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STEM Action Planning for Transformed Learning

by Miguel Guhlin

“I’m just starting my job as the new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) director for my school district,” said a colleague at an event earlier this summer. “I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what I should do.” By a strange coincidence, another friend presented me with a scenario. Let’s explore the scenario to see what elements we can unpack regarding crafting STEM projects from a director role.

Scenario: Congratulations!

Congratulations! You’ve been selected as the new director for STEM, CTE, and Advanced Academics. You will be meeting soon with district leaders to outline your 90-day plan to ensure success for students. The leaders in your district anticipate that your plan will explain your vision for STEM, college readiness, and potential partnerships, and also blend technology into the program. Regrettably, everyone is on a tight schedule, so you will have approximately 10 minutes to amaze them.

This actual scenario presented to incoming director candidates requires you to develop a 90-day plan that will ensure student success.  Some of the key elements of the scenario include:

  1. ​Propose a p​lan outlining key action steps to be completed in the first 90 days.
  2. Develop ​programs and partnerships to enhance STEM opportunities (PREP, etc).
  3. Promote ​the development of the 21st century learner by integrating technology iton content area lessons.

Before We Start

Let’s look at each of these elements in turn. Unfortunately, space prohibits a full examination of the scenario. Given space considerations, you can find more details in the accompanying website (which features a sample 90-day plan). You will also find a response by Roger Wagner (featuring an interview that TCEA member Tim Holt (@timholt2007) conducted at the annual TCEA Convention.

#1 – Key Action Steps in the First 90 Days


“The first 90 days of any job is crucial. It’s the standard grace period for new employees and the time during which first impressions are made,” writes Melissa Llarena in Forbes. No 90-day plan can succeed without relationship and trust-building conversations, technology infrastructure, and collaborative movement forward.

When crafting this sample 90 day plan, I organized  the plan using a cycle centered around four action steps. Those action steps include:

  1. Plan: Involves generating leads with stakeholders, reviewing past actions and programs, moving forward after conducting needs assessments, and visioning
  2. Make: Propose a plan, develop a website that facilitates communication, and share resources with greater breadth in support of plan goals and strategies
  3. Collaborate: Connect and develop partnership strategies with internal partners, external partners, and programs, including non-profit and for-profit entities
  4. Tools: Decide on logistics and benchmark tools to be used in supporting movement towards plan goals while inventorying existing technology available

Assessment is embedded in the metrics developed in the Plan and Make steps. You can see a sample 90-day action plan online. The plan has been informed by Joy Shwartz and Roger Wagner (creator of HyperStudio and Hyperduino).  Developing programs and partnerships remains an important component of any school or district STEM program.

#2 – Programs and Partnerships for STEM

“My vision for the center is to provide a place for students to wonder, experiment, and be exposed to technologies, ideas, and careers they have never thought of,” says Joy Shwartz.  How do you develop programs and partnerships for STEM, especially in low socio-economic areas?

Listening to Dr. Reagan Flowers‘ podcast STEMcast, you can get a real sense of how to respond. STEM contextualizes science, technology, engineering, and math concepts in real life problem-solving. Let’s take a look at a few potential partners to build relationships with.

Partner #1 – C-STEM

Project-based learning, problem-based learning (xBL), takes on another component with C-STEM. The “C” represents Communication for Dr. Flowers and encapsulates STEM, providing students the opportunity to see the utility of tough topics in real life. Dr. Flowers suggests that urbanization managed poorly can cause problems. In turn, students in STEM programs can be tasked to develop solutions to urbanization problems. The solutions involve robotics, civil engineering, coding, art, and film-making, all while trying to answer the questions urbanization problems present.  In addition to the C-STEM Program, schools can reach out to local businesses and organizations. For example, Joy Shwartz reached out to Lamar University and Exxon Mobil for guidance and/or funding. Other school districts, like South San Antonio ISD in San Antonio, Texas, connect with the University of Texas at San Antonio and St. Mary’s University for their SAPREP and PREP initiatives, respectively.

Partner #2 – Texas Regional STEM Accelerator

The Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator (STEM Accelerator) initiative provides grants to help support regional teams of education and workforce partners. Their goal is to “increase the number of students who will earn a STEM credential.” They work to provide professional development, align math pathways from K-12 to higher education to workforce, and develop sector partnerships between education and workforce.

Partner #3 – Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Per their website, the “Transformation Central Texas STEM Center strives to improve student achievement outcomes in math and science as determined by state and national standards for all students.” The Center offers professional development that emphasizes STEM-literacy and hands-on problem-based learning experiences for students. They also showcase the all-important career pathways that help children see what they could be doing. As Dr. Flowers points out in her STEMcasts, it’s hard for children to imagine themselves doing something when they haven’t seen it before.

#3 – Integrating Technology

Integrating technology into the curriculum often occurs as a focus on xBL, where x represents Project, Problem, or Passion, with hands-on technology use. Students have ready access to technology (e.g. iPads, Chromebooks, Surface tablets), powerful tools (e.g. Google Suites, MS Office 365, Apple tools) that are often low-cost, if not free. A wealth of web-based tools also exist. The challenge is less “How do I do this?” and more about what is the best way to solve a real-life problem. Approaches like C-STEM combine project-based, experiential learning opportunities for students engaged in real-world problem solving. And since technical solutions must be communicated, filmography and media-based communications (e.g. social media, audio, and video) provide the “wrapper” for any STEM solution developed. Just as educators build their professional learning networks (PLNs) to stay abreast of changes in rapidly changing fields (e.g. coding, robotics), students must also learn to create and manage networks that keep them engaged and connected.


Are you ready to learn more? Check out the companion website for this blog entry. It includes a sample presentation, 90-day action plan, and tons of resources for you. You might also see how TCEA can be a partner for you.

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