In November 2017,launched with the goal of strengthening the capacity of secondary school students to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through innovative and interactive pedagogical methods and approaches. A multi-national, multi-disciplinary team set up , as their response to the need for innovative school education in STEM as key for better lives, work and society. The key focus of Learn STEM is the Pedagogical Model for Innovative STEM Learning and Teaching.
The project is headed by Dr. Christian Stracke, Associate Professor for Open Education and Innovation at the Open University of the Netherlands. Learn STEM partners in Lithuania, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Germany represent academia, schools, training providers for educators, and groups focused on the links between science, business and education. The shared belief is school education needs to change, with learners as the owners of their own learning processes and teachers as facilitators, moderators and coaches. However, the project partners do not think this is the only approach; the Learn STEM model can be combined with other teaching and learning methodologies, allowing for development of many good practices.
Learn STEM was selected in the Erasmus+ Programme and receives funding from the European Union.
The first initiative in Learn STEM is the development of a pedagogical model based on innovative education already taking place in European schools. Subsequently, this model will be enhanced by educational tools to support pupils to connect with real-life applications of STEM. In addition, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will be offered for teachers, whether already in working in schools or those studying to qualify, to learn about the pedagogical model and the tools and how they can be adopted and adapted for teaching and learning.
The preliminary pedagogical model was developed through research on, and visits to, sites of innovative school education across Europe. Dr. Stracke highlights one particular group of public schools in the Netherlands, the Agora schools, that are also participating in Learn STEM:
Students attend this school from about age 9 to 17 or 18. In the first six years, students have no set subjects; instead they negotiate with their teachers acting as mentors to outline each week what they will do and learn, whether on their own or in groups. Students may initially start in this program by being more interested in video games than academics, but as they see the engaging and satisfying work others are doing, their interests turn to the academic possibilities. Students choose to undertake huge projects such as learning Chinese, mastering a musical instrument or computer programming or much smaller tasks related to a particular individual or idea. The teachers as mentors track what and how students are learning according to a rubric that also considers learning, research and organization strategies. In the last two years of the program, students focus on preparation for the Dutch national final examinations. The first cohort from these schools recently took these exams, and out-performed all other schools in the region.
This model and many other innovations were analyzed in development of a pedagogical model, showcasing their key characteristics. The model is not presented as a firm and final set of procedures, but rather as a set of five principles that can be used in any teaching situation.
The principles are:
- Complex: emphasis on the interconnections in fields of knowledge with activities of increasing complexity.
- Process-oriented: the key student processes for learning are explore, build, reflect, and improve, with iterative progress within various learning approaches, such as problem-based learning. Learning is supported by feedback and reflection.
- Holistic: STEM is essentially interdisciplinary, with ethical considerations as key to this.
- Practical: real life experiences, practical experiments and observation are core to STEM learning.
- Social: social interaction, inclusiveness, gender balance and diversity characterize this learning and its impact on society.
All five principles are interrelated with each other and interdependent, building the complete pedagogical model for innovative STEM learning as presented in the following figure:
The pedagogical model is outlined in a publication developed by the Learn STEM alliance: Stracke et al. (2019): The Pedagogical Model for Innovative STEM Learning and Teaching. The draft was first reviewed by the 25 schools participating in the research and is now available online for external input at:
Targeted surveys are undertaken to review the pedagogical model: All teachers, principals and students are invited to contribute own opinions and share experiences:. The surveys are also important to determine which resources are most beneficial in applying the model. Survey respondents are offered ideas for materials, such as interactive teaching tools, lesson plans and collaborative activities for students, and they assess them as to need and applicability.
Respondents’ ideas on training needs are also collected in the surveys. To broaden the input on this issue, interviews include the input of principals and policy-makers. This input guides the choice and development of tools for inquiry learning and training materials to accompany the pedagogical model.
Benefits and Outcomes
The pedagogical model being developed focuses on STEM subjects but will be flexible enough to be applied in almost any subject area.
Dr. Stracke characterizes benefits and challenges as revolving around the same key issue of learner centeredness: “A strong learner-centered approach, based on trust in a learner in control of her or his own strategies, knowledge, skills and competences facilitated by a teacher mentoring and coaching is a huge benefit, but is difficult for many teachers. For them, the challenges include concern about learner motivation and interest and the impact of this on the effectiveness of the learning.”
From the perspective of the project team, learners are more motivated, successful and active when they select their own content and strategies. Teachers are offered new possibilities in guiding students and ensuring they include sufficient math, writing and other academic content in their projects, as well as developing key skills and competences, including interaction, critical thinking, online research and presentation.
Challenges and Enhancements
To respond to continuing reluctance to adopt learner-centered learning, the model and tools will be flexible to multiple learning situations, while also offering strong examples of effective learner-centered practices.
In looking at applications in higher education, Dr. Stracke points out: “Learner-centered learning offers more challenges in higher education, as larger student numbers and lack of supportive infrastructure can limit the emphasis on individual student development and needs and necessitate more collaboration and peer-reviews by student”.
Learn STEM provides teachers and teacher educators with online instruments and tools for practical school education in STEM, including the adaptable pedagogical model, tools for inquiry learning and teacher training resources, including the MOOC.
Learn STEM is adaptable to specific situations and contexts in different schools, regions, educational systems and cultures in Europe and worldwide. The project team wants to collaborate with innovative schools to set up an international network to showcase innovative projects.
For Further Information
Dr. Christian M. Stracke
ICDE Chair in OER
Associate Professor for Open Education and Innovation
Welten Institute - Research Centre for Learning, Teaching and Technology
Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL)
Heerlen, The Netherlands