CCSS Practical STEM Strategies

Strategy: Use research to refine design solutions.

The strategy starts with intentional frustration. I ask the students to draw four boxes on one sheet of graph paper. In the first box they label #1. This is the preliminary design. I ask them to sketch their idea in the first box. This is frustrating because they have little or no information. I insist they try despite not really knowing.

After the first sketch, I ask, “Can you create a solution effectively?” Most students will say, “No.” I ask them to create a list of questions they need to understand before they can make an effective solution. Students make 10 questions and collaborate. The purpose of the collaboration is to find the best way to word the questions. There are always questions that will contribute to the criteria of a design. For example, when asked to design an eco-friendly home, a common question is, “How many people live in the house?” The groups develop the criteria in the  discussion of  the questions. “The home should be designed for two adults and two children, on a lot that is 25′ x 150” “. This is powerful because the group is discussing how designs must follow criteria and the students develop the criteria for the design. I use the student-generated criteria as part of the grading rubric.

Once the class sifts through the criteria questions, it’s time to consider content questions. I’ll say, “You have to understand lift so add the question, ‘What is Bernoulli’s Principal? ‘” I plant my content into their research questions.

In STEM the purpose of the research is to develop a design solution. The students divvy up the questions to save time. I allow answers with images, video, and text explanations as long as they include the URL. The URL is a reference for the material. Later students will be citing references and can use URLs in a more formal citation.

I allow copying and pasting of text, URLs, and images. Why? My students are collecting information that may/may not be used in their design. (I hope the CCSS military will not tar and feather me for plagiarism.) Take a look at the example. The highlighted blue is the student-generated questions. The answers are copied and pasted and there is an image of Bernoulli’s Principal.


Not all of the student-generated questions are important to the design. Some of the answers may offer writing choices when the students begin to write a defense of their design. The defense of the design is a formal writing piece with citations, no plagiarism. We have simply put together a variety of potentially useful information.

Think about the science concepts. It’s just a picture, how do we know there is understanding? Once the students understand the necessity of the science concepts, I ask the question, “Will the design work without the science? Should this be part of the criteria for success? ” Overwhelmingly the students say the design criteria must include the science concept. It’s a couple days away but my rubric will reflect understanding of the science concept because it is a necessity.

Look at the strategy under the lens of the CCSS.

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

This strategy offers a couple of really great ways to help student’s generate design ideas through the use of research.


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