Investigating the Presence of Mathematics and the Levels of Cognitively Demanding Mathematical Tasks in Integrated STEM Units

Effective K-12 integrated STEM education should reflect an intentional effort to adequately represent and facilitate each of its component disciplines in a meaningful way. However, most research in this space has been conducted within the context of science classrooms, ignoring mathematics. Also missing from the literature is research that examines the level of cognitive demand required from mathematical tasks present within integrated STEM lessons. In order to seek insight pertaining to this gap in the literature, we sought to better understand how science teachers use mathematics within K-12 integrated STEM instruction. We used an explanatory sequential mixed methods research design to explore the enactment of mathematics in integrated STEM lessons that focus on physical, earth, and life science content. We first examined 2030 sets of video-recorded classroom observation scores generated from the 10-item STEM Observation Protocol (STEM-OP) designed for observing integrated STEM education in K-12 classrooms. We compared the STEM-OP scores of classroom observations that included mathematics with those that did not. This quantitative analysis was followed by a closer, more in-depth qualitative examination of how mathematics was employed, focusing on the degree of cognitive demand. To do this, we coded and analyzed transcripts from video-recorded classroom observations in which mathematical content was present. Our study yielded two main findings about mathematics in integrated STEM lessons: (1) the presence of mathematical content resulted in higher STEM-OP scores on nearly all items, and (2) mathematical tasks within these lessons were categorized as requiring mainly low levels of cognitive demand from students. This study highlights the need for the increased inclusion of mathematical tasks in integrated STEM teaching. Implications for including higher-order mathematical thinking within integrated STEM teaching are discussed.

Forde, E. N., Robinson, L., Ellis, J., & Dare, E. A. (2023). Investigating the presence of mathematics and the levels of cognitively demanding mathematical tasks in integrated STEM units. Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research, 5(3), 1-18.