Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Teacher Observation Instrument for PBL Classroom Instruction

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Teacher Observation Instrument for PBL Classroom Instruction

Article excerpt


Teaching is a complex activity that requires making ongoing multiple, decisions and engaging in sporadic, responsive actions while performing pre-planned prescribed tasks. The enactment of the essential aspects of teaching can be assessed by using a well-designed observation instrument. After a sustained professional development on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Project- Based Learning (PBL), an observation instrument was used to assess the enacted STEM PBL activities in secondary mathematics and science classrooms. This article provides the background precipitating the need for an instrument, using an observation instrument to provide feedback to teachers and other stakeholders, and follow-up suggestions for those engaging in STEM professional development, including districts, schools, academies, service centers and university partners.


In recent years, there has been growing concern that the United States is not preparing enough individuals for STEM careers. While other countries have seen an increase in the number of students pursuing degrees in STEM fields, students in the U. S. have been shown to lose interest in STEM fields at an early age and are less likely to pursue STEM majors in postsecondary education (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2007). The growing gap between students in the U.S. who receive STEM degrees and those in other countries is considered a threat to economic stability and global competitiveness, as STEM fields drive innovation and technological change (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda for American Science and Technology; Marshall, 2010; Pfeiffer, Overstreet, & Park, 2010).

K-12 STEM education serves as the "pipeline" to post-secondary STEM education [NGA], 2008). Students progress through the STEM pipeline through experiences that build their competence and interest in pursuing STEM areas. Efforts to promote the STEM pipeline and increase the number of post-secondary degrees attained in STEM has led to an increasing federal and state focus on promoting STEM education (Kuenzi, Matthews, & Mangan, 2006). In particular, the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) has addressed the growing concern over the STEM pipeline by advocating for greater attention to be paid to science and mathematics education. The focus on mathematics and science has resulted in the prolific growth of programs and professional developments (PDs) focused on STEM (Capraro, Capraro, & Oner, 2011). Despite the widespread nature of these STEMoriented programs and PDs, there has been relatively little research examining the effectiveness of these programs (Capraro, Capraro, Stearns, & Morgan, 2011; Marshall, 2010).

Several factors have been shown to impact the number of students seeking post- secondary STEM degrees. In a recent study, Bhattacharjee (2009) found there were a lack of social and economic incentives for pursuing STEM careers. The social and economic incentives contradict the previously held notion that the decline in STEM post-secondary majors was because of inadequate K-12 STEM preparation. Even though the average number of high school STEM credits students earned has increased from 1990 to 2005, it has not resulted in a solution to the STEM pipeline problem. In fact, there has been a decrease in the number of students graduating from college with STEMrelated degrees (Laird, Alt, & Wu, 2009).

Increases in the number of STEM courses taken in high school have not improved postsecondary matriculation into STEM fields. Improvement in the quality and integration of STEM education should be the focus of national attention because increasing high school students' STEM course load in high school has been shown to be insufficient. Generally, White and Asian males represent a greater proportion of STEM majors, while females, Hispanics and African Americans remain under-represented in STEM majors (Tsui, 2007). …

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