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The Voice of STEM Schools: Identifying the Eight Elements of Inclusive STEM High Schools

Mon, April 11, 4:30 to 6:30pm, Convention Center, Level Two, Room 206


In this paper we describe the 8 elements of inclusive STEM high schools identified in the National Science Foundation-funded STEM School Study (S3). In recent years, many states and schools have embraced a STEM focus. However, there is much debate and uncertainty about what a STEM school is. This study seeks to develop a clear, comprehensive understanding of inclusive STEM schools across the nation, as well as how the various strategies and methods employed by these schools relate to real student outcomes.

To effectively measure the implementation of STEM schools and identify relationships between STEM school components and student outcomes, we first sought to thoroughly understand and describe what STEM schools are. S3 researchers worked with inclusive STEM school leaders from over 25 inclusive STEM schools and asked them to describe the parts of their schools that are essential to their school models. We interviewed individuals in each STEM school to identify and describe the most important components, or building blocks, which contribute to the success of their school. We then coded the interviews establishing common themes, and identified 78 components. These components include structural components (e.g. specified time set aside for Advisory or cross-departmental collaboration), and behavioral components (e.g. students participating in early college activities or teachers facilitating a positive social and emotional learning environment). Identifying components enables us to look at what STEM schools are and what they are doing in a very concrete, detailed, and measurable way.

Working with contextual interview data and informed by appropriate literature, we organized the components into categories that emerged across the schools. Ultimately, these categories became the 8 Elements. Each Element is comprised of a number of components and together, they illustrate what STEM schools are and lay the groundwork for understanding how STEM schools work to achieve their goals.

The 8 Elements of STEM Schools include instructional, non-instructional, and support elements. Instructional elements include Rigorous Learning, Problem-based Learning, Personalization of Learning, and Career, Technology, and Life Skills. Non-instructional elements are School Community and Belonging and External Community. Support elements are Staff Foundations and External Factors. This paper will thoroughly describe all 8 elements, and articulate the different ways that each element is enacted.

Other research studies presented in this session have also defined and described inclusive STEM high schools. Some researchers have taken the approach of synthesizing literature to identify instructional, cultural, and administrative strategies supported by the literature as suggested components of inclusive STEM schools. The 8 Elements framework, on the other hand, articulates what the schools themselves identify as the core pieces of their model. Thus, the 8 Elements framework complements other research in this area by giving voice to the schools’ own experience and self-definitions.


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