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The essentials in best teaching practices to guide a classroom in promoting inquiry and engagement.

The 9 Essentials of STEM Instruction

Phenomena - Phenomenon-centered instruction is key to multi-dimensional learning as represented by the Next Generation Science Standards.  (Phenomena, n.d.) Learners need to interact with phenomena in a context that is engaging and relevant to them as well as being a reasonable representation of the work of experts. 

Inquiry - The manner and context in which students first engage with a phenomenon should generate questions in the mind of the learner. The learner should be provided opportunities to formulate questions and design ways to explore and answer these questions. (Anderson, 2002; Bybee, 2006; Rutherford, 1964)

Macro-contexts - The basic premise of macro-contexts (Sherwood, Kinzer, Bransford, & Franks, 1987; Sherwood, Petrosino, Lin, & Lamon, 1995) is that the more time a learner has to explore a phenomenon, and the wider a variety of contexts and approaches used, the more likely they are to be able to recognize patterns and apply the learning to novel situations. The term sustained-inquiry has also been used to describe the power of spending more time with a phenomenon in developing greater conceptual understanding. (Marshall & Alston, 2014) 

Communities of Learners - Learners should have opportunities to interact with other learners to collaborate on the shared construction of understanding. (Crawford, Krajcik, & Marx, 1999; Rogoff, Matusov, & White, 1996)

Reflection & Discourse - In addition to actively exploring a phenomenon, the learner needs time to reflect on their own understanding and to work through misconceptions and alternative ideas through meaningful discourse with themselves, their peers, and the teacher. These practices develop the metacognitive skills students need to take charge of and improve their learning. (Bell, 2013; Duschl & Osborne, 2002; Zohar, & Barzilai, 2013).

Communication - Because conceptualization in humans is mediated through symbols, learners are better able to process, improve, and solidify their understanding if they are given opportunities to create explanations  of their ideas about a phenomenon, especially in words, but also in diagrams, drawings, etc. (Sørvik & Mork, 2015; Wellington & Osborne, 001)

Autonomy - In a Constructivist Learning Environment (CLE), the learner is an active participant in their own learning. Not only is their effort necessary to learn, it’s a major benefit of the approach. The student who actively contributes not only learns more, but is more engaged and motivated. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) proposes that autonomy is one of the key elements of human motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Students show more engagement, motivation, and learning when they have opportunities to make choices and direct their education.

Authentic Assessment and Feedback - Assessment that accurately reflects the knowledge and skills of learners is essential for teachers in planning curriculum (formative assessment). This information is also essential to the learner in providing them with a clear idea of their strengths as well as areas in need of additional work. (Azim & Khan, 2013; Black, 1995; Cowie & Bell, 1999).

Differentiation - In any group of learners, each individual will approach a concept having previously constructed understanding at their own level of complexity and accuracy. Exploration of the concept has the potential to change their understanding in different ways and at different rates. Instruction must take into account that learners need different amounts of time and different kinds of experiences. (Croft, 2016; Wormell, 2007).

STEMscopes Layered Approach

We believe doing is the best form of learning. That’s why we follow a layered approach to classroom instruction. These are the research-backed, tried-and-true inspirations to our framework that are at the heart of every STEMscopes lesson.

Based on the guiding principles of best practice as described above, we have derived the Methods and Techniques to use in a constructivist, student-centered classroom.


Anderson, R. D. (2002). Reforming science teaching: What research says about inquiry. Journal of science teacher education, 13(1), 1-12.

Azim, S., & Khan, M. (2012). Authentic assessment: An instructional tool to enhance students learning. Academic Research International, 2(3), 314.

Bell, P. (2013). Promoting students' argument construction and collaborative debate in the science classroom. In Internet environments for science education (pp. 143-172). Routledge.

Black, P. (1995). Assessment and feedback in science education. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 21(3), 257-279.

Bybee, R. W. (2006). Scientific inquiry and science teaching. In Scientific inquiry and nature of science (pp. 1-14). Springer, Dordrecht.

Cowie, B., & Bell, B. (1999). A model of formative assessment in science education. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 6(1), 101-116.

Crawford, B. A., Krajcik, J. S., & Marx, R. W. (1999). Elements of a community of learners in a middle school science classroom. Science education, 83(6), 701-723.

Croft, J. A. (2016). Differentiation in the Science Classroom: An Overview of Strategies to Aid in General Science Instruction. Learning to Teach, 5(1).

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

Duschl, R. A., & Osborne, J. (2002). Supporting and promoting argumentation discourse in science education.

Marshall, J. C., & Alston, D. M. (2014). Effective, sustained inquiry-based instruction promotes higher science proficiency among all groups: A 5-year analysis. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25(7), 807-821.

Phenomena. Phenomena | Next Generation Science Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena 

Rogoff, B., Matusov, E., & White, C. (1996). Models of teaching and learning: Participation in a community of learners. The handbook of education and human development, 388-414.

Rutherford, F. J. (1964). The role of inquiry in science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2(2), 80-84.

Sherwood, R. D., Kinzer, C. K., Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1987). Some benefits of creating macro‐contexts for science instruction: Initial findings. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 24(5), 417-435.

Sherwood, R. D., Petrosino, A. J., Lin, X., & Lamon, M. (1995). Problem based macro contexts in science instruction: theoretical basis, design issues, and the development of applications. Toward a Cognitive-Science Perspective for Scientific Problem Solving. NARST Monograph, Number Six. National Association for Research in Science Teaching., 191.

Sørvik, G. O., & Mork, S. M. (2015). Scientific literacy as social practice: Implications for reading and writing in science classrooms. Nordic Studies in Science Education, 11(3), 268-281.

Wellington, J., & Osborne, J. (2001). Language and literacy in science education. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Wormeli, R. (2007). Differentiation: From Planning to Practice, Grades 6-12. Stenhouse Publishers. 480 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101.

Zohar, A., & Barzilai, S. (2013). A review of research on metacognition in science education: Current and future directions. Studies in Science education, 49(2), 121-169.