What Defines a STEM School?

November 30, 2016

While many magnet schools have a common theme of STEM, this theme can look different in each school. One school may focus on engineering while another focuses on environmental science; one school may provide each student with a tablet while another does not. But are there common elements of the learning that takes place in these schools?
There are studies trying to answer this question. One study, the STEM School Study ( has so far identified eight elements of STEM schools. The first six are core elements that the study equates with the STEM schools’ key educational goals, and the last two are supporting and contributing elements:
1. Problem-Based Learning
2. Rigorous Learning
3. School Community and Belonging
4. Career, Technology, and Life Skills
5. Personalization of Learning
6. External Community
7. Staff Foundations
8. Essential Factors
Another study, Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration in STEM (OSPrI) (, focuses on inclusive STEM high schools. The study has found fourteen important elements:
1. College-prep, STEM-focused curriculum for all
2. Reform instructional strategies and project-based learning
3. Integrated, innovative technology use
4. STEM-rich, informal experiences
5. Connections with business, industry, and the world of work
6. College-level coursework
7. Well-prepared STEM teachers and professionalized teaching staff
8. Inclusive STEM mission
9. Flexible and autonomous administration
10. Supports for underrepresented students
11. Dynamic assessment systems for continuous improvement
12. Innovative and responsive leadership
13. Positive school community and culture of high expectations for all
14. Agency and choice
You can learn more at the STEM School Study at this year’s MSAP Project Directors Meeting, taking place December 5-6 in Washington, DC, where the principal investigator, Melanie LaForce, Ph.D. will present study findings. In addition, at the 2013 MSAP Project Directors Meeting, Sharon Lynch, Ph.D. presented initial findings from the OSPrI study. Log on to the private workspace to download the presentation about OSPrI. After this year’s meeting, you can also download the STEM Schools Study presentation.
How do you define a STEM school? Does your STEM program contain the elements these studies list? Would you add or remove any elements? Tell us in the comments!

Kindergarten Students Raising Trout

March 4, 2015

Kindergarten students at Dutch Fork Elementary Academy for Environmental Sciences (DFES) are learning how to raise trout! The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provided the students with all the equipment and the eggs to get them started. It was the first time that DNR ever allowed a grade level as young as Kindergarten to participate in this program. The students received 150 eggs in November and have watched as these eggs have transformed to the fry stage and then to the Alevin stage. Each day a different set of students take care of the trout. They have learned to check the water temperature and test the PH balance and the ammonia balance in the tank. They have also problem-solved on how to balance the chemicals if the levels are too high or low for the trout to survive. Kindergartners are keeping data and tracking the data to help them raise the trout. They are learning the importance of keeping accurate records to support their findings. As an extension to this activity, the Kindergarteners are going to make a “Trout Quilt.” They sent over 30 squares of materials to other classrooms across the United States. Students in the classes will make a design on the square and then send the square back to DFES students. Once all the squares have been returned, the students will begin working on putting the quilt together. This will be a project that they will treasure forever and remember the journey that led them to be ichthyologists. As a culminating activity for this project, students from the Kindergarten classes will be allowed to go to Saluda Shoals and watch as the remaining trout are released into the Saluda River from a helicopter by DNR. The students are excited to see their fish released back into their natural habitat and hope that by restoring life back into the river, they will continue to provide food for those who fish.

You can read more here.

What exciting STEM projects are happening in your schools? Let us know in the comments!

Industry Partnerships Benefit Magnet Schools

January 8, 2015

Industry partnerships can be especially important for successful STEM programs. Houston Independent School District's Energy Institute High School, an MSAP school in the second year of operation has made significant gains in linking education to industry through industry partnerships. Energy Institute High School was recently notified that they will be beneficiaries of a charity dinner at the International Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. This is one example of how the district has benefited from connecting students with industry and exposing them to local and global career opportunities. For more information, view the news story about the charity dinner by clicking here.

Let us know in the comments about ways that your magnet schools are benefiting from industry partnerships.

Planning for STEM Implementation

Like any other part of implementing your magnet program, implementing your STEM curricula and partnerships requires careful planning. One resource to help your magnet program evaluate its STEM initiatives and plan next steps is the STEM Excellence Pathway from the Carnegie Science Center.The pathway provides a self-evaluation tool, a guide for effective steps to take to improve implementation, stories of successful STEM initiatives, and personalized assistance in identifying goals for implementation. Visit the website to use the tools today, and let us know in the comments how you use them.

Using STEM to Improve the Workforce

A new study released by the Carnegie Science Center convened STEM leaders in three states to evaluate the condition of STEM in the region and identify ways that improving STEM education can improve the region’s workforce.

Sharing research such as this with your magnet program’s stakeholders can help explain the importance of the education your magnet schools are providing. Hearing how STEM education benefits the entire community, including local businesses, can help increase buy-in for your magnet schools.

You can read the report here. Then let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Exciting Students Through STEM Career Exploration

A great way to excite students about STEM learning is to provide real-world applications. In particular, sharing with students the array of STEM-related careers that are available can help them to see their own future in STEM. In addition, explain to students how STEM literacy skills can apply to other careers that are not directly related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

While inviting STEM professionals to speak to and work with your magnet students is ideal, it is not usually possible to bring a representative from every type of career to the school site. Online career exploration tools can be a great supplement to these in-person visits. These tools introduce students to STEM-related careers that they may not have been aware of. Exploration of these tools can be built into lessons, especially those that leverage technology – learning about careers can help bring the content presented to life.

Some resources we have found regarding this topic include

Let us know in the comments if you have used any other resources to help students explore STEM careers.