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STEM Lesson Essentials, Grades 3-8

Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

By Jo Anne Vasquez, Michael Comer, Cary Sneider
Foreword by Rodger W Bybee

Get all the tools and strategies you need to design integrated, interdisciplinary STEM lessons and units that are relevant and exciting to your students. Learn to organize and deliver STEM instruction by purposefully weaving these four disciplines together.

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Full Description

"STEM Lesson Essentials moves beyond the rhetoric and provides knowledge, tools, models, and examples that make STEM a reality of teaching and learning in classrooms."
—Rodger Bybee, Executive Director (Retired), Biological Sciences Curriculum Study 

Want to know how to implement authentic STEM teaching and learning into your classroom? STEM Lesson Essentials provides all the tools and strategies you’ll need to design integrated, interdisciplinary STEM lessons and units that are relevant and exciting to your students.  With clear definitions of both STEM and STEM literacy, the authors argue that STEM in itself is not a curriculum, but rather a way of organizing and delivering instruction by weaving the four disciplines together in intentional ways.  Rather than adding two new subjects to the curriculum, the engineering and technology practices can instead be blended into existing math and science lessons in ways that engage students and help them master 21st century skills.

 STEM Lesson Essentials shows teachers how to begin the STEM integration journey with:

  • five guiding principles for effective STEM instruction
  • classroom examples of what these principles look like in action
  • sample activities that put all four STEM fields into practice
  • lesson planning templates for STEM units.

Explicit connections are made among the STEM practices, including the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice and the Framework for K-12 Science Education, helping you easily recognize ways in which STEM lessons can engage students in multiple standards at the same time.

With ideas that are practical and achievable in any classroom, STEM Lesson Essentials will give you the confidence and knowledge to weave engineering and technology concepts into your math and science curriculum.  STEM teaching doesn’t have to be hard.  You just have to get started.  Try it out with STEM Lesson Essentials, and watch student understanding, achievement, and motivation soar.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


  1. You May Already Be a STEM Teacher
  2. STEM Literacy
  3. Guiding Principles
  4. An Approach That Came Naturally
  5. What Are the STEM Practices
  6. Gearing Up to Teach STEM Practices
  7. Why Technology and Engineering?
  8. Three Approaches to Integrated STEM
  9. Cootie Bugs Unite Science and Mathematics
  10. A Pig's Tale
  11. Giants and Borrowers
  12. Project-Based Learning
  13. STEM Assessment
  14. Getting Started on Your STEM Teaching
  15. Implementing STEM in a Middle School
  16. From Ripple to River:  A Large Urban School District's Journey Moving STEM into the Main STREAMS
  17. Resources for Creating STEM Curricula

In Depth

STEM Education, an Operational Definition

We, the authors of this book, have agreed on a definition of STEM education. Through much discussion with professional colleagues from all over the country and with careful vetting for clarification and understanding, we offer this definition to help guide our discussion of STEM education in this book.

STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that removes the traditional barriers separating the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and integrates them into real-world, rigorous, and relevant learning experiences for students.

Unlike the well-trodden paths of mathematics and science teaching, STEM education is relatively new. For the past decade, we have been exploring this new frontier, and we don't claim to have all the answers. However, we believe we have learned enough to share our insights with you, the reader; and so we invite you to join us on our STEM journey. Here are some of the questions we will explore along the way:

  • What is STEM teaching and learning? What does it look like in different classroom settings?
  • What is STEM literacy?• What are the different interdisciplinary levels of STEM teaching?
  • How can an elementary teacher in a self-contained classroom begin to create STEM lessons and units?
  • How can a content-specific teacher work with others to connect the STEM disciplines with each other and with language arts, social studies, art, and music?
  • How will STEM help you do a better job of teaching the big ideas in the content areas and make the learning relevant for your students?
  • How does STEM teaching and learning promote twenty-first-century skills?
  • How can you help others in your district cross disciplinary boundaries to create a richer, more meaningful environment for students in your school and district?

Here is an overview of your STEM journey as you travel with us through this book:

Chapter 2 defines STEM literacy and explains why it's important for everyone to become STEM literate.

Chapter 3 lists the five guiding principles for effective STEM instruction: (1) focus on integration, (2) establish relevance, (3) emphasize twenty-first-century learning skills, (4) challenge your students, and (5) mix it up by providing a variety of instructional tasks and ways for your students to demonstrate their understanding.

Chapter 4 provides an example of what these principles look like in the hands of a master teacher.

Chapter 5 describes science and engineering practices as well as the practices in technology and mathematics. Figure 5.1 at the end of the chapter invites you to compare practices across the four fields to view their similarities and differences and see how they complement each other.

Chapter 6 describes an activity involving toy gears that is designed to engage students in guided activities in which they put practices to work in all four STEM fields.Chapter 7 focuses on the two new partners to science and mathematics instruction-technology and engineering-and explains why they are important.

Chapter 8 describes three broad approaches to STEM education: multidisciplinary, in which teachers of several subjects coordinate their teaching to emphasize connections across the curriculum; interdisciplinary teaching, in which two or more subjects support each other; and transdisciplinary, that reflects students' interests and questions.

Chapters 9-11 give examples of what these levels of integration look like in the classroom. Chapter 9 describes what an interdisciplinary integrated science and mathematics lesson looks like at the elementary (3-5) grade level. Chapter 10 describes a middle school STEM unit that reflects all three integrated approaches, and Chapter 11 describes what these approaches look like from the perspective of a seventh-grade mathematics teacher.

Chapters 12-14 offer additional ideas for developing STEM lessons. Chapter 12 describes project-based learning, an especially powerful form of transdisciplinary instruction, and Chapter 13 offers suggestions for assessing integrated STEM units. Chapter 14 provides a template for getting started on planning a STEM lesson or unit and describes how the template was used to develop the Gears unit in Chapter 6.

Chapters 15 and 16 look at implementing STEM instruction at the school or district level. Chapter 15 provides an example of how a team of middle school teachers are applying these principles in the context of a unit of study that incorporates not only the four STEM fields but also language arts and social studies. Chapter 16 is a story of how an entire K-8 school district adopted an integrated STEM approach for all their students.

Chapter 17 provides a listing of other resources that go beyond this book to help you begin to implement STEM teaching in your classroom, school, or district



This is the one book which will change the way you think about implementing STEM into your classroom. I found the book to be full of ideas, good examples, and just a fun book to read. It is one of the few instructional books that I could not put down.  Each chapter begins with a problem and ends with a solution. This is not only a how–to guide to STEM implementation, it is also an instructional guide to best practices.  The book clarifies what the science, math, engineering and technology parts of the whole STEM classroom look like, and provides many examples of how to shift the paradigm just slightly so that you can incorporate STEM into your classroom. There are lessons on project–based learning, assessment, STEM in middle school, and developing a lesson plan for implementation, one STEM area at a time. So ask yourself the tough questions, think about instruction as an interdisciplinary approach, take one small step, and use this book as the structure to hang your not so new, but changed STEM lesson on.
—NSTA Recommends

STEM Lesson Essentials is an indispensable resource highlighting the compelling goals of STEM education: making STEM an engaging, relevant, and exciting experience for all students.  This book provides all educational practitioners—from district level administration to the classroom teacher—with not only a clear understanding of STEM as an integrative discipline, but also as a valuable digest of proven practices.  Truly a must-read for anyone who wishes to be on the leading edge of the STEM wave.
— Larry R. Plank, Director of K-12 STEM Education, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Tampa, Florida

With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards and the urgent need for STEM education, this book is a must-have resource for curriculum developers, instructional coaches, teachers, and others educators committed to preparing students for the 21st century. From helping define STEM and its guiding principles, to sharing best practices and implementation using authentic examples, STEM Lesson Essentials is the perfect “handbook” to immerse schools and students in an integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
—Jennifer Gutierrez, Science Specialist, Chandler Unified School District, Chandler, Arizona

STEM Lesson Essentials will change your ideas about STEM education in the classroom. This book makes clear to teachers how we can all become STEM educators, and why it should be important for us to do so.  It is an excellent resource for understanding STEM instruction and integrating it into the classroom, providing teachers with the resources for STEM instruction as well as a clear understanding of the field itself.
—Elizabeth Allen, Associate Profession of Science Education, University of Central Oklahoma

STEM in a nutshell! From a research-based dissection of the STEM acronym to a practical template for planning effective STEM lessons, this book provides a thought-provoking overview for anyone interested in helping students make connections between the STEM subjects...and beyond.

—Kate Boehm Jerome, NSTA/CBC award-winning author and Science Program Developer

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