Exploring K-5 STEM educators’ perceptions of a successful STEM elementary school
Exposure to integrated STEM curricula in K-5 elementary schools is critical to create equal economic opportunities for all students, meet the needs of the future STEM workforce, and build a stronger understanding of engaging and practical STEM application in the real-world. This mixed methods case study investigated if the implementation of integrated STEM curricula into a K-5 elementary school would increase student achievement as measured by STAAR and STEM educators’ perceptions of STEM education and key components of a successful STEM elementary school. A purposeful sample of K-5 STEM educators such as the principal, STEM specialist, librarian, and teachers from an elementary school in Texas participated in either a survey and/or interviews. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive statistics to determine if the implementation of STEM curricula had increased students’ Reading and Mathematics STAAR scores in grades 3-5 and Science STAAR scores in grade 5. Quantitative results were inconclusive. An inductive coding process was used to analyze the qualitative data. The qualitative analysis provided supporting evidence that indicated that the integrated STEM curricula had a positive impact on students’ academic achievements and school culture. Additionally, it revealed seven emergent themes for a successful STEM elementary school: instructional leadership team; professional development; teacher collaboration; making connections; vision and school culture; 21st century skills; and the integration of the engineering laboratory. The implications of the study stress the need for a common, clear vision, importance of a growth mindset, and application of STEM to instruction. Determining the vision begins with leadership, who creates the necessary STEM culture that promotes teacher buy-in. Teacher responses emphasize the importance of embracing a growth mindset and application of the Engineering Design Process (EDP) to teacher professional practice. Recommendations for further research include a qualitative analysis of teachers’ and students’ perception of how school mottos impact school culture and mindset as well as a longitudinal study assessing K-5 STEM students’ academic progress against students who attended a traditional elementary school. This information is important to educators, business leaders and other key community stakeholders, who are interested in impact of STEM education on the local community and public education.