Consider these
three statements:

Little girl looking at a jar
Man holding a jar
Kids looking at a tablet

1. There is not, nor should there be, a single definition of a STEM school or program.

Person holding a leaf

2. All schools should offer quality STEM education. Having this does not mean a school has a STEM program or that it is a STEM school. STEM schools and programs have more.

Students in a lab

3. A STEM school must require all students to participate in its STEM components. If it doesn’t, it might possibly have a STEM program in a school, but the school is not a STEM school.

About

This is a resource for those seeking to bring more STEM education opportunities to learners across the country.

How to Use the Taxonomy

STEM schools and programs are rapidly emerging as momentum to increase access to and improve STEM education continues to grow. With this comes an urgent need to develop shared language that will enable us to communicate with one another about what STEM schools and programs are. In addition to contributing to our ability to collaborate and learn from one another, common language will enable us to better measure and monitor progress towards achieving desired outcomes and develop a knowledge base of what is working, for whom, and under what conditions.

With this in mind, this resource proposes a preliminary framework for specifically describing STEM schools and programs. The two “taxonomy” pages outline research and practitioner-identified components of STEM programs and STEM schools, and provide specific definitions for those components. The “F.A.Q.s and Other Issues” page provides explanations of our thinking, answers frequently asked questions, and offers ideas for consideration.

School, district, and state leaders can use these resources to reflect on their own goals and progress, to articulate their specific criteria for STEM schools and programs, and to facilitate local conversations seeking to achieve consensus about STEM school and program design and associated outcomes. Researchers can use the taxonomies to “map” their work, to find points of intersection with others, and to better accumulate knowledge across studies.

We are eager to hear how you are using the resources you find here. Please contact us to share your experience.”

History

In 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) published “Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” a report that outlined criteria for identifying successful STEM schools and programs, including criteria related to student STEM outcomes, STEM school types, and STEM instructional and school-level practices.

Following this report, Congress asked the National Science Foundation to create ways to track progress toward the 2011 report recommendations. This led to a second report, “Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education: A Nation Advancing?” (NRC, 2013) in which the NRC identified 14 indicators for tracking the nation’s progress toward successful STEM education and called for a national-level monitoring and reporting system to measure them. In an initial effort to move towards such a system, in 2014, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a number of groups to conduct exploratory work that would lay the foundation for the development of indicator measures.

This project addresses the first of those Indicators:

Number of, and enrollment in, STEM-focused schools and programs in each district.

Process

We began with the three fundamental assertions on the home page of this site:

  1. There is not, nor should there be, a single definition of a STEM school or program;
  2. All schools should offer quality STEM education. Having this does not mean a school has a STEM program or that it is a STEM school. STEM schools and programs have more; and
  3. A STEM school must require all students to participate in its STEM components. If it doesn’t, it might possibly have a STEM program in a school, but the school is not a STEM school.

Building from these, we created two “taxonomies”—one for STEM schools, and one for STEM programs. Our first step was to look at existing research literature as well as district-, state-, or network-level rubrics that describe STEM school characteristics. From this review, we derived a number of categories representing STEM school “components” that were common across the different sources. Using these categories, we created our criteria for distinguishing STEM schools from other schools and for differentiating different kinds of STEM schools from one another. Similarly, we created criteria for STEM programs as well as approaches for describing and differentiating STEM programs from one another.

Once the taxonomies had been drafted, we engaged in a process we refer to as “groundtruthing,” which entailed reaching out to STEM school stakeholders (i.e. STEM school leaders, district and state leaders, and researchers) to solicit reactions, comments, and questions about the work. We conducted 15 semi-structured groundtruthing interviews over the course of several months and incorporated feedback from these interviews into each taxonomy revision. Groundtruthing participants included:

Becky Ashe Founding Principal, L & N STEM Academy
Eric Banilower Vice President of Horizon Research, Inc.
Rolf Blank Senior Fellow, NORC
Ryan Brown Associate Professor, School of Teaching and Learning and Associate Director, Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology, Illinois State University
Crystal Bonds Past President of the Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools
Principal, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College of New York
Tony Donen Principal, STEM School, Chattanooga
Dan Gallagher Director, STEM and Arts for Seattle Public Schools
Maya Garcia Director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for DC Office of the Statement Superintendent of Education (DC OSSE)
Sylvester “Jim” Gates Professor, University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences; member of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
Courtney Heppner Director of Innovation, Reynoldsburg City Schools
Barbara Means Director, Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International
Jan Morrison President and CEO of Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES)
Todd Roberts Chancellor, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Martin Storksdieck Director, Center for Research of Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University
Heidi Schweingruber Director, Board on Science Education at the National Research Council

This process culminated with a day-long in-person meeting to discuss the merits, issues, and uses of the taxonomies with STEM policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers. In addition to Outlier team members and core advisors, meeting participants included:

Juan-Carlos Aguilar Science Program Manager, Georgia Department of Education
Rolf Blank Senior Fellow, NORC
Crystal Bonds Past President of the Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools
Principal, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College of New York
Michael Feder Director, STEMx
Dan Gallagher Director, STEM and Arts for Seattle Public Schools
Maya Garcia Director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for DC Office of the Statement Superintendent of Education (DC OSSE)
Wesley Hall Director, Tennessee STEM Innovation Network
Rosemarie Jahoda Assistant Principal, Mathematics, the Bronx High School of Science
Maie Lee American Psychological Association, CPSE Program Officer
Barbara Means Director, Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International
Todd Roberts Chancellor, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Diana Suddreth Director, Teaching and Learning, Utah State Office of Education
Steve Zipkes Founder and President, Advanced Reasoning in Education, LLC

We want to acknowledge all of the thoughtful input and feedback we received during the groundtruthing and culminating meeting. We are grateful for your willingness to participate.

Many of the questions and concerns raised during our groundtruthing conversations are addressed in the “F.A.Q.s and Other Issues” section of this site. That section also includes our thinking about issues that challenged us during the process, as well as explanations of our decisions.

We worked closely with three core advisors throughout the project: Dr. Lois Weis, Dr. Sharon Lynch, and Dr. Rena Subotnik. We also consulted periodically with external advisors Dr. Martin Storksdieck and Dr. Rolf Blank. We gratefully acknowledge their important contributions to the work.

Project Team

This project was lead by Outlier Research & Evaluation at the UChicago STEM Education | University of Chicago. Outlier uses diverse strengths and approaches to address challenging problems in education. Our work focuses on STEM schools; computer science education; measuring implementation, spread, and sustainability of innovations; and evaluation. Members of the project team are:

Dr. Jeanne Century PI, Director of Outlier Research & Evaluation
Dr. Melanie LaForce Co-PI, Associate Director of Outlier and Principal Research Scientist
Liz Noble Associate Research Scientist

Learn more about Outlier and team members here.

From the outset, we enlisted a team of core advisors who are themselves engaged in National Science Foundation funded research on STEM schools. We met regularly with these advisors, who engaged in discussions of core issues, gave critical feedback, and reviewed drafts of the Taxonomies and narratives throughout the study. The core advisors are:

Dr. Sharon Lynch The George Washington University
Dr. Rena Subotnik Center for Psychology in the Schools and Education, American Psychological Association
Dr. Lois Weis State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo

We also spoke periodically with two external advisors, who were charged with monitoring and providing feedback on our decisions and process. These advisors were able to provide guidance for the work and a national perspective. The external advisors are:

Dr. Martin Storksdieck Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Oregon State University
Dr. Rolf Blank NORC at the University of Chicago

We gratefully acknowledge our advisors thoughtful input and feedback.

For information on other participants, go to the “Process” portion of this site.

Contact us

For more information about this resource, contact the Director of Outlier Research & Evaluation: Jeanne Century jcentury@uchicago.edu, 773-702-2276.

STEM School Taxonomy

To qualify as a STEM school, the school must have MORE than the quality STEM education we expect all schools to have. A STEM school provides MORE STEM and requires ALL students to participate. It can do this in one of three ways (or a combination of these): 1) providing more STEM learning experiences ; 2) providing more STEM-related learning experiences; or 3) integrating STEM disciplines with one another and with other disciplines. That is, STEM schools provide more STEM by requiring all students to engage in at least two STEM or STEM-related learning experiences, or by integrating STEM into all required courses or classes.

Once distinguished from non-STEM schools through one or more of the above requirements, STEM schools themselves may differ from each other by incorporating any number of the optional components listed. Some of these components differentiate instructional approach, while others focus on structural or descriptive characteristics of the school.

Explore the taxonomy

See how two hypothetical STEM schools “map” onto the taxonomy.

|
STEM School 1, North Central High School , is a residential public school that admits students who apply based on a lottery system, regardless of their prior achievement. All students attending the school are required to take 4 math courses, at least 3 science courses, 1 engineering course, and to participate in a STEM-focused research experience. In instruction, the school focuses on integrating technology in students’ day-to-day work, equipping students with 21st century skills, and challenging students to take responsibility in and for their learning. Project-based learning is used in the majority of both STEM and non-STEM courses. The school works to personalize students’ learning explicitly in advisory periods and through the research experiences, which are organized with the help of the schools community and industry partners.
STEM School 2, The New School of Technology, is a traditional public high school where students are admitted based on their 7th and 8th grade mathematics and science grades. All students must complete 4 math and 4 science courses, and a sequence of 3 technology courses. Students may also choose to participate in science or technology-related internships or mentorships. The school places a strong emphasis on college-readiness, offering many dual-enrollment courses as well as opportunities for students to go on college visits, counseling on college applications and essays, and college fairs. The school’s “culture of innovation” is consistently emphasized by staff and teachers, and can be seen in instruction in the the focus on 21st century skills and in the new and creative uses of technology by both teachers and students.

Required STEM School Componentsat least one

STEM school distinguish themselves from other schools by requiring more STEM in one or more of these ways.

STEM Discipline Learning Experiences

(e.g. mathematics, engineering)

Courses or
Classes
Research
Experiences
Internships and/or
Mentorships

STEM-Related Learning Experiences

(e.g. agriculture, environmental science)

Courses or
Classes
Research
Experiences
Internships and/or
Mentorships

Integration Throughout Core STEM and Humanities/Language Arts Experiences

Optional Componentsno limit

These instructional and behavioral components further differentiate STEM schools.

STEM Specific STEM-Specific components are those that, for the purposes of this Taxonomy, must be focused on a STEM or STEM-related discipline or disciplines. These components may focus on a range of topics, however we are including them as part of the taxonomy for describing STEM programs only when they center around a STEM or STEM-related discipline(s).

What does “STEM” mean?

We recognize that the term “STEM” has come to mean many different things to different people. Therefore, it is important to clarify what “STEM” means in the context of the taxonomy. First, note that the taxonomy uses the acronym “S.T.E.M.” (not “STEM”). This is intended to indicate that when “S.T.E.M.” is used, it refers explicitly to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Likewise, “S.T.E.M. – related” refers to disciplines related to S.T.E.M. as defined by the 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System and the National Center for Education Statistics. The taxonomy doesn’t use the acronym “STEM” (without periods) because this acronym often is used to represent a definition that includes disciplinary integration and/or refers to general problem-solving, critical thinking, and/or collaboration and workplace skills. Although these emphases have a place in STEM schools, they are not at the heart of the S.T.E.M. school inclusion attributes. As a consequence, and in order to avoid confusion, the taxonomy uses S.T.E.M. to describe S.T.E.M. schools and their components.

Non-required Research Experiences

Students participate in independent or collaborative research projects in which they are involved in the design and implementation of a study that incorporates STEM or STEM-related content or processes. These studies require more than actions associated with routine labs and/or literature reviews associated with classes. They may take place on the school campus or in other STEM environments such as in businesses or higher education settings.

Non-required Internships and/or Mentorships

Internships expose students to STEM or STEM-related industry, organizational (including museums, NGOs, institutions of higher education, and others), or business experiences that enable them to apply their school-based knowledge and skills in real-world settings. Mentorships are internships that also provide students with opportunities to work one-on-one or in small groups with STEM professionals, and focus on intellectual growth, personal growth, and/or the culture of the professional learning environment.

Career Connections

Experiences in and outside of the classroom that are designed to expose students to STEM and STEM-related careers. During instruction, explicit connections to STEM and STEM-related careers are made. Outside the classroom, students may work with STEM teachers, school counselors, and/or business, industry, and higher education partners to learn more about careers and/or develop a careers course pathway.

Early College Credit Opportunities

Early College Credit Opportunities include assistance and encouragement from teachers, counselors, or other school personnel in finding, enrolling in, and completing credit-bearing STEM or STEM-related early college-level coursework, dual enrollment credit courses, and other college credit earning experiences.

Some Integration of STEM and STEM-related Disciplines

Schools integrate STEM content into courses by combining classes or having classes co-taught by STEM teachers and non-STEM teachers, establishing projects that span multiple classes and subjects, and/or deliberately integrating STEM elements into other STEM or non-STEM course curricula. This integration occurs in some, but not all, classes. When integration exists across all required STEM and core humanities/English Language Arts courses, the school meets the criteria for the taxonomy’s third attribute for STEM school designation.

Technology Integration

A variety of technology tools are used regularly by students and teachers and integrated into instruction for purposes of communication and collaborative work, for research and data collection and analyses or production, and in other newly emerging creative and innovative ways that enrich learning.

STEM or STEM-related Mission

The school has an explicit set of stated goals related to one or more of the STEM or STEM-related disciplines. The mission may target a range of goals including STEM literacy, STEM careers, and pursuits of STEM in higher education. A focus on “21st Century Skills,” “ habits of mind,” or “soft skills” without explicit mention of STEM or STEM-related disciplines would not be considered a STEM or STEM-related mission.

STEM Name

The school name includes STEM (as a whole acronym), one or more of the STEM or STEM-related disciplines or “STEM.”

Commitment to Spreading STEM Educational Practices

The school is committed to being a source of new STEM and/or STEM-related education practices and approaches for others.

Non-STEM Specific Components that are not STEM-specific are those that are frequently found in, although not unique to, STEM programs. They may be, but are not necessarily directly tied to a STEM or STEM-related discipline.

Project – or Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

PBL refers to problem- or project-based learning. There are a variety of definitions for each of these terms and no consensus in the field. For the purposes of the taxonomy, PBL refers to the most commonly shared characteristics across these definitions. More specifically, PBL is a long- or short-term experience that actively engages students in investigating one or more questions and requires them to utilize problem-solving skills to answer those questions. Some PBL experiences focus on what some refer to as “real-world” or “authentic” questions; others focus on more structured, curriculum-related questions, frequently targeting questions that are interesting or relevant to students. For the purposes of the taxonomy, PBL should have substantial content from STEM or STEM-related disciplines.

College Readiness Activities

College readiness activities include opportunities to learn about different higher education institutions, match those institutions to future study and career interests, and to prepare for the college application and selection process.

Varied Assessments

The school uses a variety of assessment strategies that reflect the multidimensional nature of learning (e.g. reasoning, conceptual growth, problem-solving, transfer of knowledge, analysis, collaboration, communication, and content knowledge). Assessments are used not only to measure summative outcomes, but also for formative purposes to inform instruction and teacher practice.

Inquiry

Teachers act as guides or facilitators aiding in students’ learning. Note: This is a general definition of inquiry commonly embraced by STEM schools. However, inquiry is defined in many different ways. For more on this issue, see Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002 (Minner, Levy, and Century; 2010).

Focus on 21st Century Skills

Twenty-first Century Skills include critical thinking; creative thinking; collaborating; communicating; information, media, and technology literacy; flexibility; initiative; social skills; productivity; and leadership (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2015). These skills are integrated into learning in all content areas. Some schools may have goals that specifically target 21st Century Skills.

Personalization of Learning

Instruction, learning, and teacher-student interactions are customized for students in and outside of the classroom. This customization is informed by teacher and staff awareness of students’ home lives and students’ varying interests and needs.

Student Responsibility

Students are guided toward taking increasing responsibility for their own learning. They are provided with opportunities for self-direction, reflection, and thoughtful identification of their short- and long-term goals and needs.

Partnerships and Community Ties

The school has lasting and mutually beneficial collaborations with organizations, institutions, and/or businesses in the local and/or larger community. Partnerships can be the genesis of internships and research experiences, service learning and outreach, yield resources for the school, and/or contribute to communication and visibility.

Shared Culture

The school leadership works to create shared beliefs and values among teachers, students, staff and other members of the school community. STEM schools may focus their shared culture on STEM or STEM-related fields, or on other values such as "professionalism," "community," or "college-readiness.”

Improvement and
Sustainability Plan

A plan for long-term development and sustainability, including clear definitions of goals, program evaluation, data-informed decision-making, provision for ongoing resources, and/or community support.

Descriptive Characteristics

These are descriptive qualities; they do not affect the STEM School designation.

SelectionThe Selection variable indicates the way in which students are accepted into the school.

Selective: Application

Students must submit an application to attend the school; admission is based on prior academic performance and other elements of the application.

Non-Selective: Application/Lottery

Students must submit an application indicating interest in the school; admission is based on randomized lottery systems. Admission is not based on students’ prior academic achievement or other evaluative criteria.

Non-Selective: Neighborhood

Students attend the school if they live within the assigned attendance boundary.

Traditional Whole School

A traditional-style school: students attend the school during the day but reside off-campus.

School within a School

The STEM School is housed within a larger school, but conducts separate classes and awards students a separate diploma. If students receive the same diploma as the “home” school, this may be considered a STEM Program; please refer to the STEM Program Taxonomy.

Residential School

Students live at the school during the school year. Some residential schools may also have day students that attend classes during the day but reside off-campus.

Cyber/Online School

Students attend classes virtually.

FundingThe Funding variable indicates how the school gets money to operate.

Private School

The school is not funded by tax dollars, but through tuition, grants, donations, endowments, or some combination of these.

Public School

The school is reliant on federal, state, and local tax dollars for funding. Charter schools are included here.

STEM Program Taxonomy

A STEM program is a planned group (minimum of 2) of learning experiences that build toward an intentional STEM or STEM-related outcome. Learning experiences may come from one or both of the categories below.

STEM programs in schools across the United States vary not only by the nature of the 2 or more required STEM learning experiences, but also by incorporating any number of the optional components listed below. Some of these components differentiate instructional approach, while others focus on structural or descriptive characteristics of the program.

If a school meets the STEM program requirements AND requires all students to participate in it, by our definition, it is likely a STEM school. If it does NOT require all students to participate, then it is a school with a STEM program.

Explore the taxonomy

See how two hypothetical STEM programs “map” onto the taxonomy.

|
STEM Program 1, RobotKidz, is a district-sponsored robotics program that is open to everyone at the school. Students in the program must take 1 introductory and 1 advanced robotics course and complete an internship to earn the robotics certificate with their high school diploma. In this small program, teachers work to tailor the robotics course projects and internships to students’ interests and needs.
STEM Program 2, Med Scholars, is a program set up by the school to allow high-achieving students who are interested in health sciences to explore what these professions look like in the real world. Students who apply and are accepted to the program in their junior year spend one day a week at a local partnering university working on a collaborative research project. During the summer after their junior year, students complete internships with local industry partners.

STEM Program Learning Experience Categories

Learning experiences can come from one or both of the categories below.

STEM DISCIPLINE LEARNING EXPERIENCES

(e.g. mathematics, engineering)

Courses or
Classes
Research
Experiences
Internships and/or
Mentorships

STEM-RELATED LEARNING EXPERIENCES

(e.g. agriculture, environmental science)

Courses or
Classes
Research
Experiences
Internships and/or
Mentorships

STEM or STEM-related Research Experiences

Students participate in independent or collaborative research projects in which they are involved in the design and implementation of a study that incorporates STEM-based content or processes. These studies require more than actions associated with routine labs and/or literature reviews associated with classes. They may take place on the school campus or in other STEM environments such as STEM businesses or higher education settings.

STEM or STEM-related Internships

Internships expose students to STEM and STEM-related industry, organizational (including museums, NGOs, institutions of higher education, and others), or business experiences that enable them to apply their school-based knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

STEM or STEM-related Mentorships

Mentorships are similar to internships, but also provide students with opportunities to work one-on-one or in small groups with STEM or STEM-related professionals, and focus on intellectual growth, personal growth, and/or the culture of the professional learning environment.

Other

Other STEM or STEM-related learning experiences, such as clubs or summer experiences, that count towards the completion of the program.

Optional Components

These components further differentiate STEM programs.

STEM Specific STEM-Specific components are those that, for the purposes of this Taxonomy, must be focused on a STEM or STEM-related discipline or disciplines. These components may focus on a range of topics, however we are including them as part of the taxonomy for describing STEM programs only when they center around a STEM or STEM-related discipline(s).

What does “STEM” mean?

We recognize that the term “STEM” has come to mean many different things to different people. Therefore, it is important to clarify what “STEM” means in the context of the taxonomy. First, note that the taxonomy uses the acronym “S.T.E.M.” (not STEM). This is intended to indicate that when “S.T.E.M.” is used, it refers explicitly to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Likewise, “S.T.E.M. – related” refers to disciplines related to S.T.E.M. as defined by the 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System and the National Center for Education Statistics. The taxonomy doesn’t use the acronym “STEM” (without periods) because this acronym often is used to represent a definition of STEM that includes disciplinary integration and/or refers to general problem-solving, critical thinking, and/or collaboration and workplace skills. Although these emphases have a place in STEM programs, they are not at the heart of the S.T.E.M. program inclusion attributes. As a consequence, and in order to avoid confusion, the taxonomy uses S.T.E.M. to describe S.T.E.M. programs and their components.

Research Experiences

Students participate in independent or collaborative research projects in which they are involved in the design and implementation of a study that incorporates STEM or STEM-related content or processes. These studies require more than actions associated with routine labs and/or literature reviews associated with classes. They may take place on the school campus or in other STEM environments such as in businesses or higher education settings.

Internships and/or Mentorships

Internships expose students to STEM or STEM-related industry, organizational (including museums, NGOs, institutions of higher education, and others), or business experiences that enable them to apply their school-based knowledge and skills in real-world settings. Mentorships are internships that also provide students with opportunities to work one-on-one or in small groups with STEM professionals, and focus on intellectual growth, personal growth, and/or the culture of the professional learning environment.

Technology Integration

A variety of technology tools are used regularly by students and teachers and integrated into instruction for purposes of communication and collaborative work, for research and data collection and analyses, and in other newly emerging creative and innovative ways that provide depth to learning.

STEM or STEM-related Integration of Disciplines

The program integrates STEM content into courses by combining classes or having classes co-taught with STEM teachers and non-STEM teachers, establishing projects that span multiple classes and subjects, and/or deliberately integrating STEM elements into other STEM or non-STEM course curricula.

STEM or STEM-related Early College Credit Opportunities

Early College Credit Opportunities include assistance and encouragement from teachers, counselors, or other school personnel in finding, enrolling, and completing credit-bearing STEM or STEM-related early college-level coursework, dual enrollment credit courses, and other college credit earning experiences.

STEM or STEM-related Career Connections

Experiences in and outside of the classroom that are designed to expose students to STEM and STEM-related careers. During instruction, explicit connections to STEM and STEM-related careers are made. Outside the classroom, students may work with STEM teachers, school counselors, and/or business, industry, and higher education partners to learn more about careers and/or develop a careers course pathway.

STEM or STEM-related Mission

The program has an explicit set of stated goals related to one or more of the STEM or STEM-related disciplines. The mission may target a range of goals including STEM literacy, STEM careers, and pursuits of STEM in higher education. A focus on “21st Century Skills,” “ habits of mind,” or “soft skills” without explicit mention of STEM or STEM-related disciplines would not be considered a STEM or STEM-related mission.

STEM Name

The program name includes STEM (as a whole acronym), or one or more of the STEM or STEM-related disciplines.

Non-STEM Specific Components that are not STEM-specific are those that are frequently found in, although not unique to, STEM programs. They may be, but are not necessarily directly tied to a STEM or STEM-related discipline.

Project- or Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

PBL refers to problem- or project-based learning. There are a variety of definitions for each of these terms and no consensus in the field. For the purposes of the taxonomy, PBL refers to the most commonly shared characteristics across these definitions. More specifically, PBL is a long- or short-term experience that actively engages students in investigating one or more questions and requires them to utilize problem-solving skills to answer those questions. Some PBL experiences focus on what some refer to as “real-world” or “authentic” questions; others focus on more structured, curriculum-related questions, frequently targeting questions that are interesting or relevant to students.

College Readiness Activities

College readiness activities include opportunities to learn about different higher education institutions, match those institutions to future study and career interests, and to prepare for the college application and selection process.

Varied Assessments

The program uses a variety of assessment strategies that reflect the multidimensional nature of learning (e.g. reasoning, conceptual growth, problem-solving, transfer of knowledge, analysis, collaboration, communication, and content knowledge). Assessments are used not only to measure summative outcomes, but also for formative purposes to inform instruction and teacher practice.

Inquiry

Teachers act as guides or facilitators aiding in students’ learning. Note: This is a general definition of inquiry commonly embraced by school leaders. However, inquiry is defined in many different ways. For more on this issue, see Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002 (Minner, Levy, and Century; 2010).

Focus on 21st Century Skills

Twenty-first Century Skills include critical thinking; creative thinking; collaborating; communicating; information, media, and technology literacy; flexibility; initiative; social skills; productivity; and leadership (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2015). Some programs may have goals that specifically target 21st Century Skills.

Personalization of Learning

Instruction, learning, and teacher-student interactions are customized for students. This customization is informed by teacher and staff awareness of students’ home lives and students’ varying interests and needs.

Student Responsibility

Students are guided towards taking increasing responsibility for their own learning. They are provided with opportunities for self-direction, reflection, and thoughtful identification of their short- and long-term goals and needs.

Partnerships and Community Ties

The program has lasting and mutually beneficial collaborations with organizations, institutions, and/or businesses in the local and/or larger community. Partnerships can be the genesis of internships and research experiences, service learning and outreach, yield resources for the school, and/or contribute to communication and visibility.

Shared Culture

The program leadership works to create a shared beliefs and values among teachers, students, staff and other members of the community. STEM schools may focus their shared culture on STEM or STEM-related fields, or on other values such as "professionalism," "community," or "college-readiness.

Improvement and Sustainability Plan

A plan for long-term development and sustainability, including clear definitions of goals, program evaluation, data-informed decision-making, provision for ongoing resources, and/or community support.

Descriptive Characteristics

Selection The Selection variable indicates the way in which students are accepted into the program.

Selective – Application

Students must submit an application to participate in the program; admission is based on prior academic performance and other elements of the application.

Non-Selective – Application/Lottery

Students must submit an application indicating interest in the program; admission is based on lottery systems.

Non-Selective – Anyone May Participate

Any student wishing to participate in the program may do so.

Structure The Structure variable indicates where the program takes place. Programs may select more than one option in this section, as appropriate.

In-person – On Campus

Students attend program-related learning experiences at the school.

In-person – Off Campus

Students attend program-related learning experiences off of school grounds. This includes internship sites, research sites, etc.

Virtual

Students participate in program-related learning experiences virtually via the Internet.

Funding The Funding variable indicates how the program gets money to operate.

District/School

Funds from the housing district or school are allocated to the program.

Non-District/School

The program is supported by funds that do not come from the school or district. Funding may come from grants, private partners, a combination, or other sources.

F.A.Q.s and Other Issues

Describing STEM schools and programs may seem, on the face of it, relatively simple. However, once engaged in the conversation, it quickly becomes clear how complicated it can be.

We discussed and debated many questions as we developed the taxonomy; you may have some of these same questions. Here are some of the answers to the most frequently asked questions and other issues that have emerged.”

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.s)

Other Issues

Resources

Resources from the Literature Review

In creating the school and program taxonomies, we turned to the existing literature and rubrics on frameworks and characteristics of STEM schools and programs available at the time. This literature review contributed directly to the selection and defining of the Optional Components seen in the taxonomies. Frameworks and rubrics were included if they: focused on STEM schools or programs specifically, rather than STEM education more generally; described more than one individual school or program; and identified specific characteristics or components of STEM schools and programs.

  • Atkinson, R. D., Hugo, J., Lundgren, D., Shapiro, M. J., & Thomas, J. (2007). Addressing the STEM Challenge by Expanding Specialty Math and Science High Schools. NCSSSMST Journal, 12(2), 14–23. View
  • Bruce-Davis, M. N., Gubbins, E. J., Gilson, C. M., Villanueva, M., Foreman, J. L., & Rubenstein, L. D. (2014). STEM High School Administrators’, Teachers’, and Students’ Perceptions of Curricular and Instructional Strategies and Practices. Journal of Advanced Academics, 25(3), 272–306. Visit
  • Florida Department of Education. (n.d.) What Constitutes a STEM Program of Study?Visit
  • Indiana Department of Education. STEM Education Implementation Rubric.View
  • LaForce, M., Noble, E., King, H., Holt, S.,& Century, J. (2014) The 8 Elements of Inclusive STEM High Schools.View
  • Means, B., Confrey, J., House, A., & Bhanot, R. (2008). STEM high schools: Specialized science technology engineering and mathematics secondary schools in the US. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Report. Visit
  • Morrison, J. S. (2006). Attributes of STEM education: The students, the academy, the classroom. TIES STEM Education Monograph Series. Baltimore: Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM. View
  • National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. National Academies Press. Visit
  • North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (2013). NC STEM Recognition.Visit
  • North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center (2013). NC STEM ScoreCard.View
  • Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2009). Special Schools and Other Options for Gifted STEM Students. Roeper Review, 32(1), 61–70. Visit
  • Peters-Burton, E. E., Lynch, S. J., Behrend, T. S., & Means, B. B. (2014b). Inclusive STEM High School Design: 10 Critical Components. Theory Into Practice, 53(1), 64–71. Visit
  • Pfeiffer, S. I., Overstreet, J. M., & Park, A. (2009). The State of Science and Mathematics Education in State-Supported Residential Academies: A Nationwide Survey. Roeper Review, 32(1), 25–31.Visit
  • S2TEM Centers SC (n.d.) Theory of Action for STEM Success.View
  • San Diego Science Alliance (2014). San Diego K-12 STEM Quality Criteria Self Assessment Rubric.View
  • Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Initiative. Key Elements for Success.Visit
  • The Arizona STEM Network (2012). The STEM Immersion Guide for Schools and Districts.View
  • Thomas, D. D. L., Laugen, R. C., Lindeman, C. A., Shapiro, M. J., Jerald, J. (2011). Schools Like Ours: Realizing Our STEM Future. Visit
  • Tofel-Grehl, C., & Callahan, C. M. (2014). STEM High School Communities Common and Differing Features. Journal of Advanced Academics, 25(3), 237–271. Visit

Other Resources (not used to identify components)

The resources listed below did not directly influence the creation of the taxonomies as they did not meet the criteria outlined above, but were reviewed in the course of this study and may be of interest.

  • Barakos, L., Lujan, V., Strang, C. (2012). Science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM): Catalyzing change amid the confusion. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center confusion. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center Visit
  • Bayer Corporation. (2011). Planting the seeds for a diverse U.S. STEM pipeline: A compendium of best practice K-12 STEM education programs. View
  • Breiner, J. M., Harkness, S. S., Johnson, C. C., & Koehler, C. M. (2012). What Is STEM? A Discussion about Conceptions of STEM in Education and Partnerships. School Science and Mathematics, 112(1), 3–11. Visit
  • Bybee, R. W. (2010). What Is STEM Education? Science, 329(5995), 996–996. California Department of Education. Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) Information.Visit
  • Change the Equation. Design Principles 3.0 for Effective STEM Philanthropy.View
  • Colorado Department of Education. (n.d.) STEM Resources.Visit
  • Colorado Education Initiative. (n.d.) The Colorado STEM Education Roadmap.View
  • Dayton Regional STEM Center (2012). STEM Education Quality Framework.View
  • Fioriello, D. P. (2010). Understanding the Basics of STEM Education. Hot Topics in Education.Visit
  • Georgia Department of Education (2013). STEM Program Certification Rubric for High School. View
  • Gerlach, J. (2012). STEM: Defying a simple definition. NSTA Reports. Visit
  • Gubbins, E. J., Villanueva, M., Gilson, C. M., Foreman, J. L., Bruce-Davis, M. N., Vahidi, S., Callahan, C. M., Tofel-Grehl, C. (2013). Status of STEM high schools and implications for practice. Visit
  • Hansen, M. (2014). Characteristics of Schools Successful in STEM: Evidence from Two States’ Longitudinal Data. The Journal of Educational Research, 107(5), 374–391. Visit
  • Herschbach, D. R. (2011). The STEM initiative: Constraints and challenges. Journal of Stem Teacher Education, 48(1), 96-122. Visit
  • Honey, M., Pearson, G., & Schweingruber, H. (Eds.). (2014). STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. National Academies Press. Visit
  • Iowa STEM Policy Matters Working Group (2012). Iowa STEM Policy Recommendations.View
  • Lynch, S. J., & Ross, K. M. A Cross-case Analysis of Four Exemplar Inclusive STEM High Schools: Mission and Supports for Students Under-represented in STEM Education. View
  • Massachusett's Governer's STEM Advisory Council (2013). A Foundation for the Future: Massachusetts' Plan for Excellence in STEM Education, Version 2.0: Expanding the Pipeline for All.View
  • MC2STEM Hub (2007). MC2 STEM High School Core Design Principles.View
  • McComas, W. F. (2014). STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In W. F. McComas (Ed.), The Language of Science Education (pp. 102–103). SensePublishers.Visit
  • National Research Council. (2011). Successful STEM Education: A Workshop Summary. National Academies Press. Visit
  • Nevada STEM Coalition (2013). Report and Strategic Plan 2013.View
  • Oklahoma State Department of Education (2013). STEM Strategic Report.View
  • Oregon Department of Education (2013). The Oregon STEM Education Initiative STEM Framework Summary.Visit
  • Pawlowski, B. (2007). The SAI Guide to Building Effective STEM Education Programs.View
  • Robelen, E. W. (2011). New STEM Schools Target Underrepresented Groups. Education Week, 31(3). Visit
  • Sanders, M. (2009). Stem, stem education, stemmania. The Technology Teacher, 68(4), 20-26. View
  • Saxton, E., Burns, R., Holveck, S., Kelley, S., Prince, D., Rigelman, N., & Skinner, E. A. (2014). A Common Measurement System for K-12 STEM education: Adopting an educational evaluation methodology that elevates theoretical foundations and systems thinking. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 40, 18–35. Visit
  • Scott, C. E. (2009). A Comparative Case Study of the Characteristics of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Focused High Schools.Visit
  • Scott, C. E. (2012). An investigation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Focused High Schools in the U.S. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, 13(5).Visit
  • Sikma, L., & Osborne, M. (2014). Conflicts in Developing an Elementary STEM Magnet School. Theory Into Practice, 53(1), 4–10. Visit
  • Subotnik, R. F., Tai, R. H., Rickoff, R., & Almarode, J. (2009). Specialized Public High Schools of Science, Mathematics, and Technology and the STEM Pipeline: What Do We Know Now and What Will We Know in 5 Years? Roeper Review, 32(1), 7–16. Visit
  • Subotnik, R., Orland, M., Rayhack, K., Schuck, J., Edmiston, A., Earle, J., Crowe, E., et al. (2009). Identifying and Developing Talent in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): An Agenda for Research, Policy, and Practice. In L. V. Shavinina (Ed.), International Handbook on Giftedness (pp. 1313–1326). Springer Netherlands. Visit
  • The Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. (2012). TSIN STEM Advocacy Kit.Visit
  • The Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. (2012). Tennessee STEM Strategic Plan.Visit
  • Thomas, J., & Williams, C. (2009). The History of Specialized STEM Schools and the Formation and Role of the NCSSSMST. Roeper Review, 32(1), 17–24. Visit
  • Washington STEM. STEM Education Quality Framework.View
  • Wiswall, M., Stiefel, L., Schwartz, A. E., & Boccardo, J. (2014). Does attending a STEM high school improve student performance? Evidence from New York City. Economics of Education Review, 40, 93-105. Visit

Other Web Resources for STEM Schools and Programs

Below are research studies focusing on STEM schools and programs. If you are involved in or aware of studies that we have missed, please let us know so that we can include them here as well.