December 5, 2018

Can You Measure a Student’s Progress in STEM?


3 Ways to Track Student Skills in 2019 and Beyond

By Allison VanNest, Head of Communications at littleBits

In an increasingly science and technology-driven world, STEM skills will almost certainly give students a competitive edge in future careers. But for many educators, integrating STEM into the classroom has been a challenge — not to mention figuring out how to measure the effectiveness of their STEM curriculum.

To help schools track the efficacy of their STEM programs, a study was commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation in 2013. The organization looked at common questions raised in STEM education over previous years and formulated guidelines for measurement based on 14 key indicators for success of STEM education in schools.

The goal is to help teachers track the effectiveness of classroom STEM programs, refine and improve their instructional methods, and better prepare students for success in the future of work. Here are the three key steps to measuring a student’s progress with STEM in the classroom:

Focus on student learning outcomes. Find key indicators that will provide data on learning outcomes. And remember that when you’re tracking student involvement in STEM, it is important to consider underrepresented groups, like minorities and women. This is currently one of the biggest challenges in STEM.

Here are the key areas recommended for tracking learning outcomes. Notice that some of the factors require long-term tracking:

  • K-12 academic achievement and participation in science and mathematics
  • Students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs about STEM
  • Access to and participation in STEM-related activities
  • Post-secondary training and education in the STEM disciplines
  • Participation of students in STEM-related careers

Track resources spent on STEM programs. Where and when do schools use resources to implement effective STEM programs? Highlighting these, and tracking them, is a useful way to amplify your STEM program.

  • Track resources spent on your school’s STEM program which include financial, human capital, and material investments
  • Keep track of the capabilities of the STEM-education workforce, including teachers and principals
  • Use assessments and graded projects to measure student knowledge, interest, and participation in STEM

Use data to improve your STEM programs. Many schools begin to advance their capabilities in STEM by planning a few activities under each of the 14 indicators that are used to measure STEM proficiency. However, one major challenge for educators has been a lack of reliable ways to measure and monitor these activities.

Here is a complete list of all 14 indicators recommended by the committee.

Many of the activities on the proposed list can be undertaken simultaneously. However, if a school is working on all aspects of the indicators — and this seems to be taking too many resources — here is a list of the top six indicators that are identified by the committee as the highest priorities.

littleBits, measuring STEM success

The first five priority indicators (2, 4, 5, 6 and 9) include time, materials, instruction, teacher knowledge, and accountability. These are at the crux of teaching and learning. The sixth priority indicator is about filling the void in STEM knowledge and capabilities through new research that contributes to both learning and teaching methodologies.

Next steps: Implementing a successful STEM program in your school

Every school’s progress in STEM contributes to our nation’s progress in STEM. Data produced by every school on the proposed indicators are best used as feedback to analyze and refine the activities proposed for STEM improvement at the national level. That’s why it is so important to spark conversations and discussions through periodic conferences among policymakers, education leaders, and researchers to lead and examine the utility of the indicators towards specific outcomes and adjustments with respect to K-12 Education in STEM.

littleBits wants to help make the rigor of standards-aligned STEAM learning fun and accessible, so that every student is empowered to be an inventor. But we realize budgets are tight. That’s why we’ve introduced a Classroom Grant Program, which allows schools that have never before used littleBits to give it a try — with the purchase of three Education Kits, your school will be granted an additional three kits at no cost.

In this way, we’re making it easier than ever for educators to bring play into the classroom. We know that learning through play is one of the most effective ways to get more kids into STEAM; it helps kids to gain the STEAM skills required for them to be successful in the future of work.

Let’s do this together. It might be the easiest and most organic way to fill the gaps in STEM capabilities all the way from school to industry.


Posted in: Administrators, Data, Education, Educators, STEM/STEAM
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