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STEM teacher agency: A case study of initiating and implementing curricular reform

Partners' Institution
DHBW – Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University
Year of publication
Educational stage
Secondary Level
Journal name
Thematic Area
STEAM intervention (teaching strategies, evaluation...), Definition and characteristics of STEAM
In many educational reform programs top‐down reform efforts are implemented, but the change is not deep or sustained, nor is it widely adopted with a shift in ownership. This article is about a bottom-up approach in development of a curriculum with the teachers (and partially learners as well) in the drivers seat.

In this study, using teacher agency as a grounding framework, the conditions that enabled the efforts of two teachers to be successful and sustained (and still spreading) are identified. Drawing on the theory of teacher agency, the factors motivating the teachers to enact their beliefs about students and teaching are described.

Four important outcomes are identified that support successful reform in education:
(a) depth
(of beliefs, interactions, and pedagogical principles)
(b) sustainability
(conditions that support teacher and school communities)
(c) spread
(of norms, beliefs, and principles across content, schools, and districts)
(d) shift in ownership
(from reform designers to reform implementors; educational reformers should not conflate ownership with "buy-in", which can be short-lived and does not lead to sustainability)

In order to overcome obstacles like lack of financial and collegial support success factors have been identified:

(a) willingness to take risks
(b) support from mentors
(c) entrepreneurial approach
(d) connections to the community

Key elements of their approach were considering teachers as
student advocates and awareness among learners that they are making an impact. Their students cocreated the curriculum with them early on. Another principle was Valuing students as a personality and not just for their performance

Building relationships among students as well as with their community and with mentors of the program also has been essential. Their beliefs about reform and risk‐taking was supported by their mentors (within their professional environments) allowing them to achieve agency. A teacher states that the community has been instrumental in the program. “Having started with ‘pretty much nothing,’ the class has received donations of materials and funds to purchase tools. Also, The Home Depot and area home builders and contractors donated safety gear including hard hats and eyewear”.

With resourceful, entrepreneurial approaches, the integrated STEM house building curriculum pays for itself. The costs of the materials are recovered after houses are auctioned to nonprofit or civic organizations.

Furthermore on their website, Tom and Scott (developers of the curriculum) explain that teachers who intend to adopt (and adapt) the integrated STEM curriculum “must view their classroom as a business and be comfortable in producing a product that is to be sold.”
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
Subject area of the curriculum is construction of buildings. I could not find details on methology used or evaluation per-formed. The article is more of a partially subjective experience report on the development and dissemination of a curriculum with the bottom-up approach and innovative elements men-tioned above.

Success factors could be applied generalized to other reforms.
Point of Strength
The integrated Geometry in Construction curriculum was de-veloped 12 years ago and has since been shared with and adopted by over 425 schools across the United States. Thus a practical feasibility is comprehensible.
agency, curriculum, reform, STEM, teachers, bottom-up approach