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Implementing integrated STEM: teachers' attitudes, instructional practices and students' learning outcomes

Integrated STEM (iSTEM) education is a promising approach to improve students’ interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (e.g., Honey et al., 2014; Pearson, 2017). However, implementation of this new instructional approach faces several challenges. In addition to the absence of a universally agreed-upon definition, knowledge about factors influencing the implementation of iSTEM is scarce. Moreover, conclusions about the effects of iSTEM on students’ learning outcomes are conflicting. Therefore, the present dissertation aims at better understanding the definition, implementation and effectiveness of iSTEM education. Three research questions are addressed: (1) What are the essential elements of iSTEM education? (2) How do teacher-level characteristics and school context factors influence the implementation of iSTEM? and (3) What are the effects of iSTEM education on students’ cognitive learning outcomes? To answer these questions, six interrelated studies are conducted.

Study 1 provides an overview of the essential elements of iSTEM by proposing a theoretical framework for instructional practices, based on the results of a systematic review. This framework consists of five distinctive but related key principles: integration of STEM content, problem-centered learning, inquiry-based learning, design-based learning, and cooperative learning. All key principles are grounded within a social constructivist view on learning.

The main part of this doctoral dissertation focuses on identifying factors that influence the implementation of iSTEM education. First, a questionnaire for measuring teachers’ attitudes toward teaching iSTEM is created, based upon the theoretical framework derived in the first study. Results of a validation study (Study 2) show that this questionnaire is a reliable and valid instrument for measuring teachers’ attitudes toward teaching iSTEM. Next, (an adapted version of) the attitudes questionnaire is used in Study 3 and Study 4 to examine factors related to teachers’ attitudes toward teaching iSTEM. Teachers’ background characteristics as well as school context variables are taken into account. Results of both studies show that participation in professional development and social context (i.e., the degree of collaboration between different STEM teachers in a school) are positively linked with teachers’ attitudes toward teaching iSTEM. By contrast, teachers with much teaching experience or with experience in teaching mathematics, exhibit less positive attitudes toward teaching iSTEM compared to their colleagues. Subsequently, Study 5 formulates an answer to the second research question by investigating the influence of teachers’ attitudes and school context on reported instructional practices in iSTEM. Findings reveal that teachers’ attitudes significantly influence their instructional practices in iSTEM for all key principles. Moreover, management support and social context are important school-level factors that affect the implementation of iSTEM education.

To conclude this dissertation, Study 6 examines the effect of iSTEM education on students’ cognitive learning outcomes is math, physics and integrated physics/math. Results show that, when controlling for prior knowledge, there is no significant difference in students’ learning outcomes between iSTEM and control classes. However, instructional practices in iSTEM do significantly influence students’ achievement in integrated physics/math and math. More specifically, all key principles, except for inquiry-based learning, affect students’ learning outcomes to some degree.

Date:9 Sep 2014 →  17 Sep 2018
Keywords:science, technology, engineering & mathe, secundair onderwijs, leerkrachten
Disciplines:Biological and physiological psychology, General psychology, Other psychology and cognitive sciences, Education curriculum, Education systems, General pedagogical and educational sciences, Specialist studies in education, Other pedagogical and educational sciences
Project type:PhD project