STEM Teams: First & Fast!

A MiddleWeb Blog


I hope you’re on board – and even gung ho – about incorporating STEM into your school program. But when it comes down to putting learning teams in place to support your initiative, what do you need to consider?

You’ll note that I’m writing this post as if “you” are the supreme leader with the authority and resources to organize all of this yourself. Actually, whoever “you” are, please simply consider this as information that you can use and/or pass on to others for reflection, discussion, and consideration.

Like any new program, STEM must be purposeful, planned, and structured into the school day. Several years ago I read a book by Allison Rossett, titled First Things Fast. This really switched on a bright halogen lamp for me. In this book, Rossett refers to four specific indicators or “drivers” that can help to determine an organization’s readiness for a new initiative.

I’ve taken the liberty of adapting her ideas to fit your STEM initiative. In addition to the organizational procedures you already have in place, I suggest you consider these questions collectively as an ignition system, putting you on the road to STEM teams that are ready to learn, grow and be successful in the critical early months of your rollout:

Up-front considerations

1. Do teachers have the knowledge, skills and information they need to succeed in STEM work? In other words, do they have the capacity to do what is needed to work productively together? Remember, teachers traditionally do their work in relative isolation. Think of what you’re asking them to do – implement a new type of teaching and learning and work together in teams to do this. That’s a tough assignment, and they’ll need help with the basics.

first-things-fast-cvr2. Where are teachers in terms of motivation and commitment? Teacher commitment and motivation is a strong driver for successful STEM work. Teachers will need to know why they are implementing STEM and to see value in this initiative. They need to be willing to meet the demands of collaborative work. More importantly, they need to believe they can successfully do this, and that it will make a difference for them and their students.

3. How well do the current school conditions and culture support STEM work? A non-supportive environment will block the success of even the most skilled and motivated teachers and staff. What policies and procedures at the school will support and encourage STEM and teaming? What processes are present? What’s missing? Think in terms of tools, resources, equipment, physical space, and time. What will you do to make sure those things critical to success are available?

4. What incentives are in place? Think about typical teacher incentives: what do these incentives say to teachers about what you believe is important? Think about incentives such as memberships in professional organizations – especially those that will inform teachers about STEM (NSTA and NCTM for example). Give teachers business cards or subscriptions to education journals. Consider sending a team of teachers (not just one) to a conference to learn more about STEM together. Involve teachers in decision-making regarding STEM and learning teams. Give professional development credit for the work teachers do in their learning teams. These kinds of incentives show teachers that you regard them as valued professionals and the work they’re doing as critical.

Team choices

STEM learning teams should consist of no more than five or six teachers. This small number allows all team members to be active and involved. The teams may be organized in a variety of ways, including these:



Subject-Area Teams Teachers address STEM instructional and learning practices in their own subject areas.
Interdisciplinary Teams Teachers who teach different subjects (e.g. science, math and/or technology) work together to implement STEM.
Grade-Level Teams Teachers work together on effective STEM instructional practices for students at a particular grade level.
Grade-Range Teams Teachers work together across grade levels to address specific STEM practices across grades.

 Meeting Places and Times

For STEM teachers to meet, plan, and coordinate activities and lessons, they will need a comfortable meeting place in an area that’s safe from interruptions. Ideally, their meeting area will have access to technology and a sizable table where teachers can work.

Stopwatch. 30 seconds.Finding time for teachers to meet during the school day is an ongoing challenge for traditional schools (and that’s most schools). Here are some ideas about ways schools have successfully addressed this. In addition, if you type “time for professional development” or “time for professional learning” into a search engine, you’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of information that’s out there. One of my favorite sites to search for research-based ideas about finding time is Learning Forward. Just type “time” in the search box at the top right of the screen, and wonderful “timely” things will appear.

First things FAST

I hope these ideas have jumpstarted some thinking about your readinesss for a STEM initiative — and for ways you can sustain progress by creating and supporting STEM learning teams in the very early going. Do it first. Do it fast. It’ll be well worth the effort.

Anne Jolly

Anne Jolly began her career as a lab scientist, caught the science teaching bug and was recognized as an Alabama Teacher of the Year during her years as a middle grades science teacher in Mobile, AL. From 2007-2014 Anne was part of an NSF-funded team that developed middle grades STEM curriculum modules and teacher professional development materials for the Mobile Area Education Foundation's Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) initiative. Anne has also teamed with science and math teachers to help them develop and implement their own STEM curriculum. Her book STEM By Design: Strategies & Activities for Grades 4-8 is published by Routledge/MiddleWeb.

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