Sunteți pe pagina 1din 58

Defined

STEM Research Study 1

Final Report

A Comparison of Student Application of


Mathematical Practices in Traditional
Versus Project-Based Classrooms

Prepared by MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC

For

Defined Learning

September 25, 2016

MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC


18 Mapleseed Drive
Dallas, PA 18612
Defined STEM Research Study 2

Report Authors
Michael Speziale, Ed.D.
Kerry Speziale, Ed.D.
Karim Letwinsky, Ed.D.
Byron McCook, Ed.D.

with contributor David Reese, Ed.D.


Describing Defined STEM in Detail

MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC


18 Mapleseed Drive
Dallas, PA 18612


Defined STEM Research Study 3

Table of Contents


1. Executive Summary .......................................................................................... 4
2. Introduction ....................................................................................................... 7
Defining Project-Based Learning ................................................................ 7
Authentic Learning ..................................................................... 7
Inquiry Based Learning ............................................................... 7
Project-based Learning ............................................................... 7
Problem Based Learning ............................................................. 8
Review of Literature on Project-Based Learning ...................................... 10
Describing Defined STEM in Detail ........................................................... 15
3. Elements of the Study ...................................................................................... 26
Research Questions .................................................................................. 27
Study Timeline and Implementation Benchmarks ................................... 27
The School District .................................................................................... 28
Sample Population ................................................................................... 28
Quantitative Methodology ....................................................................... 29
Quantitative Data Collection .................................................................... 30
Qualitative Data Collection ....................................................................... 30
4. Findings ............................................................................................................ 31
Quantitative Data Analysis ....................................................................... 32
Discussion ................................................................................................. 33
Qualitative Findings .................................................................................. 34
References ............................................................................................................ 42
Appendices
Appendix A: Understanding by Design and Defined STEM ........................... 47




Defined STEM Research Study 4


In summer of 2015, Defined Learning
commissioned MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC to
conduct an independent, mixed methods study in a
large suburban school district in Illinois to determine
the impact of Defined STEM - a web-based application
designed to promote effective and relevant connections
between STEM classroom content and STEM career
pathways- on student use of Standards for

1
Mathematical Practices identified in the Common Core
State Standards. More specifically, the study was
designed to measure differences in student use of
Practice 1: Making Sense of Problems and persevering
in solving them. The unique design of the study asked
teachers to implement Defined STEM in their science
Executive
classes, and then looked at the transference of problem
solving abilities to the Mathematics classroom.
Summ ary
This mixed methods study utilized a
nonequivalent, two group quasi-experimental design to
examine the effect of project-based learning (PBL) –
specifically PBL utilizing the Defined STEM web resource
- on students’ achievement of Mathematical Practice 1
as evidenced by discrete traits within the construct of a
rubric specifically designed for data collection. In
addition, qualitative data was collected throughout the
study utilizing focus groups and interviews of
experimental group teachers and administrators.
The data collection began in September 2015,
following the introduction of Defined STEM to


Defined STEM Research Study 5

experimental group teachers through an initial professional development training


session.
This report contains the findings of the study, based on both quantitative and
qualitative data collected from September 2015 through June 2016. Findings indicated
that students in the experimental groups in the second and fifth grade target population
significantly outperformed their peers in the corresponding control groups. In addition,
teacher reflections in interviews and focus groups indicated that student enthusiasm;
motivation and engagement in the experimental classes were very high. The findings –
both quantitative and qualitative are consistent with a growing body of research that
suggests that project-based learning provides a deeper, more meaningful understanding
of content while engaging students in a highly motivating learning environment.
Comments on student performance in this study support the existing body of
research on project-based learning. Students demonstrated a high degree of
engagement and motivation and outperformed their peers on Mathematical Practice 1:
Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them. These findings are
supportive of existing literature that suggests students engage in the process of
investigating problems, and collaborating with their peers and ultimately finding
effective ways to communicate their results. Throughout the process students have
significant autonomy in designing and organizing their work. “Learning responsibility,
independence, and discipline are three outcomes of PBL.” (Bell, 2010, p. 40) It is
important that all students grouped together work to complete the given problem. The
social aspect of learning is demonstrated through the implementation of PBL witnessed
by student performance of twenty-first century skills including communication,
negotiation, and collaboration (Bell, 2010). Research supports that the utilization of PBL
promotes improved research skills, problem solving, and use of higher-order critical
thinking skills. (Gultekin, 2005).
The findings of this study are in alignment with statements of Bell (2010),
Gultekin (2005)and a host of other researchers who have reported similar traits of PBL.

Defined STEM Research Study 6

In summer of 2015, Defined Learning, LLC an
educational technology company based in Northbrook,
IL, commissioned MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC
based in Dallas, Pennsylvania to conduct an
independent, mixed methods study in a large suburban
school district in Illinois to determine the impact of its
primary product, Defined STEM - a web-based
application designed to promote effective and relevant

2
connections between STEM classroom content and
STEM career pathways – on student use of Standards
for Mathematical Practices promoted by the Common
Core State Standards. More specifically, the study was
designed to measure differences in student use of
Mathematics Practice 1: Making Sense of Problems
Introd uction and persevering in solving them.
The participating school district in the study was

Grouse Point School District (GPSD), a large suburban
school system in Grouse Point, Illinois. (The actual
name of the district has been altered to insure
anonymity). GPSD, during its transition to Next Gen
Science Standards decided to incorporate project-based
learning in the form of Defined STEM in several of its
elementary classes. The purpose was to determine
Defined STEMS’s viability in helping students master
science and associated standards (i.e. Standards for
Mathematical Practice identified by the Common Core
State Standards). More specifically, district
administrators were interested to determine if the use



Defined STEM Research Study 7

of Defined STEM project-based learning would help students develop better
strategies for problem solving.
The study was designed around two central questions:
1. Does Defined STEM influence classroom instruction, student engagement,
and/or student and teacher attitudes?
2. What impact does a project-based learning environment in science class have on
students’ achievement of Common Core Math Practice 1: Making sense of
problems and persevering in solving them?
To contextualize the study around these two primary questions, it is important
to understand the existing body of research related to project-based learning as well as
the interdisciplinary nature of approaches used in project-based learning (i.e. problem
solving).
Defining Project-Based Learning
Defined STEM is a web-based application that promotes project-based learning
in classrooms. To establish the context for investigation, researchers reviewed the
current literature on project-based learning. The literature on the topic reveals a
considerable degree of overlap with terms that are closely associated with project-
based learning. Problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning and authentic learning
are frequently mentioned alongside project-based learning. Textbook definitions report
that:
Authentic Learning is an instructional approach that allows students to explore,
discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that
involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner;
Inquiry Based Learning is a technique in which the teacher poses questions,
problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or
portraying a smooth path to knowledge;
Project-based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge
and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond
to a complex question, problem, or challenge;



Defined STEM Research Study 8

Problem Based Learning is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn
about a subject through the experience of problem solving. Students learn both
thinking strategies and domain knowledge (Problem Based Learning, 2014).
Both project-based and problem based learning are subsets of inquiry learning
models. Both also provide opportunities for students to apply knowledge in an
authentic, real-world setting. Yet there are distinctions that separate problem-based
and project-based learning. Larmar (2014) captured the distinctions in an easy to read
format that appears in Table 1.

Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning
Similarities
Both PBLs;
• Focus on an open-ended question or task
• Provide authentic applications of content and skills
• Build 21st Century 4 C’s competencies
• Emphasize student independence and inquiry
• Are longer and more multifaceted than traditional lessons or assignments
Differences
Project-Based Learning Problem-Based Learning
Often multidisciplinary More often single subject
May be lengthy (weeks or months) Tend to be shorter
Follows general, variously-named steps Follows specific, traditionally prescribed
steps
Includes the creation of a product or The “product” may simply be a proposed
performance solution expressed in writing or in an oral
presentation
Often involves real world fully authentic More often uses case studies or fictitious
tasks and settings scenarios as “ill-structured problems”
Table 1 -- Larmar, 2014

In project-based learning understanding is demonstrated through the creation


and sharing of a product or project (Bell, 2010). Defined STEM is a web-based
application that is designed to support this complex teaching strategy. In our current
test-centric educational society, teachers strive to deliver the most pertinent content to



Defined STEM Research Study 9

insure student success on standardized, high-stakes testing. Yet in many traditional
classrooms students continue to struggle to attain mastery. Project-based learning is a
teaching style that supports development of a cross section of skills, as most projects or
products require the use of literacy and numeracy skills. In addition, PBL is targeted at
developing a deeper understanding of content through application (Bell, 2010).

Figure 1 - Lepi, 2014

Figure 1 depicts an adaptation of a commonly used paradigm comparing a


variety of teaching styles to retention. Although there is much debate over how
accurate the percentages are, a general observation of this chart supports that greater
levels of retention occur in more participatory teaching environments. “Experiential
learning is [comparatively] more effective.” (Wood, 2004, p. 5) Students are more likely
to retain information, as well as being more likely to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and
apply their knowledge. In a traditional passive teaching environment, success is often
based on factors other than actual understanding.



Defined STEM Research Study 10

Review of Literature on Project-Based Learning
Research findings on project-based learning to date are impressive and
consistent. Based on the growing body of research, project-based learning (PBL) is a
teaching method that is gaining momentum in schools. PBL provides students with the
opportunity to actively engage in the learning environment as they investigate concepts
and skills. The problems presented to the students are based in real world scenarios
that are designed to motivate students, and encourage them to collaborate, challenge,
and discuss concepts with their peers. “PBL is based on the idea that real-life problems
capture student interest, provoke critical thinking, and develop skills as they engage in
and complete complex undertakings that typically result in a realistic product, event, or
presentation to an audience.” (Tobias, 2015, para. 1) PBL increases motivation, allowing
students to be an active part of the learning process, and in many cases, able to choose
a customized direction of engagement with subject matter. “Children learn so much
about themselves when they are empowered to make their own learning decisions.”
(Bell, 2010, p. 41)
During the process students ask questions about concepts that interest them
and this type of intrinsically motivated investigation aids in knowledge acquisition.
Working through projects, students apply newly developed knowledge and skills.
According to Bell (2010):
PBL is a key strategy for creating independent thinkers and learners. Children
solve real-world problems by designing their own inquiries, planning their
learning, organizing their research, and implementing a multitude of learning
strategies. Students flourish under this child-driven, motivating approach to
learning and gain valuable skills that will build a strong foundation for their
future in our global economy. (p. 39)
Working through the PBL process students are involved in developing a
multitude of skills such as, designing, organizing, problem solving, critical thinking,
communicating, decision making, investigating, collaborating with their peers, and
reflecting on the process.


Defined STEM Research Study 11

Our students develop twenty-first-century skills through PBL that will aid them in
becoming productive members of a global society. Many of these skills are not
measureable through standardized tests. We must shift our thinking about
assessment when teaching twenty-first-century skills. With PBL, assessment is
authentic. (Bell, 2010, p. 43)
“The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that
mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students. These
practices rest on important processes and proficiencies with longstanding importance in
mathematics education. The first of these are the NCTM process standards of problem
solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections.”
(Standards for Mathematical Practice, 2016, para. 1)
Educators are constantly seeking effective ways to actively engage their students
in the learning process with the goal of diving deeply and meaningfully into subject
content. The PBL approach provides a real world context that aids students in
developing a rich understand of content while performing at the higher levels of
Bloom's Taxonomy or Webb's Depth of Knowledge. Project-based learning is the
antithesis of a scripted curriculum solely designed to meet standards that are measured
on various high stakes tests. Curricula that are designed specifically to meet state
standards often treat content as discrete siloes of knowledge that are generally
sequenced, but seldom connected in rich, meaningful ways. Teachers who choose to
employ a project-based learning strategy are giving their students the chance to learn
content in a meaningful way that provides a pathway to success in their current
classroom environment and in their future endeavors.
When we implement PBL, we allow children to discover who they are as
learners. They become able to make better choices, whether relating to process,
environment, or outcome, which enables them to become more independent
and responsible for their own learning. (Bell, 2010, p. 41)
Project-based learning is derived from a constructivist style of learning. It
involves student inquiry and investigation. Students are given a compelling main

Defined STEM Research Study 12

question in which they have to research and gather data in attempts to solve the
problem or task. “The active learning process of PBL takes students’ various learning
styles and preferences into account. Students use a range of tools and resources to
conduct their research.” (Bell, 2010, p. 41) As students engage in the process of
investigating the problem, and collaborating with their peers they must consider
ultimately how best to effectively communicate their findings. Throughout the process
students have quite a bit of autonomy in designing and organizing their work. “Learning
responsibility, independence, and discipline are three outcomes of PBL.” (Bell, 2010, p.
40) It is important that all students grouped together work to complete a given
problem. The social aspect of learning is demonstrated through the implementation of
PBL witnessed by student performance of twenty-first century skills including
communication, negotiation, and collaboration (Bell, 2010). Research supports that the
utilization of PBL promotes improved research skills, problem solving, and use of higher-
order critical thinking skills. (Gultekin, 2005).
Research reported by Boaler (1999) compared the performance of students in
two schools in England. One was a traditional school in which teachers employed whole
class teaching strategies and used traditional textbooks. The other school in the
research study was a project-based learning school, in which teachers presented work
with open-ended projects to mixed ability groups of students. The two schools were
similar in student demographics (i.e. they were comparable in gender, ethnicity, and
social class). This study found that three times as many students in the PBL school
attained the highest possible grade on the national exam when compared to the
students at the traditional school. In addition, scores between boys and girls were
equally distributed. The conclusion drawn from the study was that the traditional
school students were disadvantaged by their learning methods. Boaler (1999) noted,
“In real-world situations, these students were disabled in two ways. Not only were they
unable to use the math they had learned because they could not adapt it to fit
unfamiliar situations, but they also could not see the relevance of this acquired math
knowledge from school for situations outside the classroom.” (para. 8)



Defined STEM Research Study 13

Overall, in this study students exposed to PBL outperformed the students taught
using traditional methods in the England schools. Both sets of students were motivated
to learn and had teachers dedicated to the learning process, however the different
approaches to teaching, learning, and assessing made a significant difference in the
learning outcomes.
The important difference between the environments of the two schools that
caused this difference in retention was not related to standards of teaching but
to different approaches, in particular the requirement that the students at the
project-based school work on a variety of mathematical tasks and think for
themselves. (Boaler, 1999, para. 11)
Thomas (2000) reported similar findings in a review of related research. One
study took place in Dubuque, Iowa and involved three elementary schools. After two
years of using PBL all three of the schools showed significant gains on the Iowa Test of
Basic Skills. In addition, after three years all three PBL schools made gains in reading
which ranged from 15% in one school to over 90% in the other two schools, with little or
no change in the non-PBL schools in the district.
In other research reported by Thomas (2000), an inner city school in Boston
implemented PBL with the eighth grade students. The result of implementing the PBL
was that the students achieved the second highest scores in the district on the Stanford
9 - Open Ended Reading Assessment. Similar results were found in a middle school in
Portland, Maine that adopted the PBL approach. After using PBL for one year the
students’ performance increased significantly in all curricular areas assessed with the
Maine Educational Assessment Battery. The increased scores were three to ten times
larger than the state average Thomas (2000).
In a nine-week project conducted by Shepherd (1998) and reported by Thomas
(2000) students took part in a problem-solving situation where they were assigned to
resolve a housing shortage in six countries. The sample size for this study was small
with 20 students in the experimental group and 15 students in the control group.
However, the findings supported that problem-based learning can have a positive effect


Defined STEM Research Study 14

on students' attainment of critical thinking skills. The experimental group had a


significant increase when compared to the control students on The Cornell Critical
Thinking Test. Moreover, experimental students reported that their confidence level
increased due to taking part in the PBL.
In 2010, Kaldi, Filippatou, and Govaris examined the effectiveness of project-
based learning on primary school students specifically in regard to their content
knowledge and attitudes towards self-efficacy, task value, group work, teaching
methods and toward peers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The results of the study
supported the value of PBL. Students engaged in PBL had increased content knowledge,
motivation, and benefitted from group work skills. It was also reported that PBL
students developed positive attitudes towards peers from a different ethnic
background.
In a recent NSF study titled: Project-Based Inquiry Curriculum Has a Positive
Effect on Science Learning, researchers compared Project-Based Inquiry Science (PBIS)
to traditional science curriculum materials. The study, which was the first of its kind,
focused on 3000 middle school students and 100 teachers in a large and diverse urban
school setting. The study reported three major findings. Students in the project-based
curriculum outperformed students in the traditional setting on post-unit assessments.
The project-based approach leveled scoring among underrepresented demographics as
well as leveling scores between males and females. And finally, teachers were more
likely to engage students as teacher/student interactions increased significantly over
time (EdNET Insight, 2014).
Holmes and Hwang (2016) investigated the benefits of project-based learning on
secondary-mathematics students' academic skill development and motivation for
learning using a mixed-method, longitudinal study. The emphasis of this study was
academic skill development in the areas of algebra and geometry. The study also looked
at the relationship between PBL and racially/ethnically and economically diverse
secondary students. Results showed that at-risk and minority students profited greatly
from PBL when studying mathematics. The academic performance gap between these

Defined STEM Research Study 15

different student populations was significantly reduced. Students who participated in
this study also demonstrated significantly higher critical thinking skills and higher levels
of motivation when compared to those students who did not participate in PBL.
Consistently across studies, findings indicate that project-based learning
enhances student performance, motivation, student engagement, teacher/student
interaction and the 5 C’s of 21st Century Learning: creativity, critical thinking,
collaboration, cooperation and communication. Given these consistent findings, one is
left to wonder why more classrooms have not adopted project-based learning.
Research supports that students using PBL perform better on both standardized
assessments and project tests than students in traditional direct instruction programs,
and that they learn not only real-world application of skills, but also analytical thinking
(Boaler, 1999).
In the future, children must enter a workforce in which they will be judged on
their performance. They will be evaluated not only on their outcomes, but also
on their collaborative, negotiating, planning, and organizational skills. By
implementing PBL, we are preparing our students to meet the twenty-first-
century with preparedness and a repertoire of skills they can use successfully
(Bell, 2010, p. 43)
In our current test-centric educational society, teachers strive to deliver the
most pertinent content to insure student success on standardized, high-stakes testing.
Yet in many traditional classrooms, students continue to struggle to attain mastery.
Project-based learning is a teaching style that supports development of a cross section
of skills, as most projects or products require the use of literacy and numeracy skills. In
addition, PBL is targeted at developing a deeper understanding of content through
application (Bell, 2010).
Describing Defined STEM in Detail
Defined STEM is a web-based application designed to promote effective and
relevant connections between STEM classroom content and STEM career
pathways, thus providing learning opportunities for students. Defined STEM



Defined STEM Research Study 16

provides teachers a resource where they can access highly effective media content
and related support materials. These resources and materials allow teachers to
connect STEM career awareness to existing lessons and standards-based
curriculum. (definedstem.com, 2014)
Through the utilization of performance tasks and related resources, Defined STEM
reflects the educational strategies of STEM education, project-based learning, and
Understanding by Design. Real-world videos set the stage for each learning experience
by showing the practical application of educational concepts within an industry and/or
organizational context. Performance tasks built around the demands of specific
careers/industries ask the students to apply knowledge and skills in authentic situations.
Literacy tasks encourage students to read, synthesize and write informative and/or
position papers around the real-world issues.
Performance Tasks
The performance task can serve as an authentic assessment that can be utilized
by taking into consideration the many different ways that students learn. Through the
utilization of the videos, simulations, and classroom teaching, this experience provides
contextual learning through a variety of learning opportunities. This process engages
students in their own learning through the use of activities and product development
thus motivating and challenging students through meaningful and relevant experiences.
Additionally, each task has associated language tasks or constructed responses to help
dig deeper into the topic. The culminating products often connect together and require
students to use systems thinking and collaborative skills to complete the experience as
encouraged by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Each performance task provides many opportunities for students to demonstrate
understanding. Since the “one size fits all” classroom minimizes student success, both
the performance task and associated content have been designed to provide
opportunities for all learners based upon the teacher’s knowledge of his/her students.
The products within each task are designed using the multiple intelligences. The
products provide varying means of conducting student assessment. Based upon each



Defined STEM Research Study 17

individual learner the educator can make appropriate decisions for assessment through
product development.
The tasks are aligned with academic standards and 21st century learning and
innovation skills. The learning experience focuses on student-centered inquiry and
group learning with the teacher acting as a facilitator. Many of the potential products
require students to use technology as part of product creation. Students are required to
create their own artifacts, individually or as part of a group, as a demonstration of
understanding through the teaching and learning process.
Many of these learning experiences are aligned with Webb’s Depth of
Knowledge at the third and fourth level. Strategic and extended thinking are present
through construction, creation, and design of content focused products. Examples of
assimilation and adaptation may be found through the extension of foundational
knowledge to analyze and solve problems through known and unknown variables and
situations. The web resource provides analytical, product rubrics for each of the
products suggested in the performance tasks. Associated exemplars are provided to
allow students and teachers to see developed products aligned with the criteria of the
rubric.
Language Tasks and Constructed Responses
The language tasks are designed to allow students to produce narrative writing
pieces that are connected with content areas and relevant issues. The tasks provide
online informational and argumentative resources for students to review prior to
engaging in the writing process. All of the language tasks are designed using a similar
template. Two types of language tasks are present. The tasks are either informational
or argumentative/persuasive. Each task contains a scoring guide aligned with the
Common Core College and Career Anchor Standards for Reading and Writing.
The informational tasks ask the student to consider the evidence provided within
the research and the implications that can be drawn from the findings. The completed
product provides the student with deeper knowledge of the content and real world



Defined STEM Research Study 18

applications for the content and concepts. The teacher can set the parameters for the
writing based upon student knowledge, skills, writing ability, and grade level.
The argumentative/persuasive tasks ask the students to consider a topic and
determine their point of view. Most tasks ask the student to support or reject an idea
or choose a side in a debate. The students are asked to use the online research to
support their discussion and point of view. They are also asked to consider the potential
implications from their decision. The teacher can set the parameters for the writing
based upon student knowledge, skills, writing ability, reading ability, and grade level.
Each language task contains a number of online resources that might include
newspaper articles, scientific journals and articles, magazines, periodicals, text-based
web resources, and governmental products. Each task typically has between five and
eight different resources. The resources are designed to provide a variety of depth and
reading level to meet the needs of most learners. Educators may choose to use all of
the resources provided or they can choose a number of resources that best meet the
needs of the student. Questions within the background are designed to encourage the
student to consider certain points and ideas within the resources.
The constructed responses provided narratives referred to as stimuli that are
grade-leveled based upon readability. Each constructed response has two versions to
help readers of varying ability levels. Students are provided a prompt and asked to
write to the prompt using evidence from within the stimulus. These are also tied to the
content of the associated performance task. A holistic rubric is present for use by the
teacher and student to maximize the reading and writing experience.
Video Resources
Defined STEM provides a wealth of video resources that provide relevance and
contextual applications for content areas including science, technology, mathematics,
engineering, social studies, health and the arts and humanities. The videos are designed
to provide students with an opportunity to view careers based upon the content
knowledge and skills necessary to succeed within the career.



Defined STEM Research Study 19

The video resources are typically between two and eight minutes in length.
Through the video, students are introduced to an individual and/or individuals sharing
their activities on a daily basis and connecting these activities to the critical content and
skills necessary to succeed. Students are able to view applications of content that often
answer the question; “Why do I need to know this?”
Videos provide students with the environment in which the individual works and
initiates a sensory experience that allows concepts to actually be "experienced" and
come to life.
Defined STEM and Understanding by Design
Defined STEM frames its modules around big ideas, essential questions and
contextualized performance tasks to guide the learning experience. Specific knowledge
and skills are learned in the context of authentic applications. Understanding by Design
created the G.R.A.S.P.S. acronym to establish a more authentic context for application:
(1) a real-world Goal; (2) a meaningful Role for the student; (3) authentic (or simulated)
Audience(s); (4) a contextualized Situation that involves real-world application; (5)
student-generated culminating Products and Performances; and (6) the performance
Standards (criteria) for judging success. (McTighe & Reese, 2013) The white paper is
available in total in Appendix A.
Defined STEM utilizes the G.R.A.S.P.S structure to frame its performance tasks.
The first four sections of each task use the G.R.A.S. elements to create an appropriate
context/scenario in which students perform. The tasks call for students to use 21st
Century skills – creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and
communication –in combination with academic knowledge and skills. Every task
contains a minimum of four products (P) designed to address a variety of outcomes and
enable teachers to differentiate to address students’ varied interests and talents. Each
performance task includes one or more criterion-based rubrics that define the
performance standards (S) to guide the evaluation of student work.



Defined STEM Research Study 20

Alignment to Common Core Standards
Defined STEM promotes contextual applications through language
communication within and across content areas. Educators can make these connections
through instructional opportunities associated with the Common Core State Standards.
The Standards set requirements not only for English language arts (ELA) but also
for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Just as students
must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of
content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings
required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. (Common Core
Standards Initiative, 2013)
The Common Core State Standards place a much greater emphasis on non-
fiction writing and the complexity of text and academic vocabulary. This emphasis
includes changing what students read and including essays, speeches, journals and
newspaper articles, opinion pieces, historical documents and other informational and
expository material (Fiedler, R., 2012).
Through interdisciplinary opportunities brought forth by educators taking a
cross-curricular approach, these experiences can become part of a holistic learning
experience driven by project-based learning and reinforced through contextual
relevance. Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is
informational in structure and challenging in content. As schools begin implementation
of the Common Core standards, assessments will soon follow measuring student
attainment of the standards. These assessments will emphasize deeper levels of text-
based knowledge and analytical thinking (Gottlieb, 2012).
The Common Core Standards have placed a stronger emphasis on non-fiction
reading. By the end of fourth grade, half of student reading should be non-fiction. By
the end of twelfth grade, 70% of student reading should be non-fiction. These
mandates will require schools to reconsider their curriculum. Many English Language
Arts curricula contain a great deal of works of fiction. If the school creates educational
opportunities as a professional community, subject areas teachers can include many



Defined STEM Research Study 21

more non-fiction opportunities into their coursework. This will take collaborative
planning and implementation. Defined STEM contains many of these opportunities
through Literacy Tasks.
The Literacy Tasks found within the Defined STEM website are based upon
Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) templates. These templates are ideally used in
grades 6-12. These tasks compliment a cross-curricular setting with content teachers
providing content knowledge and skills and the ELA teachers providing reading and
writing support.
The Defined STEM website also contains Constructed Response communication
tasks that utilize a template based upon the Smarter Balanced National Consortium.
These tasks are also aligned with Common Core but are designed for students in grades
3-6. These may also be used with older students having difficulty reading. These tasks
are created using the content information found within the Language Tasks.
The Smarter Balanced National Consortium (2014) defines a Constructed
Response (CR) as a general term for items requiring the student to generate a response
as opposed to selecting a response. Both short and extended constructed response
items will be used. Short constructed response items may require test-takers to enter a
single word, phrase, sentence, number, or set of numbers, whereas extended
constructed response items will require more elaborated answers and explanations of
reasoning.
The Utilization of Non-Fiction Resources
Through the use of non-fiction resources, students can increase their knowledge
of global ideas and issues. Our students exist in a global world thanks to social
networking and online media in the form of audio, video, and digital print resources.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests that our students need to become
globally literate to effectively compete in the global economy in the years to come. To
become globally literate, students should have experiences that engage 21st century
skills to understand and address global issues (Partnership for 21st, 2013).



Defined STEM Research Study 22

Many non-fiction resources will have complex text, which is critical to student
reading growth over time. "The clearest differentiator in reading between students who
are college ready and students who are not is the ability to comprehend complex texts"
(ACT, 2006).
Table 2 below provides critical information connecting reading levels with
Common Core. The table is based upon the quantitative dimensions of text complexity
(Achieve the Core, 2012) and has been brought forth through the Common Core State
Standards. Defined STEM utilizes the Lexile Framework and Flesch-Kincaid to determine
readability.

Updated Text Complexity Grade Bands and Associated Ranges from Multiple
Measures
Degrees of
Common Reading Flesch- The Lexile Reading
Core Band ATOS Power® Kincaid Framework® Maturity SourceRater
nd rd
2 – 3 2.75 – 5.14 42 – 54 1.98 – 5.34 420 – 820 3.53 – 6.13 0.05 – 2.48

th th
4 – 5 4.97 – 7.03 52 – 60 4.51 – 7.73 740 – 1010 5.42 – 7.92 0.84 – 5.75
th th
6 – 8 7.00 – 9.98 57 – 67 6.51 – 10.34 925 – 1185 7.04 – 9.57 4.11 – 10.66
th th
9 – 10 9.67 – 12.01 62 – 72 8.32 – 12.12 1050 – 1335 8.41 – 10.81 9.02 – 13.93

th
11 – CCR 11.20 – 14.10 67 – 74 10.34 – 14.2 1185 – 1385 9.57 – 12.00

Table 2 - Achieve the Core, 2012


The Importance of Speaking and Listening
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is
a group of states working together to create an assessment that measures Common
Core skills and knowledge. All students participating in the PARCC assessments will
demonstrate speaking and listening proficiency using this tool, which can be
administered anytime during the academic year. While this is a required component of
the assessment, currently PARCC does not envision combining results from this with
those of the performance-based assessment or end-of-year assessment to determine a



Defined STEM Research Study 23

student’s summative assessment score (Partnership for Assessment, 2014). As of this
writing, this portion of the test is optional.
The following are envisioned as the two Speaking and Listening Assessment
Performance Activities: Students will engage with two modes of performance over the
course of the year focused on speaking and listening skills:
1. Real Time Engagement (MODE 1) performances will entail real time
engagement in the speaking and listening process. Students will listen to a
pre-recorded speech and/or media production and speak/respond using
spontaneous oral responses. Mode 1 performance based tasks will be
administered in grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.
2. Advance Preparation (MODE 2) performances will entail advance preparation
in the speaking and listening process. Students will perform research using
authentic and grade-appropriate topics, share their findings in the form of a
formal presentation (speaking) and respond spontaneously to audience
questions (listening and speaking); Mode 2 performance based tasks will be
administered in grades 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.
21st Century Skills
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a national organization that
advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. As the United States continues
to compete in a global economy that demands innovation, P21 and its members provide
tools and resources to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the three Rs
and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and
creativity and innovation) (Partnership for 21st, 2014).
Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that
separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work
environments in the 21st century, and those who are not. A focus on creativity, critical
thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the
future.



Defined STEM Research Study 24

Creating Links between Standards-based Teaching and Learning and 21st Century Skills
National and state academic standards are content and performance based
standards. Through Defined STEM, educators are able to help students achieve
proficiency in STEM standards through “real world” applications of content and
performance. The content and performance task strongly align academic standards
with 21st century Learning and Innovation Skills. The experiential learning opportunities
require students to problem solve and think critically while applying the content and
skills of the academic standards. Students can work individually, in small groups and/or
in large groups thus increasing the opportunities for communication and collaboration.
The experiences encourage the students to be creative and innovative in their thinking.
“Creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Creative
work in any field often passes through typical phases. Sometimes what you end up with
is not what you had in mind when you started. It's a dynamic process that often
involves making new connections, crossing disciplines and using metaphors and
analogies. Creativity is about fresh thinking. It doesn't have to be new to the whole of
humanity – though that's always a bonus – but certainly to the person whose work it is.
Creativity also involves making critical judgments about whether what you're working
on is any good, whether it's a theorem, a design or a poem” (Robinson, 2013).
Each performance task contains between three and six products that allow the
student demonstrate their understanding of content, concepts, and skills. Simulations
in many of the tasks extend student learning and require students to solve problems.
The tasks are aligned with academic standards and 21st century learning and innovation
skills. The learning experience focuses on student-centered inquiry and group learning
with the teacher acting as a facilitator. Many of the potential products require students
to use technology as part of product creation. Students are required to create their own
artifacts, individually or as part of a group, to represent what they have learned through
the teaching and learning process.
“Teaching for creativity, where the pedagogy is designed to encourage other
people to think creatively. You encourage kids to experiment, to innovate, not giving



Defined STEM Research Study 25

them all the answers but giving them the tools they need to find out what the answers
might be or to explore new avenues. Within particular domains, it's perfectly
appropriate to say, "We're interested in new and original ways you can approach these
issues." (Azzam, 2009)



Defined STEM Research Study
26







This mixed methods study was designed to determine if the
implementation of a Defined STEM, project-based learning

3
environment in science class made a difference in students’
problem solving abilities, when compared to students in a
traditional classroom setting. A unique aspect of this study was
that PBL was instituted in science classes, but student
performance in problem solving was measured in mathematics.
The conceptual framework for the study is rooted in the
Elem ents of
distinction between passive and active teaching styles and
the Study
constructivist learning. The research questions seek to
determine the impact of the active classroom environment
across both student behaviors as well as performance in problem
solving scenarios.
Grouse Point School District, a large suburban district in
Grouse Point, Illinois worked with Defined Learning, LLC and
MIDA Learning Technologies, LLC to design a research project in
which several second grade and several fifth grade classes
(identified as the experimental group) incorporated Defined
STEM for the 2015-16 school year. Defined Learning’s academic
team designed rubrics to be used in second and fifth grade that
were targeted specifically at Common Core Standards
Mathematics Practice 1: Making Sense of Problems and
persevering in solving them. At the conclusion of the school
year, teachers in the treatment (Defined STEM) classes and

Defined STEM Research Study 27

teachers in traditionally taught classes administered a common post assessment utilizing three
complex problems. Teachers used the specially designed rubrics to judge problem solving
acumen.
Research Questions
1. Does Defined STEM influence classroom instruction, student engagement, and/or student
and teacher attitudes?
2. What impact does a project-based learning environment in science class have on students’
achievement of Common Core Math Practice 1: Making sense of problems and
persevering in solving them?
Study Timeline and Implementation Benchmarks
• July 2015 - Defined Learning created rubrics at the 2nd and 5th grade levels targeted at
determining student proficiencies in the areas of Common Core Mathematical Practices.
• August 2015 - Researchers met with teachers who are selected to participate in the study.
Researchers and a representative from Defined Learning reviewed the rubrics, and
discussed the selected performance tasks at each grade level.
• October 2015 - Researchers once again met with the participating teachers to conduct
follow-up regarding the implementation of the tasks and the use of the rubrics to
determine levels of mathematical practice.
• November 2015 - May 2016, teachers in the experimental group of the study
implemented Defined STEM resources in their respective classes. District administrators
provided a quarterly schedule of selected tasks to be used. The tasks were specifically
chosen to address the Math Practices. Teachers used the rubrics to evaluate student
mathematical practices with each task product utilized in class.
• February 2016 – Researchers met with experimental group teachers to discuss their
experiences in utilizing Defined STEM and their perceptions regarding areas such as
student attitudes, teacher attitudes, and student engagement.
• April 2016 - Researchers met with teachers once again to discuss their experiences in
utilizing Defined STEM and their perceptions regarding areas such as student attitudes,
teacher attitudes, and student engagement. The initial part of this meeting also included
Defined STEM Research Study 28

teachers who were selected for the control group and researches explained the process to
be used for the post-assessment group comparison.
• May 2016 - Teachers in the experimental group as well as teachers from 5th grade and 2nd
grade who comprised a non-treatment (control) group conducted a post assessment and
used the Defined STEM designed rubrics to measure and score student responses.
The School District
Grouse Point School District is a large, suburban K-12 school district located in the suburbs
of Chicago, IL. The district is a K-12 school system and enrolls approximately 17,000 students,
with substantial ethnic diversity. The district reports 26% of the students are White, not Hispanic.
Approximately 42% of the population is Hispanic followed in number by African Americans who
represent 20% of the population, and 7% Asian. The balance of the population is made up of
small percentages of other ethnic classifications. The school reports 64% of its population as low
income. The school district has 19 schools: 12 elementary, 5 middle level and 2 high schools.
The study was conducted with teachers in second and fifth grades. The schools total
second grade population in 2015-16 was approximately 1,300 students and the fifth grade
population was of similar size at approximately 1,300 students.
Sample Population
The sample for this study was a convenience sample determined by selecting teachers in
second and fifth grades who had elected to participate in the Defined STEM pilot program in the
2015-16 academic year. Collectively there were 7 second grade teachers representing six
different elementary buildings and 6 fifth grade teachers representing five separate buildings.
There were 73 students who participated in second grade and 63 students in fifth grade.
Control group classes were chosen in second and fifth grades. There were 43 students in
second grade and 50 students in fifth grade who participated in the comparative post-test
analysis. Students in the control group classes received traditional instruction while students in
the experimental group participated in a project-based learning environment for part of their
instructional time. The balance of the time spent in the experimental group was based on
traditional instructional practices.
Defined STEM Research Study 29

Quantitative Methodology
A nonequivalent, two group quasi-experimental design was used in this study to examine
the effect of project-based learning – specifically PBL utilizing the Defined STEM web resource -
on students’ achievement of the Mathematical Practice 1 as evidenced by discrete traits within
the construct of a rubric specifically designed for data collection. This design utilized posttests
only and was most appropriate since the existing educational system in which the study took
place did not allow for random group assignment of students. The project-based lesson
intervention was applied in both second and fifth grades in an urban district in Illinois for 30
weeks. The intervention for each grade took place from September 2015 to May 2016 during the
school year, with the posttest administered in late May –June 2016. A summed score of each
trait provided an indicator of student achievement for the experimental and control groups in
second and fifth grades.
Second Grade Participants
The study took place in the 2015-2016 academic year. Participants in the second grade
included 43 students (19 male and 24 female) from two elementary schools who comprised the
control group, and 73 students (36 male and 37 female) from four elementary schools who were
included in the experimental group. All students in the control group received standard district
approved science curriculum and traditional teacher delivery, with no project-based learning
applied. In the experimental group, teachers implemented a project-based science curriculum
(Defined STEM) developed by Defined Learning. Posttest assessments were designed to ascertain
students’ ability to be successful in problem solving and also measured progress on three traits
expressed in the Common Core Mathematical Practices.
Fifth Grade Participants
Concurrent with the second grade intervention, a similar project-based curriculum
supplement designed by Defined Stem was also implemented in the fifth grade in the same
district. For this grade level, the control group consisted of 50 (25 male and 25 female) students
from two buildings, and the experimental group contained 67 students (33 male and 34 female)
from three buildings. All experimental group students received science curriculum that included
project-based learning lessons (from Defined STEM) designed by Defined Learning. Standard
district approved science curriculum delivered in a traditional method was used in the control

Defined STEM Research Study
30

group. A researcher-developed posttest for each group was given at the end of the academic
year. This research project sought to determine the impact that a science curriculum designed
around the principals of project-based learning might have on students’ ability to perform on a
mathematics problem solving assessment, specifically on traits identified in the Mathematical
Practices of the Core Standards.
Quantitative Data Collection
Data were collected using mathematical problems designed to assess the mathematical
practices articulated in the Common Core. Specifically, the assessments and interventions were
created to determine if the inquiry process inherent to problem based learning lessons might
positively influence a student’s ability to solve mathematical problems and demonstrate evidence
of the mathematical practices. Teachers in each grade were trained to score the assessments
with a common rubric designed to measure these outcomes. In the second grade, each question
was reviewed for evidence of three traits articulated in the mathematical practices on a four-
point rubric, giving each problem a maximum score of 4 points, and a total score of 12. In the
fifth grade, the assessment contained three problems, with each problem being scored on four
traits from the mathematical practices on a four-point scale, giving the assessment a total score
of 16.
Qualitative Data Collection
The data collection is based on several points of interaction with the participants.
Interviews were conducted with teachers in August of 2015 immediately following the initial
Defined STEM training; and focus groups of participants at both second and fifth grades were
convened in October 2015, February 2016 and April 2016. Focus groups were chosen as the main
source of qualitative data collection. Focus groups are defined as a “group of individuals selected
and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic
that is the subject of research.” (Powell & Single, 1996, p. 499). Focus groups are group
discussions organized to explore a specific set of issues… The group is focused in the sense that it
involves some kind of collective activity” (Kitzinger, 1994, p.103). In this case, the common
activity included the implementation of Defined STEM in teachers’ respective science classes.



Defined STEM Research Study
31


The study’s data collection was based on a comparison of 2
groups. A control group consisted of the students who did not
receive any exposure to Defined STEM, and an experimental
group consisted of classes that used defined STEM throughout
the year. The data was collected from scores using a 3-trait
rubric in second grade and a 4-trait rubric for 5th grade. The
rubrics were developed by Defined Learning and vetted by

4 teachers in GPSD prior to implementation of the study. A


training session was held to insure consistent application of the
rubrics on the post assessment. The comparison statistics were
based on a posttest that was designed by MIDA Learning
Technologies and sought to determine student performance on
several mathematical practices identified in the Common Core
Findings
related to problem solving strategies. Data analysis revealed that
for both grades (2nd and 5th) the experimental group that utilized
Defined STEM outperformed students in the control group who
had not been exposed to Defined STEM and the project-based
learning environment. The results also indicated that females at
both levels outperformed males – significantly at the second
grade level and slightly – but not significantly at the 5th grade
level. In the end, these findings, although based on
mathematical practices and not content performance, are
consistent with a growing body of research that shows that
project-based learning helps students to understand concepts
more deeply and in the end perform better on a wide range of
assessments.



Defined STEM Research Study
32

Quantitative Data Analysis


The data were analyzed using statistical techniques in the Statistical Package for the Social
Sciences, Version 23 (SPSS 23). Descriptive statistics including frequency, percentages, central
tendencies, and variation were used. Data were presented graphically to highlight similarities
and differences in results, as well as identify outliers of performance. Between group differences
were examined using an independent sample t-test, and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA)
was applied to explore multiple subgroup differences.
The means and standard deviations for second and fifth grade performance are presented
in Tables 3 and 4 below.

Table 3. Descriptive statistics for control and experimental groups

Group N M SD Std. Error
Mean
2nd Grade Posttest Control 43 12.51 .973 .148
Total Score Experimental 73 18.49 2.579 .300


5th Grade Posttest Control 50 13.38 4.92 .695
Total Score Experimental 63 18.62 6.58 .829

An independent t-test indicated a significant difference between the posttest groups for
second grade (t = 5.417, p < .001). The experimental group (M = 18.49, SD = 2.579) scored
significantly higher than the control group (M = 12.51, SD = .973). Examining the gender
subgroup for second grade, the males in the experimental group (M = 16.86, SD = 7.20)
outperformed those in the control group (M = 10.37, SD = 2.11) with t = 3.83, p < .001.
Additionally, the experimental group females (M = 20.03, SD = 5.29) also significantly
outperformed the control group female students (M = 14.21, SD = 4.83) with t = 4.36, p < .001.
Within the experimental group itself, female students (M = 20.03, SD = 5.29) significantly
outperformed males students (M = 16.86, SD = 7.20) with t = 2.16, p < .05.
In the fifth grade, similar results were found, with the experimental group scoring
significantly better than the control group. An independent t-test between control and
experimental posttest only scores showed statistical significance (t= 3.31, p < .001). Grade 5
posttest only comparison between the control and experimental groups revealed higher scores,
on average, in the experimental group than in the control group (control group: M = 13.38, SD =


Defined STEM Research Study
33

4.92; experimental group: M = 18.62, SD = 6.58), but the females (M = 19.00, SD = 9.05) did not
outperform the males (M = 18.52, SD =9.31). Table 4 summarizes the test of differences for each
of these groups.

Table 4. Independent sample t-test results for control and experimental groups

Group M SD t-value p
2nd Grade Posttest Control 12.51 .973 5.417 <.001
Total Score Experimental 18.49 2.579

2nd Grade Posttest Experimental Female 20.03 5.29 2.16 < .05
Total Score Experimental Male 16.86 7.20


5th Grade Posttest Control 13.38 4.92 3.31 <.001
Total Score Experimental 18.62 6.58

5th Grade Posttest Experimental Female 19.00 9.05 .216 >.05
Total Score Experimental Male 18.52 9.31


Discussion
This study intended to examine the impact of project-based learning on students’ ability
to achieve the Mathematical Practices through problem solving. The posttest only, quasi-
experimental design revealed significant differences in posttest success between the control and
experimental groups in second and fifth grades. In both grades, the experimental group, which
received the treatment of project-based learning curriculum using Defined STEM outperformed
the control group. Furthermore, the females in the second grade outperformed the males in
between group and within group comparisons. The fifth grade females scored slightly higher than
the males, however, this difference was not significant.
The quantitative findings of this study demonstrate the ability of Defined STEM, a project
based learning curriculum, to promote student learning in an integrated and holistic way. This
evidence supports the development of students’ capacity to achieve the Common Core
Mathematical Practices, specifically relate to problem solving, and the promotion of mathematics
literacy overall. By engaging in meaningful and authentic tasks developed by Defined STEM,
students demonstrated a higher ability to solve problems and deeper understandings across
content areas.



Defined STEM Research Study
34

Qualitative Findings

Following the initial training session and introduction to the research study’s
methodology, researchers met with focus groups of participating teachers in the experimental
group three times during the 2015-16 academic year – in November, February and April. The
purpose of the meetings was to discuss the implementation of Defined STEM in respective classes
and experiences in utilizing Defined STEM and to discern teacher and student perceptions and
experiences. A consistent set of questions was developed and utilized to be able to monitor
developmental themes throughout the implementation of Defined STEM. Teachers were asked:
1. What are your impressions of the Defined STEM resource overall? How have you used
it? (Whole group, small group, rotation of stations in class, out of class viewing of
videos…other)?
2. Have you found the performance tasks to be aligned with your curriculum? Common
core Standards; Next Gen Science Standards?
3. What have been the best parts of Implementation?
4. What have been the greatest challenges of implementation?
5. What has the student response been overall?
6. Do you believe that the performance tasks helped you to meet the 4-C’s / 21st Century
Skills? Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking & Creativity. In what Ways?
7. Do you feel that use of the Defined STEM resources have helped your students to
prepare for and perform well on standardized testing? Why or why not?
8. Please add any comments that you would like to make that have not been part of our
discussion.
As noted in the review of the literature, the introduction of project-based learning is a
departure from traditional teaching methodologies. It requires teachers to adjust their
classroom strategies to allow more learner independence and to act more in the role of a
guide. Consistently across studies, findings indicate that project-based learning enhances
student performance, motivation, student engagement, teacher/student interaction and 21st
Century skills such as collaboration. Given these consistent findings, one is left to wonder
why more classrooms have not adopted project-based learning (Boaler, 1999). In our current



Defined STEM Research Study
35

test-centric educational society, teachers experience tremendous external pressure, which


compels them to strive to deliver the most pertinent content to insure student success on
standardized, high-stakes testing. Yet in many traditional classrooms students continue to
struggle to attain mastery (Bell, 2010).
For teachers who have not experienced project-based learning, this shift can create a
great deal of uncertainty and a sense of uneasiness in the classroom. However, once teachers
become accustomed to using the PBL methodology, the literature reports that they find their
students to be more engaged and motivated. In addition, research supports that students
using PBL perform better on both standardized assessments and project tests than students in
traditional direct instruction programs, and that they learn not only real-world application of
skills, but also analytical thinking (Boaler, 1999).
What follows is an analysis of themes uncovered in the discussions with the participating
teachers. They are examined from both the teacher and student perspectives. In reviewing
the comments collected over the academic year, it became increasingly apparent that as
teachers’ comfort levels with PBL grew, so too did their perceptions of the methodology’s
overall effectiveness in engaging students. The report contains quotes from teachers who
participated in the focus groups. The names of teachers that appear in the report are not the
actual names of the participating teachers. They have been changed to create a level of
anonymity for participants.
In the beginning of the year (October), there was a level of frustration expressed by the
group of participating teachers as a whole. Teachers reported that the implementation of PBL
was very time intensive and required access to the Internet to conduct research on various
topics found within each performance task. The limited access to technology seemed to be a
source of much of the frustration. Teachers were uncertain if they were implementing
Defined STEM in the right way. Teachers had different ideas but don’t know how to approach
the work. They stressed the need for teams of teachers working together to co-plan the
teaching process for performance tasks – even though groups would require some level of
differentiation.
The group discussed alternative ways to cluster students in teams and to scaffold some
of the online research to alleviate some of the time needed to complete the performance


Defined STEM Research Study
36

tasks. One teacher, Beth, was quoted as saying, “Don’t get me wrong, what I am sharing is
some of my own frustrations with using the resources. The students love doing the projects!”
By the end of the school year, teachers had developed several strategies to mitigate the lack
of technology resources such as watching videos in whole groups and subsequently breaking
into small groups for further work on the performance task. . Jenna, a fifth grade teacher
made sure the students had an understanding of basic concepts first, then she broke them
into groups to pursue research and product development. Another teacher reported she
used whole group for watching the introductory videos and then used a small group jigsaw
approach to conduct research. Groups then shared their research in class.
By mid-year, teachers had much more to contribute based on a half-year’s experience
using Defined STEM. Some teachers still admitted to the process of implementing PBL as
being confusing at times and having a difficult time in navigating web resources. They
continued to stress the lack of technology resources to fully integrate the web resource into
their classes. Beth, stated that “Resources need to be readily available – finding them is time
consuming.” They also continued to emphasize that implementation required a great deal of
time. Stephanie reported that, as a teacher, she enjoyed introducing the tasks to her
students. Many teachers echoed the same sentiment and overwhelmingly supported the
notion that the “kids” love the approach. Teachers, having had several months of experience
with Defined STEM, reported liking the resources including the videos and products
associated with the performance tasks.
Jane reported that some of her students struggled with the content and weren’t sure of
what to do when collaborating with other students on completing products. Other teachers
in the discussion group offered the advice of scaffolding by doing vocabulary led by the
teacher, which they felt was crucial to developing understanding of the content. They also
stressed using a modeling process so that the students understood what to do. Beth stated,
“Some students on different levels don’t understand the process so they came up with their
own creation and it reflects the student’s own critical thinking.” Teachers reported struggling
with the shift of classroom control to be more student-centric. They had a hard time resisting
the urge to intervene all the time. Mary stated that every group was different. “At the
beginning I had to give the students questions and Power Points. It was a learning process,


Defined STEM Research Study
37

but the students got progressively better at it. Like I said before, my initial uncertainty was
more on my side - a little bit on how much I should be providing them without changing what
I was actually looking at. Since I was not just looking at an answer, I was looking at a process,
so I sometimes did not know how much to guide them. I wanted the students to get
something out of it – not just for them to produce something and wonder where did they get
that (information).” Beth agreed with this, as it was not about “did they get the right answer,
but it was about the process and how they did the work. This is where I got lost and did not
know what the student was to get out of it. The students felt great about what they
produced.” Measuring intangible processes is indeed more difficult than measuring
attainment of content knowledge through memorization and subsequent testing based on
recall of facts..
Another common experience shared by several teachers was that their students did not
– in many cases – have the experiential background needed to meaningfully engage in some
of the topics. For example, one of the tasks focused on airports. Many of the elementary
students in this suburban school had never been to an airport and as such, teachers had to
provide background material as a lead up to the performance task.
By the end of the school year, teachers reported that the “Kids [got] extremely excited
about the videos and the projects and asked repeatedly if they were going to do Defined
STEM today?” (Deborah). By the end of the school year, many teachers reported that they
liked the website and the movies that accompanied the performance tasks, suggesting that
they provided a roadmap for students as they worked on associated products.
Second grade teachers said that they were not only piloting Defined STEM, but several
other initiatives in their classes, which added a layer of complexity to implementation.
Reflecting on the early phases of implementation, teachers collectively suggested that
being able to see the process of PBL in action would have helped them through the early
implementation of the initiative. “Being able to see a PBL class prior to implementation may
have lessened the sense of ambiguity we experienced” (Jane). Janice, a fifth grade teacher
was quoted as saying, “[In PBL] there is an [inherent] lack of guidance as to when the teachers
should step in, how many times should the teacher step in before we take away the natural
process of what we are looking at (and for), or when the student should proceed on their


Defined STEM Research Study
38

own. What is our target, the students just think it is fun. How far am I supposed to go?” This
sentiment led to a discussion that professional development about how to teach and facilitate
inquiry could help teachers acquire the skill to provide the appropriate balance between
guiding learning and students aimless engaging with material.
Teachers emphasized that they could see the growth in their students from the
beginning of the year. It was great to see collaboration as part of the learning environment.
Teachers typically don’t have time to teach these skills. Within the performance tasks,
student’s debated on how to solve the issues. “The process forced them to think about what
do you do when you have two thought processes against one? What is a majority? Social skill
development, respect for the opinions of others. Students actually talked about the word
compromising and what it meant in the process.” They also developed the skill of not
interrupting in the middle of conversations.
A consistent pattern emerged over the period of implementation. At first, teachers felt
a sense of uneasiness because many of them had not used an inquiry-based PBL approach to
teaching in the past. Although there was an initial training session about the Defined STEM
recourses and how they are accessed and used, teachers still cited the need for more
professional development in the actual process of teaching in a project-based learning
environment. Teachers reported that a lot of staff learning and development came from
using the program throughout the year. They emphasized that both the students and
teachers were learning from each other. One of the school administrators associated with the
program was quoted as saying; “It is a cool outcome when we have staff getting something
out of it and teachers actually teaching using the performance tasks. It has helped them learn
the emphasis of practice standards. It has been very valuable for the district as we don’t have
significant chunks of time to provide professional development in this area.”
When teachers were asked if the performance tasks were aligned with their curriculum,
the overall response was that they were loosely aligned. Second grade teachers indicated
that they would rearrange tasks in the future to fit into their sequence of teaching to
standards. They felt that the paths that students had taken in engaging with the performance
tasks often took them to areas of the curriculum that had not been introduced at that point.



Defined STEM Research Study
39

They felt that better timing of the tasks to coincide with sequencing of standards would have
positioned the students to get even more out of the performance tasks.
The growth of teacher professional practice skills in implementing PBL was evident.
Teachers reported that they would be able to help new teachers who would be implementing
the process in coming years. All in all, a great deal was gained from the pilot year of Defined
STEM implementation. Certainly lessons were learned for the future, but the teachers
overwhelmingly echoed the fact that they thought the pilot was a success and looked forward
to addressing the identified challenges as they moved forward with the process.
Comments from the teachers specifically regarding student behaviors were also very
informative. The students liked working together and doing the research. Having the videos
to watch gave them an idea on what to do. The videos also showed how the lessons relate to
careers and gave them some context. With each task, students took on more on their own.
As the pilot unfolded, students asked fewer questions and were eager to jump in and get
started. When asked if growth of more in-depth discussions and problem solving was
something that evolved or if it had to be directly instructed teachers responded by saying; “It
was basically a little bit of both depending on the group of students we had. In the first online
task I had to pretty much provide them with all of the questioning to ask. But over time I
stepped back the students were able to provide the questions on their own. I can see the
growth from the beginning where we started out with the students and I could see the
growth as students increasingly took on more responsibility. As time when on, (students)
were not just asking questions but answering them.” “It was a clear progression of kids
moving through the process on their own. It was encouraging to see what they came up
with.”
“In second grade kids were engaged. They loved it. Regardless of the day, the kids
enjoy the hands-on, cooperative learning. They loved to see the work they completed.”
“Second grade did get a lot out of the research. It was fun watching the kids’ interactions -
their questions and discussions evolved into more in-depth ones and they became better
problem solvers.”
In fifth grade, students initially struggled. “From the beginning of their school
experience everything was fed to them. Getting them to think in the beginning on their own,


Defined STEM Research Study
40

outside of the box, was very hard. They were not used to doing this. They were used to
someone giving them the solution. By the end of the year they were actually saying here is
what it is, they were able to think about the problems and come up with solutions. Students
were nervous to venture out and explore on their own. They were so scared to be wrong.”
“In the beginning students felt their answers should be alike but as they went through the
year, they learned that critical thinking would reveal different answers, and they learned
there could be multiple solutions to a problem.”
In the end, “Fifth grade students actually enjoyed Defined STEM a lot – especially the
research site which is appropriate for preparing them for middle school. It took a little while
getting them used to it - giving them appropriate websites and telling them what to do with
all of their research.” “They liked it a lot! They loved working together, hands on, talking
through problems, trying to problem solve together. Students didn’t look at it as learning –
they were having fun. They also had a sense of accomplishment when they saw what they
have done – like in the bank statement task - they didn’t realize they were doing math. When
the students asked; are we doing Defined STEM today? If I said no, their response was ‘ah’.”
“One of the most interesting projects the students worked on was an invention that was
a camera that would turn their room (at home) into a school when they are sick - their task
was to come up with something, make an invention that would help out and that’s what they
came up with, an invention to transform their room into a classroom.”
Comments on student performance in this project support the existing body of research
on project-based learning. Students demonstrated a high degree of engagement and
motivation. The literature suggests that as students engage in the process of investigating
problems, and collaborating with their peers and ultimately finding effective ways to
communicate their results. As previously noted, throughout the process students have quite
a bit of autonomy in designing and organizing their work. “Learning responsibility,
independence, and discipline are three outcomes of PBL.” (Bell, 2010, p. 40) It is important
that all students grouped together work to complete the given problem. The social aspect of
learning is demonstrated through the implementation of PBL witnessed by student
performance of twenty-first century skills including communication, negotiation, and
collaboration (Bell, 2010). Research supports that the utilization of PBL promotes improved


Defined STEM Research Study
41

research skills, problem solving, and use of higher-order critical thinking skills. (Gultekin,
2005).








Defined STEM Research Study
42

References

Achieve the Core. (2012). Measures of text difficulty. Retrieved October 6, 2014, from
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAA
&url=http%3A%2F%2Fachievethecore.org%2Ffile%2F203&ei=gOA_VPa2McasyATKw4CoCg
&usg=AFQjCNGfTKgElJNlC-t4OpA-BOldg5bIwg&bvm=bv.77648437,d.aWw
ACT. (2006). Reading between the lines: What the ACT reveals about college readiness
in reading. Iowa City, IA: Author. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from
http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/reading_summary.pdf
Azzam, A. (2009). Why creativity now? A conversation with Sir Ken
Robinson. Educational Leadership, 67(1), Retrieved October 15, 2014, from
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept09/vol67/num01/Why-
Creativity-Now¢-A-Conversation-with-Sir-Ken-Robinson.aspx
Bell, S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The
Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas, 83(2), 39-43.
Boaler, J. (1999). Mathematics for the moment, or the millennium? Education Week
17(29), 30-34.
Common Core Standards Initiative. (2014). English language arts standards. Retrieved
October 2, 2014, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy
DefinedStem.com (2016). Defined STEM introduction for teachers. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from
http://www.definedstem.com/trainingcenter/index.cfm?page=vid
EdNet (2014) NSF Study: Project-based inquiry curriculum has a positive effect on science learning.
Retrieved September 8, 2014, from http://www.ednetinsight.com/news-alerts/prek-12-
market-headlines/nsf-study--project-based-inquiry-curriculum-has-a-positive-effect-on-
science-learning.html
Fielder, R. (2012, Winter). ELA standards raise the bar on text complexity. Changing
Schools. Retrieved October 5, 2014, from
http://www.mcrel.org/~/media/Files/McREL/Homepage/Changing%20Schools/CS_vol67_
wintervol67_.ashx



Defined STEM Research Study
43

Filippatou, D., & Kaldi, S. (2010). The effectiveness of project-based learning on pupils
with learning difficulties regarding academic performance, group work and motivation.
International Journal of Special Education, 25(1), 17-26.
Gultekin, M. (2005). The effect of project-based learning on learning outcomes in the 5th grade
social studies course in primary education. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice 5(2),
548-556.
Gottlieb, M. (2012). Growing pains. Language Magazine. Retrieved May 18, 2013, from
http://languagemagazine.com/?page_id=4951
Holbrook, J. & Kolodner, J.L. (2000). Scaffolding the development of an inquiry-based
(science) classroom. In B. Fishman & S. O'Connor-Divelbiss (Eds.),
Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, 221-227.
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Holmes, V., & Hwang, Y. (2016, May 11). Exploring the effects of project-based learning in
secondary mathematics education. The Journal of Educational Research, 109(5), 449-463.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2014.979911
Kaldi, S., Filippatou, D., & Govaris, C. (2011). Project-based learning in primary schools: Effects
on pupils' learning and attitudes. Education 3-13, 39(1), 35-47.
doi:10.1080/03004270903179538
Kitzinger, J. (1994). The methodology of focus groups: The importance of interaction
between research participants. Sociology of Health and Illness, 16(1), 103-121.
Larmar, J. (2014). Project-based learning vs. problem-based learning,
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer
Lepi, K, (2014). The beginner’s guide to the learning pyramid. Edudemic. Retrieved on
October 1, 2014, from http://www.edudemic.com/the-learning-pyramid/
McTighe, J., & Reese, D. (2013, January 1). Understanding by design & Defined STEM.
Retrieved October 26, 2014, from http://www.definedstem.com/learn/understanding-by-
design-ubd.cfm
National Education Association. (2010). An NEA policy brief: Global competence is
a 21st century imperative. Retrieved on December 23, 2010, from
http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB28_GlobalCompetence.pdf


Defined STEM Research Study
44

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). (2014,
January 1). Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://www.parcconline.org
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2013). Global awareness. Retrieved September 30,
2014, from http://www.p21.org/overview/skills-framework/256
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2014). Retrieved on December 23, 2010, from
http://www.p21.org/
Powell, R.A., & Single, H.M. (1996). Focus Groups. International Journal for Quality in
Health Care, 8(5), 499-504.
Problem-based learning. (2014, October 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Retrieved 18:39, October 20, 2014, from
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Problem-based_learning&oldid=629542406
Robinson, K. (2013, May 17). To encourage creativity, Mr. Cove, you must first
understand what it is. The Guardian. Retrieved October 19, 2014, from
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/17/to-encourage-creativity-mr-
gove-understand
Standards for Mathematical Practice. (2016). Retrieved September 21, 2016, from
http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2014). Sample items and performance tasks.
Retrieved October 2, 2014, from http://www.smarterbalanced.org/sample-items-and-
performance-tasks/
Student-centered learning: How four schools are closing the opportunity gap. (2014,
January 1). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from
https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Student-centered learning one pager.pdf
Thomas, J.W. (2000). A review of research on PBL.
http://www.bobpearlman.org/BestPractices/PBL_Research.pdf.
Tobias, E. S., Campbell, M. R., & Greco, P. (2015). Bringing curriculum to life. Enacting project-
based learning in music programs. Music Educators Journal, 102(2), 39-47.
Wood, E.J. (2004). Problem-based learning: Exploiting knowledge of how people learn
to promote effective learning. Bioscience Education, 3, 1-12.



Defined STEM Research Study
45

Yeung, B. (2008). Put to the test: Confronting concerns about project learning.
Edutopia. Retrieved October 6, 2014, from http://www.edutopia.org/project-
learning-implementing-challenges-questions



Defined STEM Research Study
46



Appendices



Defined STEM Research Study
47

Appendix A:

UNDERSTANDING BY DESIGN
& DEFINED STEM









JAY MCTIGHE & DAVID REESE
DECEMBER 1, 2013















Defined STEM Research Study
48








UNDERSTANDING BY DESIGN &


DEFINED STEM

Key Ideas 3
Three Stages of Backward Design 4
Stage 1 – Identify Desired Results 4
Stage 2 – Determine Acceptable Evidence 5
Stage 3 – Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction 6
Common Core Connections 7
Mathematics 7
Language Arts 8
Next Generation Science Standards Connections 8
Appendix 10
Research Underpinnings 10
Findings from in Cognitive Psychology 10



Defined STEM Research Study
49

UNDERSTANDING BY DESIGN & DEFINED STEM





Understanding by Design® (UbD™) offers a planning framework to guide curriculum,
assessment and instruction with a focus on teaching and assessing for understanding
and transfer. Defined STEM provides sets of modules in which students engage in “real
world” applications of key concepts and skills. In this paper, we will describe the
complementary connections between Understanding by Design and Defined STEM


KEY IDEAS
The two key ideas of Understanding by Design are contained in its title: 1) focus on
teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer, and 2) design curriculum
“backward” from those ends.


UbD is based on seven key tenets:
1. UbD is a way of thinking purposefully about curricular planning, not a rigid
program or prescriptive recipe.
2. A primary goal of UbD is developing and deepening student understanding: the
ability to make meaning of learning via “big ideas” and transfer learning.
3. Understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and
transfer their learning through authentic performance. Six facets of
understanding
– the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self
assess – serve as indicators of understanding.
4. Effective curriculum is planned ”backward” from long-term desired results though
a three-stage design process (Desired Results, Evidence, Learning Plan). This
process helps to avoid the twin problems of “textbook coverage” and “activity-
oriented” teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
5. Teachers are coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or
activity. They focus on ensuring learning, not just teaching (and assuming
that what was taught was learned); they always aim – and check - for
successful meaning making and transfer by the learner.
6. Regular reviews of units and curriculum against design standards enhance
curricular quality and effectiveness.
7. UbD reflects a continuous improvement approach to achievement. The results
of our designs - student performance - inform needed adjustments in curriculum
as well as instruction.



Defined STEM Research Study
50

Defined STEM reinforces these tenets and supports the UbD framework for curriculum,
instruction and assessment. Through the utilization of performance tasks and related
resources, Defined STEM reflects the educational strategies of STEM education and
project-based learning. Real-world videos set the stage for each learning experience
by showing the practical application of educational concepts within an industry and/or
organizational context. Performance tasks built around the demands of specific
careers/ industries ask the students to apply knowledge and skills in authentic
situations. Literacy tasks encourage students to read, synthesize and write informative
and/or position papers around the real-world issues. Tasks set in an international
context give learners opportunities to explore challenges and opportunities with global
implications.


THREE STAGES OF BACKWARD DESIGN
Understanding by Design proposes a 3-stage “backward design” process for curriculum
planning. The deliberate use of backward design for planning curriculum units and
courses results in more clearly defined goals, more appropriate assessments, more
tightly aligned lessons, and more purposeful teaching. Backward planning asks
educators to consider the following three stages:


STAGE 1 – IDENTIFY DESIRED RESULTS

What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What content is worthy of
understanding? What “enduring” understandings are desired? What essential questions
will be explored? What should students be able to do with their learning?


The first stage of backward design targets established Standards and related
educational goals (e.g., 21st Century Skills). Since there is typically more “content” than
can reasonably be addressed within the available time, teachers are obliged to make
choices. This first stage in the design process calls for clarity about priorities.


The modules of Defined STEM are closely aligned to state and national academic
standards, including Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards to help
educators focus on high-priority goals. More specifically, the tasks and associated
resources of Defined STEM prioritize learning around application of knowledge and
skills within and across subject areas, rather than simply “covering” lists of objectives.
These rich tasks naturally connect academic content with 21st Century Skills (e.g.,
critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, communication and use of
technologies) that are increasingly recognized as vital for success in the 21st century.



Defined STEM Research Study
51

Stage 1 of UbD asks teachers to identify the “big ideas” that students should come to
understand, and then to identify or craft companion essential questions. Big ideas
reflect transferable concepts, principles and processes that are key to understanding
the topic or subject. These ideas are then embodied through open-ended, thought-
provoking “essential questions” to guide student inquiry and problem solving.


More specific knowledge and skill objectives, linked to the targeted Content Standards
and Understandings, are also identified in Stage 1. An important point in UbD is to
recognize that factual knowledge and skills are not taught for their own sake but as a
means to larger ends. Ultimately, teaching should equip learners to be able to use or
transfer their learning; i.e., meaningful performance with content. This is the “end” we
always want to keep in mind.


Defined STEM frames its modules around big ideas, essential questions and
contextualized performance tasks to guide the learning experience. Specific knowledge
and skills are learned in the context of authentic applications.


STAGE 2 – DETERMINE ACCEPTABLE EVIDENCE

How will we know if students have achieved the desired results? What will we accept
as evidence of student understanding and proficiency? How will we evaluate student
performance?


Backward design encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first “think like an
assessor” before designing specific units and lessons. By considering the needed
assessment evidence to document and validate targeted learning outcomes, teaching is
invariably sharpened and focused.


Understanding by Design distinguishes between two broad types of assessment –
Performance Tasks and Other Evidence. The performance tasks ask students to apply
their learning to new and authentic situations as a means of assessing their
understanding and ability to apply their learning. More traditional assessments (e.g.,
test, quiz, skill check) are used to assess more specific and discrete objectives.


Once a basic performance task idea has been identified, teachers are encouraged to
frame the task by using the acronym G.R.A.S.P.S. to establish a more authentic
context for application: (1) a real-world Goal; (2) a meaningful Role for the student; (3)
authentic (or simulated) Audience(s); (4) a contextualized Situation that involves real-
world



Defined STEM Research Study
52

application; (5) student-generated culminating Products and Performances; and (6) the
performance Standards (criteria) for judging success.


Every Defined STEM module is framed around an engaging, multi-faceted performance
task involving application of learning. These performance tasks are authentic, reflecting
“real-world” problems and issues that provide students the opportunity to demonstrate
their understanding of key concepts and processes. The tasks are introduced through
engaging and motivational videos that depict how people outside of schools are using
academic knowledge and skills on the job.


Defined STEM utilizes the G.R.A.S.P.S structure to frame its performance tasks. The
first four sections of each task use the G.R.A.S. elements to create an appropriate
context/scenario in which students operate. The tasks call for students to use 21st
Century skills – creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and
communication –in combination with academic knowledge and skills. Many of the tasks
are set in a global context to prepare students for living in an increasingly
interconnected, “flat” world.


Every task contains a minimum of four products (P) designed to address a variety of
outcomes and enable teachers to differentiate to address students’ varied interests and
talents. These products may be developed by individual students or created
collaboratively in groups. Teachers can also modify and customize the provided tasks
using G.R.A.S.P.S.


Each Defined STEM task includes one or more criterion-based rubrics that define the
performance standards (S) to guide the evaluation of student work. The Defined STEM
website allows educators to adapt the rubrics as needed.


STAGE 3 – PLAN LEARNING EXPERIENCES AND INSTRUCTION

How will we support learners in coming to understanding of important ideas and
processes? How will we prepare them to autonomously transfer their learning? What
enabling knowledge and skills will students need in order to perform effectively and
achieve desired results?


In Stage 3 of backward design, teachers plan the most appropriate lessons and learning
activities to address the three different types of goals identified in Stage 1: transfer,
meaning making, and acquisition (T, M, and A). Too often, teaching focuses primarily
on



Defined STEM Research Study
53

presenting information or modeling basic skills for acquisition without extending the
lessons to help students make meaning or transfer the learning.


Teaching for understanding and transfer means that learners are given opportunities to
apply their learning to new and realistic situations, and receive timely feedback on their
performance to help them improve. Thus, the teacher’s role expands from solely a
“sage on the stage” to a facilitator of meaning making and a coach giving feedback and
advice about how to use content effectively.


The Defined STEM modules are constructed around rich performance tasks to give
learners opportunities to apply their learning to authentic situations – local, national and
global in scope. Just as coaches of athletic teams plan their practices based on the
demands of authentic performance (the “game”) and the needs of their players,
teachers using Defined STEM “plan backward” from the tasks to determine the needed
knowledge, skills and strategies that students will need to perform well. The associated
Defined STEM resources provide practical and proven support for teachers and
students alike.


COMMON CORE CONNECTIONS
Both Understanding by Design and Defined STEM clearly support outcomes
identified by the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science
Standards. Here are a few of the many connections:


MATHEMATICS

The UbD Unit Planning Template in Stage 1 calls for teachers to identify the
important things students should know (e.g., multiplication tables) and be able to
do (e.g., division). While acknowledging the importance of the basics, the UbD
framework also emphasizes understanding of conceptually larger ideas (e.g.,
equivalence and modeling) and associated practices (e.g., problem solving and
mathematical reasoning). This is a point repeatedly stressed in the new
Common Core Mathematics Standards.


Effective educators know from research and experience that rote learning of
mathematical facts and skills does not promote mathematical reasoning, problem
solving, or the capacity to transfer learning. An essential goal of UbD involves
teaching so students understand and can transfer their mathematics learning to
new situations.



Defined STEM Research Study
54

Each of the performance tasks within Defined STEM requires higher order
thinking and transfer of learning. They call for mathematical reasoning, problem
solving and perseverance as learners work on cost analyses, product
development based on applied Geometry and Algebra, scale drawings and the
creation of mathematical models.


LANGUAGE ARTS

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts have placed a stronger
emphasis on non-fiction reading along with expository (informational) and
persuasive (argumentation) writing. Defined STEM literacy tasks incorporate a
number of non-fiction resources including newspapers, magazines, journals,
press releases, and technical papers. Each performance task includes an
associated informational literacy task and argumentative task. These tasks help
deepen student knowledge of the topic being investigated. The informational
tasks require students to do a “close” reading to gain the necessary information
to perform the task. The argumentative/persuasive tasks demand that students
support their position with evidence while asking them to consider numerous
sides of an issue or problem. Thus, the tasks provide a “two-for” – relevant
applications of mathematics, science and/or engineering in conjunction with
important reading, research, writing and communication skills.


Since most of the required reading in college and the workforce is informational
in nature, engaging learners with the Defined STEM modules offers a motivating
route to achieving the espoused goals of the Common Core Standards – college
and career readiness.


NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS CONNECTIONS
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for educators to focus on
developing understanding of “big ideas” while engaging learners in “doing” science,
not just learning facts about science. Here is a summary of the intent:


The framework focuses on a limited number of core ideas in science and
engineering both within and across the disciplines… Reduction of the sheer sum
of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in



Defined STEM Research Study
55

scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of


understanding of the core ideas presented.1


Defined Stem offers a collection of practical and proven resources aligned to the Next
Generation Science Standards. The modules and performance tasks provide
contextualized learning experiences in the four domains – physical sciences, life
sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering and technology. Students have
multiple opportunities to apply the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts such as structure and
function and energy and matter within “real world” scenarios. Essential questions and
core ideas are provided in each module to reinforce these concepts. Many of the
modules feature interdisciplinary tasks to enable learners to see the natural connections
among science, engineering and mathematics. Teachers who engage students with the
Defined STEM modules are fulfilling the promise of the NGSS.






































1National Research Council. (2011). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting
Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards.
Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The
National Academies Press.


APPENDIX
RESEARCH UNDERPINNINGS

Understanding by Design and Defined STEM reflect contemporary research on
learning. A brief summary of some key findings is provided below.


FINDINGS FROM IN COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

The book, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School Experience2,
provides a comprehensive and readable synthesis of research findings regarding
learning and cognition. It offers new conceptions of the learning process and
explains how skill and understanding in subject areas are most effectively
acquired. Key findings relevant to UbD include the following:
1. Views on effective learning have shifted from a focus on the benefits of
diligent drill and practice to a focus on students’ understanding and
application of knowledge.
2. Learning must be guided by generalized principles in order to be widely
applicable. Knowledge learned at the level of rote memory rarely
transfers; transfer most likely occurs when the learner knows and
understands underlying concepts and principles that can be applied to
problems in new contexts. Learning with understanding is more likely to
promote transfer than simply memorizing information from a text or a
lecture.
3. Experts first seek to develop an understanding of problems, and this often
involves thinking in terms of core concepts or big ideas. Novices’
knowledge is much less likely to be organized around big ideas; novices
are more likely to approach problems by searching for correct formulas
and pat answers that fit their everyday intuitions.
4. Research on expertise suggests that superficial coverage of many
topics in the domain may be a poor way to help students develop the
competencies that will prepare them for future learning and work.
Curricula that emphasize breadth of knowledge may prevent effective
organization of knowledge because there is not enough time to learn
anything in depth. Curricula that are “a mile wide and an inch deep” run
the risk of developing disconnected rather than connected knowledge.
5. Feedback is fundamental to learning, but feedback opportunities are
limited in many classrooms. Students may receive grades on tests
and essays, but these are summative assessments that occur at the
end of learning segments. Grades, by themselves, do not provide the
specific



10

2National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded Edition. Washington,
DC: National Academy Press.

11

and timely information needed for improvement. What is


needed are formative assessments, which provide students
with opportunities to revise and improve the quality of their
thinking and understanding.
6. Many assessments measure only propositional (factual)
knowledge and never ask whether students know when, where,
and why to use that knowledge. Given the goal of learning with
understanding, assessments and feedback must focus on
understanding, and not simply on memory for procedures or facts.


These findings provide a conceptual base for the Understanding by
Design framework. Defined STEM offers a practical embodiment of
UbD to provide relevant learning experiences for students to
understand the when, where, why and how content and skills learned
in the classroom may be applied in a real- world, global context.

12