STEM@School, Developing and introducing integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education to Flemish secondary schools

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Over the past decade, there has been a fast-growing shortage of professionals in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Yet, young people's interest in STEM declines with age. STEM@School has developed learning materials to orient students towards STEM, based on an integration of all disciplines involved.

The starting point is a real-world problem. This can be a mobility issue or a problem concerning energy or safety. For example, a security system for a museum. The students discover key concepts. They work together to solve the problem. However, most importantly, they go through the complete design cycle.

The learning materials of STEM@School have already proved to be effective. In the end, students are more involved and achieve better results. In addition, teachers and researchers learn a lot from each other. And that's not all. Thanks to the training course for teachers, new learning materials will be developed in the future.

The idea of an integrated education in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) originates from the awareness that the nature of the daily practices of most STEM professionals blurs the lines between science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Real-world problems are not fragmented in isolated disciplines as they are taught in schools, and in many cases, people need skills that cut across the disciplines.

Integrated STEM education aims at removing the barriers between those four disciplines. However, the concept is complex and challenging, as integration of subjects is more than parallel treatment of different subject areas. More specifically, integrated STEM education designates an educational approach in which students participate in engineering design and/or research and experience meaningful learning through integration and application of STEM. Therefore, teaching STEM in a more connected or integrated manner, especially in the context of real-world issues, increases the relevance of STEM subjects for students. This results in increased interest and motivation for learning, eventually leading to improved achievement, and persistence in STEM, which in turn could lead to increasing numbers of STEM graduates.

The learning material developed by STEM@School includes the following modules:

  • A green wave (autonomous driving car) – 9th grade
  • A security system for a museum – 9th grade
  • A rehabilitation device – 9th grade
  • A throwing/catching device – 10th grade
  • A passive home – 10th grade
  • A drone – 11th grade (still in testing phase)
  • An algae application – 11th grade (still in testing phase)
  • An astronomy module – 11th grade (still in testing phase)

Basic information

Country: Belgium

Coordinator: KU Leuven (ESAT-MICAS), Belgium, http://www.esat.kuleuven.be/micas/

Programme: National

Project Acronym:

Target groups: secondary school students

Topic: Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Electronics, Engineering, Geography, Maths, Physics, Software engineering, Technology

Start year: 2014

End year: 2018

Url: http://www.stematschool.be/en/

Contact person: Name Prof. dr. ir. Wim Dehaene, Email wim.dehaene (at) kuleuven.be

STEM@school is a large-scale research project, funded by the Flemish Government. It is a collaborative project between KU Leuven, University of Antwerp and two educational umbrellas, Catholic Education Flanders and GO! Its learning modules for integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education are developed based on scientific research. STEM@School takes into account findings of educational research, but also investigates the effectiveness of its own learning modules. Forty schools have been involved in this research so far since 2014: thirty schools implement its learning modules, while ten schools belong to the comparison group. Six doctoral researchers use various research methods to evaluate the modules.

STEM@School develops and uses its own measurement instruments for quantitative research in a pre-test, post-test non-equivalent control group with IQ as a proxy variable. In addition, classroom observations are made and interviews conducted with teachers and students. STEM@School not only measures the effect of the integrated STEM instructional approach on students’ cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes, but how teachers can successfully implement integrated STEM in daily classroom practices.

This study on the effectiveness of integrated STEM has revealed so far that students in an integrated STEM learning environment increased their engagement. They are able to achieve the same or a higher performance level and have a more positive attitude towards science and technology. The research on the implementation of the instructional approach for integrated STEM showed that school context, teachers’ attitudes, and teachers’ involvement in the development of the new approach and learning materials are linked with instructional practices in integrated STEM.

The impact of this study is substantial. There is wide agreement that integrated STEM education may address today’s technological and global challenges, but it is still an underdeveloped research field. Based on empirical evidence, STEM@School addresses the needs of the field by developing an instructional approach and learning materials for integrated STEM education. On this basis, it is possible to make recommendations in the field to guarantee successful implementation of this approach. In addition, this research contributes to the scientific research literature, not only because it performs a longitudinal study and develops instruments to measure classroom practices, but also due to its cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes related to integrated STEM education.

See the project’s list of publications here: http://www.stematschool.be/en/our-research

STEM@School offers learning modules, free of charge, for 9th to 12th grade students in academic and technical training. The learning modules demand teaching time that amounts to 9 to 12 weeks and 4 to 5 hours a week. Based on the learning modules, students discover and use concepts from physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, technology and engineering. The modules include fascinating challenges.

 

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