Integrated STEM: Payload to Classroom Undergraduate Experience

Focus of workshop and relevance to science teacher education
There is a national recognition of the need to improve the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Currently, many undergraduate STEM majors are lost as they progress through their college years, in part due to poor instruction, but also to a lack of authentic applications of fundamental knowledge in an undergraduate’s field (AAU, 2017). Additionally, many graduating STEM majors are not well prepared to enter the STEM workforce or to effectively communicate their science to the public. Some programs (notably engineering) attempt to remedy this through the use of capstone courses where education meets practice when undergraduates attempt to apply fundamental concepts of their field to real-world design problems. However not all STEM programs engage in such a practice and for some undergraduates this real-world application is too little, too late. Other STEM majors face similar problems; for example, researchers have shown that many graduate students have widespread difficulty analyzing kinematics (Schaffer & McDermott, 2005). Moreover, graduate students have difficulty transferring learning from purely mathematical problems to the real-world scenarios they represent – for example mathematical problems involving vectors to a physical setting involving the same vectors (Schaffer & McDermott, 2005).
Integrated STEM is increasingly important in modern classrooms to encourage students of diverse interests and motivation to view connecting STEM disciplines as crucial to solving problems facing society (Malcom, 2008). Integrated STEM has been written into the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), one dimension of which emphasizes cross-cutting concepts that are shared among all STEM disciplines, such as patterns (NGSS Lead States, 2013). By collaboratively working on a multi-disciplinary integrated STEM project, undergraduate fellows gained understanding of the fundamentals of their intended major field of study by teaching it to others. K-12 teachers and students also benefit by participating in the project, but the overall emphasis is on active learning experiences and authentic training for undergraduate STEM and preservice teachers, focusing on application of fundamental knowledge learned in previous courses. Teams of three undergraduate STEM students and preservice teachers develop projects for near space during a high-altitude balloon launch. The project uses a real-life challenge – development of a high-altitude balloon payload – with many constraints (size, space, weight, FAA limitations, budget, etc.) to engage undergraduate fellows in an authentic science and engineering experience. By participating in the project, undergraduate fellows learn team building skills, problem-solving skills, and STEM collaboration and communication skills through engaging K-12 teachers and students. Preservice teachers gain experience combining the creativity of instructional design, the practical considerations of a balloon launch, alignment of the activity with NGSS, interacting with K-12 students, and developing formative assessments of learning, thus directly transferring their course-related knowledge and applying it to a real setting. Preservice teachers are responsible for creating pre-launch curriculum that prepares the K-12 teachers and students for the science experiment to take place and follow-up curriculum to analyze the data afterwards, assess K-12 student learning, and wrap up the project. The undergraduate fellows communicate with the partner schools both before and after the launch through video conferencing and participation in launches if possible. Data from the projects is shared in publications.
For science teachers nationally to find these projects useful, the projects are consistent with NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013). For example, with regard to high school standards addressing physical science, a ballooning activity may provide opportunities to study vectors, velocity, acceleration, buoyancy, drag, gas laws, and density. This may lead to experiments with sizes of balloons to determine lift and trajectory based on weight of payloads (HS-PS2-1 and HS-PS2-2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions). With regard to high school standards covering earth science systems, experiments incorporating remote sensing or visualization technology to map the Earth’s surface and note observations relating to surface vegetation and hydrology could be contemplated. In fact, even atmospheric soundings made with balloons provide opportunities to learn about the temperature structure of the atmosphere and precipitable water. Finally, the NGSS identify connections to engineering, technology, and applications of science, specifically the way that science, engineering, and technology complement each other in a research and development (R&D) cycle (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The process of identifying a scientific question, and then designing a payload and balloon mission to address it has some of this R&D flavor to it.
The focus of our workshop is for undergraduate fellows to highlight the work they have done, as well as solicit feedback for future optimization, in developing authentic, integrated STEM projects for K-12 students. The undergraduate fellows engaged in projects that needed to answer a question or solve a problem by collecting data from sensors on a high-altitude balloon. Undergraduate fellows, in teams, transformed their project and payload to lessons and activities aligned with NGSS that they then delivered to a K-12 audience. Undergraduate fellows will share their experiences developing the project and collaboratively explore how to translate their integrated STEM experience into lessons and activities to share with a K-12 audience.

Audience of Interest
Our workshop would be of interest to educational researchers, curriculum developers, and others who are seeking to design integrated STEM projects with an authentic scientific inquiry or authentic problem-based learning focus for a K-12 audience. Interest and ongoing discussion centered around integration of STEM continue to evolve (Roehrig, Moore, Wang, & Park, 2012) around ideas of aligning with state and national standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the role of authenticity in engineering and problem-based learning (Strobel, Wang, Weber, & Dyehouse, 2013; Woods, 2012), and incorporating meaningful learning into informal education (Burrows, Lockwood, Borowczak, Janak, & Barber, 2018). We seek to extend the conversation by contributing undergraduate experiences and perspectives, including STEM majors who do not presently intend to become science teachers.

Expertise/Experience of Presenters
Workshop presenters will be undergraduate fellows responsible for developing the project and delivering it to a K-12 audience. Each group of undergraduate fellows is composed of one engineering major undergraduate, one science major undergraduate, and one preservice teacher with a focus content area not necessarily in science. Additionally, two post-doctoral research associates guiding the project will introduce and give context to the workshop. One of the post-doctoral research associates holds a Ph.D. in Education and focuses on conducting science education research about undergraduate fellows’ experiences. The other holds a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences and focuses on conducting research on technical aspects of high-altitude ballooning, physics, and weather.

Learning Objectives
Learning objectives of the workshop are that given the project description and after examination of the payload, participants will:
• Collaborate in small groups to develop learning objectives for the project for delivery to a K-12 audience
• Collaborate in small groups to develop a broad outline for lesson plans suitable for delivery to a K-12 audience
• Collaborate in small groups to brainstorm activities for delivery to a K-12 audience

Description of Workshop Activities
Four groups of undergraduate fellows will circulate amongst the participants, who will form small working groups. The undergraduate fellows will rotate among participant groups every 15 minutes. They will outline a brief synopsis of their project, providing visual aids of the payload box and media to describe their experience. The lesson plans and activities the undergraduate fellows used will not be shared initially. Participants and undergraduate fellows, after gaining familiarity with the project, will collaboratively design and develop learning objectives, lesson plan outlines, and brainstorm activities centered around the project. Undergraduates will engage in interactive dialogue to exchange ideas, feedback on what they actually did in the K-12 classrooms, and how to approach integration of STEM in the future.

Ongoing support/discussion
Contact information will be shared among undergraduate fellows and participants to continue exchange of ideas and networking after the workshop. Additionally, lesson plans and activities have been submitted for publication consideration at We presented our work at the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Society of Engineering Education conference in 2019. Manuscripts describing the participants’ experiences with integration of STEM are in preparation for publication and updates on these publications will be made available to participants.