Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Chapter 14 in M. Al-Balushi et al. (editors), Reforming Science Teacher Education Programs in the STEM Era. [Palgrave Studies on Leadership and Learning in Teacher Education.] Springer Nature, 2023

doi: 10.1007/978-3-031-27334-6_14


Copyright © 2023, the authors under license to Springer Nature. Used by permission


Conceptualizing STEM Integration

For our reform efforts, the fundamental question to consider was, “What is STEM learning, or what should count as STEM learning?” The different models and definitions for Integrated STEM education range from STEM disciplines traditionally taught as separate and distinct content areas to integration among the four STEM disciplines (NAE and NRC, 2014; Stohlmann et al., 2012). Teacher educators are often challenged to design STEM learning experiences within teacher preparation courses that prepare for the reality of classrooms while presenting pedagogical alternatives (Corp et al., 2020). Many researchers, for instance, Roehrig et al. (2012) distinguish between content and context integration of STEM. Content integration requires the blending of knowledge from different content fields into a single curricular activity or unit to build a collective knowledge of STEM from multiple content areas (Roehrig et al., 2012; Wang et al., 2011) while context integration, “primarily focuses on the content of one discipline and uses contexts from others” to make the content more relevant (Roehrig et al., 2012, p. 9). Most researchers conclude that STEM integration should involve the merging of some or all the STEM disciplines to solve real-world problems (Moore et al., 2020; Rinke et al., 2016).

Our conceptualization of STEM integration stems from (1) Dewey’s work (1938) that highlights learning as an active process that involves students engaged in experiences situated in and connected to the real world and, (2) ideas based on social constructivism developed by Vygotsky (1978) that emphasize learning via social interactions among individuals within a social setting. Constructionist theory (Ackermann, 2001; Harel and Papert, 1991; Papert, 1980) also framed learning experiences in the integrated STEM semester. Teaching Integrated STEM calls for pedagogies that pro-mote active learning that engages students in social interactions while working collaboratively in teams (Moore et al., 2014), and knowledge that is constructed via social discourse (Stohlmann et al., 2012). Other pedagogies that are fundamental to conceptualizing STEM learning are inquiry-based and hands-on strategies promoted in the Next Generation Science Standards (Bybee, 2009); NGSS Lead States, 2013), problem-based learning that involves a problem to solve (Shaughnessy, 2013) and connections to real-life experiences (Kelley and Knowles, 2016).

In leading our curriculum reform effort, we draw upon the viewpoint that STEM curriculum must involve both content and context integration. Our framework positions science at the center placing emphasis on scientific inquiry (Kelley and Knowles, 2016). Integrated STEM education has strong ties to inquiry processes allowing students to formulate questions, participate in investigations that facilitate engineering design, and integrate technology and mathematics to design solutions to complex real-world problems (Kennedy and Odell, 2014; Moore and Smith, 2014). The framework served as a guide to inform our Integrated STEM curriculum design and STEM pathways (shared assignments) across multiple courses within the STEM Semester as explained in the subsequent sections.