Sunday, April 8, 2018

What is STEM and how does PBL make it possible?


This list of acronyms is only 6 out of a list of 40 acronyms that I know and use as a Pennsylvania teacher.  Honestly, I sometimes forget what some acronyms stand for when I haven’t used them in a while.  And today, I’d like to add a few new ones to my list:


In the last few months I’ve been adventuring into the world of STEM as I work on my second master’s degree.  As I discover this whole new world of acronyms I am also discovering the theories and research that make these teaching methods viable in the classroom.   I, like many teachers, always thought that STEM only stood for the content areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  So…if I added a little bit of engineering into my math class I was doing STEM, right? No, not really.  But at least an attempt at integrating one of these content areas was a step in the right direction.  

So, you may be wondering, “How do I implement STEM into my classroom?”  To answer this question there are a few things that you need to know about a STEM learning experience: 

·        STEM activities should strive to be transdisciplinary, which means the lines between subjects is erased and the content is intertwined.  Although the lines are erased between content areas, Vasquez, Sneider, and Comer (2013) recommend that you point out the shift between content areas while you are teaching so that students understand how they are related.
·        STEM integration is not limited to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  In fact, one component to a successful STEM lesson is to "connect STEM learning with one or more non-STEM disciplines" (The Dayton, n.d., p. 4).
·        An important component of a high-quality STEM lesson is establishing relevance by providing the students with real world situations and connections.
·        The lesson also needs to emphasize 21st century skills.  This can be achieved by referring to the ISTE Standards for Students and using it as a guide for designing STEM lesson plans (ISTE Standards, 2016)
·        Teachers should include the “Four C’s” in their STEM lesson plans, so that they are challenging their students and building 21st century skills.  The “Four C’s” include: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (National Education Association, 2012).  

It may seem overwhelming at first, but the next two acronyms I’ve learned about, PBL and SAMR, are guidelines that help you implement STEM.  You have probably heard about PBL, which is known as project-based learning.  This type of teaching has been around for a very long time, so many of you have probably tried out your own versions of PBL.  

PBL is the perfect vehicle for implementing STEM, because both teaching methods start with a question.  They should begin with a real-world question that can guide the learning experience, so the students can become invested in their learning.  Another important component to PBL is the ability for students to work together.  Since PBL is usually completed in group work, it is a great way to teach the Four C’s that are vital in a STEM lesson (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication).  And lastly, PBL requires students to use different disciplines to find an answer to their guiding question, just as STEM encourages teachers to integrate its four content areas.  If using PBL, it becomes easy to integrate all the content areas of STEM.  
In today’s 21st century classrooms, technology tools are becoming more available and they are necessary to create a PBL experience where students can connect with the world outside of their classroom.  Technology provide students with the ability to research, communicate, and create.  This is another reason that PBL is the perfect vehicle for STEM, because both encourage technology use in a meaningful way.  

Lastly, SAMR is a model that was developed to aid teachers find the meaningful use of technology tools.  Many teachers are afraid to fail when they are using new technology, but failure is good! It helps us to evaluate ourselves and self-evaluation always leads to improvement.  The SAMR model helps teachers become more comfortable with technology.  Puentedura (n.d. -a), the creator of SAMR, explains that most teachers start at the “S” and “A” levels and they work their way up to the top.  The goal of SAMR is to reach the top two levels, “M” and “R”, which means that you start to transform your teaching with technology.  When technology is being transformative, the students are taking charge of their education (Puentedura, n.d. -b). 

I know that many teachers are just starting out on their journey in STEM, just as I am.  And now that I have the list of the components that can make a STEM PBL experience great, I know it doesn’t mean that it will be great.  Creating a transdisciplinary STEM PBL experience is a large and difficult task.  But I think it is exciting that I have the tools, knowledge, and now I have the determination to start using STEM and PBL in my classroom.  

Do you use STEM or PBL in your classroom?  Have you ever heard of the SAMR model?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, tips, or questions. 


The Dayton Regional STEM Center. (n.d.). STEM Education Quality Framework. Retrieved January 29, 2018 from

ISTE Standards (2016). 2016 ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved January 28, 2018 from

National Education Association.  (2012).  Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society - NEA.  Retrieved from

Puentedura, R. (n.d. -a). Ruben Puentedura on Applying the SAMR Model. Retrieved from

Puentedura, R. (n.d. -b). Ruben Puentedura on the Impact of the SAMR Model. Retrieved from

Vasquez, J., Sneider, C., & Comer, M. (2013). STEM lesson essentials, grades 3-8: Integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


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