Exploring teacher design team endeavors while creating an elementary-focused STEM-integrated curriculum

Justin R. McFadden, Gillian H. Roehrig

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24 Scopus citations


Background: This study presents two teacher design teams (TDTs) during a professional development experience centered on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-integrated curriculum development. The main activity of the study, curriculum design, was framed as a design problem in order to better understand how teachers engaged with the complexities of integrated curriculum development. Additionally, Remillard’s, (Review of Educational Research 75:211–246, 2005) teacher-curriculum “participatory relationship” provided a framework for further exploring teacher actions during the design process. Utilizing a case study research design, participant curriculum design conversations were audio-recorded for 12 days during a summer professional development experience. Constructed grounded theory and a method of selective coding revealed insights about the processes and supports that enable collaborative curriculum design. Results: Results showed that when a TDT is not prompted and/or enabled to first lay out and articulate the overall value of a STEM-integrated curriculum, they will rightly follow their intuitions as classroom teachers and engage in the process accordingly. Second, involving practicing teachers in the curriculum design process requires complete “participation” with the curriculum ideas they are contemplating because in the end, the curriculum’s resultant lessons will be taught in their own and other teacher’s classrooms. Conclusions: The findings from this study indicate the importance of “pushing” active classroom teachers from the design to the mapping arena by instituting curriculum development activities and/or strategies (i.e., processes) that might help a TDT develop a “voice” (Remillard, From Text to 'Lived' Resources:105-122, 2011) or “value” (Dorst, Design Studies 22:4–17, 2006) for the curriculum under development. If members of a TDT are willing to reveal their interpretations, perceptions, and beliefs about the conceptual ideas embedded within the curriculum being developed, both the teachers and curriculum being developed will benefit. Finally, teachers should be made aware of their roles and responsibilities, beyond superficial descriptions; and understand participation in STEM-integrated curriculum design brings with it the likelihood their individual ideas, perceptions, and beliefs will be integrated within the curriculum being developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grants #1238140. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Funding Information:
This study closely follows the actions and conversations of two TDTs during a large, federally funded STEM Education PD project (DUE-1238140). The project was developed in partnership with three large school districts in the Midwest (two urban and one suburban) with the overarching goal of helping teachers (grades 4–8) develop and implement engineering-integrated curricular units to facilitate the learning of major science concepts. During the PD, teachers participated in a three-week intensive summer PD program, where they first experienced STEM-integrated curriculum as learners and then collaborated in inter-district teams to develop a STEM-integrated curricular unit. Teacher teams then piloted the curriculum at a university-based summer camp with age-appropriate students. Teachers were supported by a STEM education graduate student throughout the project, including the forthcoming academic school year. During the academic year, each teacher implemented the curriculum in their respective classroom, working in partnership with their team to refine their curriculum for broad-scale dissemination and classroom implementation.

Funding Information:
In the following decades, the national science education standards (NRC, 1996; 2000) were created and followed with the creation of standards-aligned curriculum from national publishers and projects funded by the National Science Foundation. Two problematic issues were eventually identified. First, being “aligned” was interpreted very broadly, and second, no distinguishable approach to curriculum writing was identified or widely used (DeBoer, 2014). Science academic standards soon became performance-based (Krajcik, McNeill, Reiser, 2008), which further confounded the problem. This issue has come full circle with the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS], which contain “performance expectations” that posit students understand and apply a particular practice within content driven contexts (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Calls for the creation of “model science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] units” (Bybee, 2010) aligned to the NGSS are intended for multiple audiences, including teachers in the field.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, The Author(s).


  • Curriculum design
  • Elementary education
  • STEM education
  • Teacher design teams


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