Useful References

Here you will find an annotated bibliography of a small sample of useful papers on STEM education and the related topics of problem-based learning (PBL) and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches to curriculum and instruction. These papers are only a small sampling of a vast literature, selected to present important perspectives on the nature of STEM education, benefits and problems of an integrated STEM approach in education, and strategies for integrating the STEM disciplines, including social perspectives. If you are interested in pursuing any of these topics further the references included in each paper provide a wealth of possibilities to guide your research.

STEM, Integrated STEM – Overviews and Analyses

Atkinson, R. D. (2012). Why the current education reform strategy won’t work. Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2012: 29-36. (Google Scholar Link)

Over the past 25 years, a consensus has emerged that “the United States needs to do a better job at promoting and supporting STEM education.” But, the author points out, the problem of too few students successfully completing undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees remains. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy think tank based in Washington, DC, suggests that perhaps the problem is with the dominant policy strategy of promoting some STEM education for all students, regardless of their interests, rather than focusing on those who do have an interest in the STEM fields. The author suggests that everyone does not need in-depth knowledge of the STEM disciplines. To support this view he points out that currently in the US only about 5% of jobs are STEM jobs, and this figure is not expected to grow significantly. He continues by considering what he calls the myths of STEM education, using the discussion to support his contention that STEM education should focus on a subset of students who are characterized by their interest in STEM, a strategy he calls “All STEM for some” rather than “some STEM for all.” He believes that the “All STEM for some” strategy will accommodate “the central enabler of effective STEM education: motivated and interested students,” and support what the economy needs, “a modest increase in the number of STEM college graduates who have a real increase in their STEM skills…” This paper provides an interesting perspective on the needs of the STEM professions and how those needs affect K-12 education.


Breiner, J. M., S. S. Harkness, C. C. Johnson, and C. M. Koehler. (2012). What is STEM? A discussion about conceptions of STEM education and partnerships. School Science and Mathematics, 112(1): 3-11. (DOI Link)

The use of the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has grown rapidly since the early 2000s. But, as the authors of this paper point out, ideas of what STEM is often vary. Here, the authors present the results of an investigation carried out at the University of Cincinnati. At the time the research was conducted (2009) the University was engaged in several STEM initiatives. The goal of the study was to clarify how (or whether) university faculty understood the meaning of STEM, and how STEM influenced their lives. This was accomplished using an open-ended survey asking 1) What is STEM?, and 2) How does STEM influence/impact your life? Results of the survey showed that about 73% of respondents knew what STEM was, and 27% who did not. Responses to the second question ranged widely, from no influence on the individual, to various personal and social influences. The authors conclude that even in an institute of higher education with active STEM initiatives in progress, faculty still have no “common operational definition or conceptualization of STEM.” Further, they question whether such a definition would be easily achievable or useful. This is an interesting study that clearly points out the importance of being clear with our ideas about STEM and unambiguously defining the terms that we use in our discussions on the subject.


Bybee, R. W. (2010). Advancing STEM education: A 2020 vision. Technology and Engineering Teacher, September, 2010: 30-35. (Google Scholar Link)

This paper by stating, in reference to STEM, that “…the education community has embraced a slogan without really taking the time to clarify what the term might mean…” He goes on to say that it is important to clarify what STEM means for educational policies, programs, and practices. Some possibilities, all related to one another, include increased emphasis on technology and engineering, the opportunity to stress “21st Century skills,” and the development of “an integrated curricular approach to studying grand challenges of our era,” such as energy efficiency, resource use, and other socio-environmental topics. These areas can all be useful in developing and supporting STEM literacy. Two challenges to STEM education are discussed. The first is the difficulty of truly integrating technology and engineering in STEM. At present the scale at which they are present in schools at all is relatively low. Even when they are present, they are often taught separately, rather than integrated with science and math courses. Second, is the challenge of introducing STEM-related real-world issues that students will need to understand and address as citizens. This requires an approach that places these issues in a central position and uses the STEM fields to understand them and analyze possible ways of addressing them. Such problem-based, integrated approaches are difficult to implement given the traditional, separate structure of the STEM disciplines. The author provides a model to advance STEM education that he suggests may mitigate some of these challenges.


Sanders, M. (2009). STEM, STEM education, STEMmania. The Technology Teacher, December/January, 2009: 20-26. (Google Scholar Link)

The meaning of STEM is often ambiguous. The author of this paper, a professor of Technology Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, points out that for many years the National Science Foundation has used the acronym to refer simply to the four separate and distinct fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Although others have suggested that STEM implies some sort of interaction among the disciplinary stakeholders, the author disagrees, stating that the term STEM education, as it is usually used, seems “suspiciously like the status quo educational practices…of disconnected science mathematics, and technology education.” The focus of this paper is to introduce the concept of “integrative STEM education,” an approach that integrates teaching and learning between and among “any two or more of the STEM areas, and/or between a STEM subject and one or more other school subjects.” That is, the STEM subjects are explicitly integrated with each other and with other non-STEM subjects as well. The author believes that such an approach has a greater potential to interest and motivate students than standard teaching practices, resulting in better learning outcomes and increasing the percentage of students who become interested in STEM subjects and STEM fields.


Wang, H., T. J. Moore, G. H. Roehrig, and M. S. Park. (2011). STEM integration: Teacher perceptions and practice. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research. 1(2): 1-13. (DOI Link)

Educators and researchers do not consistently agree or understand what STEM education should be about in K-12 education. Though the STEM disciplines are generally taught in silos (as separate subjects), the work of STEM professionals does not stop at disciplinary boundaries. Therefore an integrated approach to STEM education is closer to the true nature of the STEM fields. STEM integration is defined as the merging of the four STEM disciplines to 1) deepen student understanding by contextualizing the concepts; 2) broaden student understanding by integrating socially and culturally relevant STEM contexts; and 3) increasing student interest by increasing the pathways for students to enter STEM fields. Here, the authors present the results of a study they conducted to document the effect of professional development on STEM integration in three middle school teachers. The two questions that guided this case study were, 1) what are the beliefs and perceptions that teachers have about “STEM integration” after a one year professional development training, and 2) what is the connection between these beliefs and perceptions and the teachers’ classroom practices? Data collection consisted of observations, interviews, and the analysis of teacher documents. Findings from the study indicate that 1) a key component to integrating the STEM disciplines is the problem-solving process; 2) teachers from different STEM disciplines have different perceptions about STEM integration and these perceptions lead to different classroom practices; 3) technology is the hardest of the STEM disciplines to integrate; and 4) teachers are aware of the need to add more content knowledge into STEM integration. Case studies such as this often lead to a wealth of information and detailed perspectives but readers should careful not to assume that the results of such a study can be generalized too broadly.


Weber, E., S. Fox, S. B. Levings, and J. Bouwma-Gearhart. (2013). Teachers’ conceptualizations of integrated STEM. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 17(3): 1-9. (Google Scholar Link)

Improvement in STEM education is often thought to lead to an improved workforce in the STEM fields. Often these improvements are based on the integration of the STEM disciplines, or even abandoning the teaching of specific STEM disciplines in favor of more integrated science courses. In this paper the authors present the results of a study that considers three interrelated questions regarding STEM education. These are, How do secondary school teachers in the STEM disciplines 1) understand the acronym and disciples of STEM; 2) envision a STEM curriculum and enact instruction in the classroom, and 3) recognize and respond to the integrated STEM movement and associated policies and mandates? The study consisted of semistructured interviews with 20 educators in 3 high schools. The students were predominantly “white” but socioeconomic status (SES) of the students varied widely. The results of the study show that teachers were aware of what the STEM acronym means, but that they envisioned STEM as a collection of “siloed” subjects, very much as in traditional education, rather than an integrated consideration of the STEM areas. Closely related to this finding was that few teachers created an environment for integrating the STEM disciplines in their classrooms. Finally, teachers reported that they were not under pressure from state or local education agencies to implement STEM education. Although the demographic composition of the schools might lead one to question the generalizability of the results, this paper presents some interesting perspectives that are worth considering.


Problem-based Learning (PBL) Approach to Integrated Curriculum

Ertmer, P. A. (2006). Jumping the PBL implementation hurdle: Supporting the efforts of K-12 teachers. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. 1(1): 40-54. (DOI Link)

Problem-based learning (PBL) has a long history of use in medical and other professional education programs but has not been widely adopted by K-12 teachers. The goals of PBL include the development of a deep understanding of content while at the same time developing higher order thinking skills in students, and both goals are closely aligned with those of K-12 educators. In this paper the author examines some of the obstacles teachers face when implementing PBL strategies and provides suggestions for supporting teachers who are interested in using this learning approach in their classrooms. Factors that influence a teachers decision to use PBL are reviewed. These include the ability to create a collaborative culture in the classroom where students work with each other to accomplish their problem-solving objectives, and being able to adjust to a very different role as a teacher, one that requires the teacher to be a facilitator in the learning process. This is a different approach to pedagogy than what many are used to and may discourage teachers from using this approach. The ability to scaffold student learning is considered by the author to be of special importance in PBL and is considered in some detail. Problem-based learning has great potential in the context of integrated STEM and NGSS focused approaches to curriculum and instruction. This paper provides important insights on the implementation of PBL from the perspective of K-12 teachers.


Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. 1(1): 9-20. (DOI Link)

Problem-based learning (PBL) is both an instructional and a curricular approach to learning. It is learner-centered focused on empowering learners to “conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem,” (p. 9). In this paper the author provides an overview of the historical origins of PBL in the health sciences followed by widespread adoption of the approach by many different disciplines and age groups. Characteristics of PBL that are essential to the success of the approach are reviewed and include the selection of an ill-defined problem that allows students to collaboratively explore possible solutions and a role of the teacher as a facilitator who guides the learning process and provides a debriefing with the students at the end of the process. Briefly, students work in collaborative groups to first identify what they need to know (learn) in order to solve the problem, engage in self-directed learning to generate the information and perspectives needed, apply this knowledge to the problem to attempt to solve it, and then reflect on what they learned and how effective their problem-solving strategies were. The author then compares and contrasts PBL with similar learning strategies such as project- and case-based learning and an inquiry-based approach to learning. PBL is highly relevant to both integrated STEM and the NGSS focused approaches to curriculum and instruction and this paper provides an excellent overview of the topic.


Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Approach to Integrated Curriculum

Mansour, N. (1999). Science-technology-society (STS): A new paradigm in science education. Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, 29(4): 287-297. (DOI Link)

Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is a curriculum approach designed to make science and the related field of technology relevant to students by integrating science concepts and their technological applications to real-world issues. The author points out that the STS movement has been closely identified with the goal of developing knowledgeable citizens who understand the relationships that exist between science, technology, and society, but that putting this goal into practice has been difficult. This paper includes an overview of the historical context in which the STS approach evolved as well as a consideration of important barriers to its effective implementation. These barriers include teacher’s understandings of science and science teaching that are, at least partly, based on the way in which they have been trained. Although focused on STS, this paper provides interesting perspectives on the nature of science education, the attempts to reform science education during the latter half of the 20th century, and on teachers views of science and science teaching. The value of this paper in the context of STEM education is that STS represents an effort to integrate different disciplines to provide a more complete understanding of the STEM disciplines by highlighting the relationship between them and the social context in which they exist. These perspectives are highly relevant to both integrated STEM education and approaches found in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).


Yager, R. E., and M. V. Lutz. (1995). STS to enhance total curriculum. School Science and Mathematics, 95(1): 28-35. (DOI Link)

This paper provides important perspectives on integrated STEM education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through its consideration of an approach to integrated science education called Science, Technology, and Society (STS). The author points out that the way science is usually taught in K-12 education is with a focus on content, information that is to be learned. This approach is limiting to a clear understanding of the nature of science and a more comprehensive view would consider science to be a process of exploration, explanation, and testing the explanations. Issue-based approaches to school science are exemplified by STS. This approach focuses the teaching and learning of science in the context of human society and human experiences, including the application of technology. Such an issue-based approach makes information (content) relevant by presenting it in the context of an issue or problem to be resolved by the student(s). Such an approach also involves multiple activities that develop relevant skills such as questioning, analyzing, debate, and decision making, and are more likely to elicit student interest than decontextualized, text and memorization focused activities. The ideas and perspectives presented here are very relevant to integrating the various STEM disciplines using issue-based or problem-based learning. They also reflect the objectives of the NGSS with its emphasis on practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Last, but certainly not least, the incorporation of an STS approach makes education relevant beyond the classroom, connecting student learning to issues in the real world.