricula choices. A “College Prep” purpose begs the question. Why college and how to really prepare students for the panoply of choices of study it offers?
Why Should We Change?
In our work with thousands of teachers in hundreds of secondary schools, as well as from our work with faculty from dozens of colleges and universities, we have heard recurring concerns voiced: too many students have low motivation and poor work habits; too many are not as well as prepared for the next level as they should be; too many don’t know the basics and cannot apply what they know.
Many students have told us they find the teaching dull and the curriculum meaningless to them. Few when asked can articulate why they are learning what is presented to them.
21PSTEM’s Philosophy to Curriculum Design
We consider the curriculum in its largest sense to be a student’s entire school experience and that each course must have an “engagement proposition” so that every student knows what they are intended to learn and why.
We believe that disciplinary subjects should serve the school’s purpose and not the other way around. We regard state standards as flexible enough to permit a wide choice of curricular organization and choice of materials.
We think the “classroom” can take many forms and in different spaces, but that learning is ultimately about a relationship between the knower, what is to be known. And while technology can greatly aid learning, we believe there is no substitute for a human teacher, who we regard as an indispensable questioner, guide and mentor.
To maximize student understanding of concepts and the retention of information, we believe subjects ought to be internally coherent while at the same time reflecting the cognitive psychology of the learner.
To the greatest extent practical, there ought to be abundant opportunities in the curriculum for cross-disciplinary connections so that the curriculum affords students insight into the seamless integration of the natural world.
21PSTEM’s Curriculum Development Services
We offer three levels of customized STEM and STEAM related curriculum design services from individual course evaluation and redesign to new whole school curriculum development including capstones and laboratory activities.
Level 1 – STEM Course Analysis and Evaluation
Evaluate a school’s current math and science curriculum for alignment to the Common Core- Math, Next Generation Science Standards and state standards and assessments.
Evaluate a school’s current math and science curriculum for the existence of clearly articulated learning outcomes or goals and their levels of cognitive demand.
Analyze the current math and science curriculum for conceptual integrity and learning progressions.
Analyze to what extent the curriculum addresses well-known student misconceptions.
Evaluate to what extent units of learning are framed with an “engagement proposition” that is, a reason to learn the material.
Evaluate to what extent the curriculum is embedded in a meaningful content, contains interactive lessons and provides opportunities for applications and extensions.
Analysis alignment of math curriculum to the needs of the science curriculum and whether the science courses units are sequenced together as a whole to elucidate NGSS’ cross cutting concepts.
Perform similar #1-7 analysis and evaluation for online courses and web-based diagnostic, supplemental and remedial interventions.
Level 2 – STEM Course Curriculum Redesign
Redesign a school’s current math and science curriculum so that has an overarching purpose while at the same time being aligned to the Common Core- Math, Next Generation Science Standards and state standards and assessments.
Co-Develop clearly articulated learning outcomes or goals and with high levels of cognitive demand for math and science courses for inclusion in the curriculum
Redesign the math and science curriculum for conceptual integrity and learning progressions.
Provide materials and options in the curriculum to address well known student misconceptions.
Suggest frames for units of learning to engage learners at the outset of every unit and lesson.
Provide options as to how curricular units can be embedded in meaningful contexts with interactive lessons and opportunities for applications and extensions, including interactive laboratories, such as Digital Fabrication Labs (FAB Labs).
Provide options for aligning the math curriculum to the needs of the science curriculum and help sequence the science course units so they work together as a whole to elucidate NGSS’ cross cutting concepts.
Suggest online courses and web-based diagnostic, supplemental and remedial interventions that have demonstrated effectiveness in scientific studies.
Level 3 – Custom Designed Curricula for New STEM/STEAM High Schools
21PSTEM has developed and field tested an 18-step curriculum design process for the construction of purpose-driven STEM and STEAM curricula. This process was first used in Egypt as part of a $30million USAID grant to design from scratch new Model STEM schools based on a set of Design Principles. The purpose of these STEM schools is to prepare students to be able to address Egypt’s ten “Grand Challenges” as a country. egyptstemschools.blogspot.com
The Egyptian STEM curriculum features an inquiry, theme-based design with semester long “capstone projects.” Students take integrated courses in biology, chemistry, physics, earth science and pure and applied mathematics as well as humanities and arts each semester throughout their high school careers. Students are highly motivated and have no difficulty articulating what they are learning and why. See this short video clip of our Maadi STEM School for Girls.
The 21PSTEM 18-step process requires approximately two years of development and field testing. For a further description of the process, see a paper presented at the American Education Research Association, April 2014
New STEAM School Curriculum Design – An example from Philadelphia
We are now adapting the 21PSTEM-Egypt curriculum development process to the Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative that seeks to re-conceptualize the relationship between a city rich in informal education assets and impoverished urban schools. The goal is to develop a “place-based” integrated curriculum that blends both the informal and formal learning spaces. The STEAM concept paper is available here