You need only to Google STEM lesson to get 23,000,000 ideas.  There are Pinterest boards, Teachers pay Teachers activities, Science Museums and publishers lining up to share their STEM lessons with you.  With all of those ideas, how can you identify the best lessons?  What are the qualities of a STEM lesson?


While there are many ways to define STEM, and many ways to incorporate STEM thinking and learning into your classroom, I would argue that there are a few key qualities that should be built into every STEM lesson.  Whether you are considering a STEM lesson you’ve found or developing your own, consider the following questions:

  • Are students presented with an authentic problem to solve or question to answer?
  • Do the Science & Engineering practices drive the work students do in order to solve the problem or answer the question? More to the point, are students making decisions about how they will solve the problem rather than following a step-by-step procedure?
  • Are students engaged in an application of mathematics skills?  Are they using the mathematics in order to solve the problem or answer the question?
  • Are students using technology as a tool to understand the problem, collect data or report their findings?  Is the technology an integral, irreplaceable part of the process?
  • Is there more than one way to solve this problem?  Can students develop a solution with an iterative process, such as an engineering design process, in which they area also learning from their mistakes and reflecting on their success?
  • Will students have an opportunity to more deeply understand a big idea in science or to apply their current understanding?
  • Does this experience support student-to-student discourse or maybe argumentation?  Are students supported in a collaborative environment with their peers?

The big idea behind STEM isn’t to engage students in lessons using science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  In fact, STEM is much more than connection to four subject areas.  The true application of STEM is one in which the four components cannot be isolated without damaging the integrity of the students’ critical thinking, problem solving and ways of sharing what they have learned, built or discovered.


It is important to note that in 2019, Washington State will be requiring teachers with several different certificates to have 15 STEM clock hours or a STEM-based goal on a PGP every 5 years for certification renewal.  When granting STEM clock hours, there are three guiding questions that must be considered:

  1. Will the STEM activity have an impact on STEM experiences for students?
  2. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources to use with students or with other educators?
  3. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources about STEM-related career choices to use with students?

While these guiding questions definitely provide a layer of cohesiveness for STEM clock hour opportunities, I think the deeper consideration of the qualities I’ve outlined will result in stronger student learning experiences.  Zipline