Executive Summary

Learning experiences that promote the most success for STEM students have basically two components. The first one is that students are highly engaged in what they are doing in class. This is evidenced by students working in collaborative teams of three on projects or problem solving in a student-centered inquiry-driven environment. Students are self-directed and reflective in their thinking as they evaluate both their work (process) and their projects (product). In this environment, students are strongly encouraged to think creatively, share and solve problems in a way they believe is best. They are also willing to support their decisions rationally and in a precise manner directly related to standards and concepts taught. After students plan a strategy for solving a problem or constructing a device, the best outcomes for learning come from hands-on work that is authentic. Making a STEM experience authentic is the second component to STEM student success. An authentic learning experience means that students are working with real world issues that are locally significant. Authentic experiences motivate student interest and sustain enthusiasm in order for students to acquire the skills necessary to accomplish their goals. Student-directed problem-solving uses adult-world tools (technology) to plan, design, construct, and assess projects. Students use software, for example, much the same way experts do when they are in the research and development phases of engineering a product.  Follow up with examples. 
At the elementary level, learning experiences that need improvement are those that are not significant to children of a specific age, at a specific location. Children appear to be more motivated to construct devices or solve problems related to local issues that affect their specific population and/or age group. For example, third graders will empathize more and show stronger interest with local watershed issues than they will with different watershed issues in faraway places. We cannot merely rely on "STEM Programs" to entice students to learn due to the fact that they use insignificant issues in irrelevant places. An understanding of what motivates children to learn, as well as making the experience intrinsically significant promotes greater STEM student success. Developing a greater audience for STEM students to share their ideas and work is also important in authenticating and validating student work. Therefore, we need to continue to develop relationships with business partners to promote authentic STEM experiences for all children.