LMSVEF Grantee Research Proposal: Developing 21st Century Skills and Career Interests Through STEM Projects

By Annette El-Hajj

    LMSVEF Grantee Research Proposal: Developing 21st Century Skills and Career Interests Through STEM Projects

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    Annette El-Hajj
    El Cajon, CA
    Annette El-Hajj

    I have a multiple subject credential, with supplemental credentials in Art, Social Science, Math, and English, and a Masters degree. In 2004, I wrote my first grant for developing critical thinking skills through art education. Since then I have taught art to the students in my grade level and organized two assemblies per year called “Meet the Masters.” In 2011, previous teammates and I wrote a grant to get one-to-one iPods and I am still finding ways to incorporate our new iPads. In 2013, I started using and showing other teachers the free, highly-engaging EEI Social Science and Science materials. As I have tried new strategies to help my students learn throughout my 20 years of teaching, I now am engaged in practitioner-research in an effort to produce research data and to publish research results that teachers beyond my class can apply.

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    Project Summary

    The goal of this project is to improve logical-mathematical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and presentation skills of third graders, utilizing various STEM activities in groups of 3 to 6 students called engineering teams. With the introduction of STEM projects, students will be able to interpret, develop, and execute plans for thought-provoking tasks. Students will also be able to evaluate and learn from errors. Presentation of results will be oral at first, then digital. These skills will help student achievement across the science, technology, engineering and math content areas and broaden interest in future career choices.

    Project Context

    In June 2016 I had three “Engineering” days, with puzzles and a STEM activity. I realized that many students had no prior experience with either pastime and gave up quickly. Puzzle strategies like looking at the picture, edges and corners first, color sorting, etc. had to be taught. I had to reconfigure the groups constantly to split up the students who thought the 63-100 piece puzzles and the STEM challenge were “impossible.” Eventually students were fully engaged, working together, and sharing ideas and strategies for 250+ piece puzzles and making bird nests that could hold three marbles, constructed exclusively from plants outside our classroom. This year I’ve introduced lessons based on the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Dweck, 2006) to encourage perseverance with difficult tasks. Now I hear my students say, “Mistakes are opportunities to learn,” or “It’s our job to ask questions,” and “I don’t know that yet.” I am ready to facilitate these student-centered projects and my students are ready for more challenges.

    Project Goals and Method

    Project Significance

    A consequence of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is that school districts mandated elementary educators to teach language arts and math, leaving arts and sciences to be fit in, if possible. Now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed in December 2015, encourages teachers to broaden the curriculum. Both Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards have made a shift from memorizing facts to a focus on depth of knowledge across all subject areas. This STEM project aligns well with the new law and standards, by engaging students with hands-on assignments. The result of this project will shed light on the effects of teaching methods applied in the STEM project.

    Research Plan


    • The 32 students (17 boys, 15 girls) in my third grade class will be the first engineers. In May 2017, 63 additional students (32 boys, 31 girls), from the other third grade classes, will join my students. Approximately 80% of students are White-Americans, 10% African-Americans, and about 10% of students are Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.

    STEM activities

    • Each week, in November through April, we will have one hour dedicated to STEM activities and reflection. As students collaborate to plan, solve problems, create, redesign, and communicate results, my role will be to facilitate, rather than lead students with their projects.
    • Definitions of the desired skills listed below will be discussed, posted, and expanded as the year progresses.
      1. Great collaborators are generous with ideas and praise, good at asking the right questions, and attentive listeners. Sentence stems for collaborative conversations are posted on each desk. In third grade terms, “hoggies”, “bossies”, and “do-nothings” are not welcome in a cooperative group.
      2. Planning and problem solving involves brainstorming, sketching, and labeling possible solutions.
      3. The next step is creating and making a model.
      4. The redesign step involves learning from mistakes and making improvements.
      5. Communicating the results will start with notes and group speeches to the class. Eventually we will move toward digital reports for Open House on April 6, 2017, and self-selected research projects to be completed in June 2017.
    • To help students experience working with various learning styles and preferences of other students, engineering teams of 3-6 students will be reconfigured monthly, unless more frequent adjustments are needed. This will enable students to act as part of a team with all types of learners.
    • I will share data with my teammates as the year progresses.
    • After State Testing, in Spring 2017, I propose that my students will mix with both of the other third grade classes. These new groups will have the same weekly hour of STEM activities through June 2017. I will compare how students with previous STEM experience interact with students who are new to the curriculum.  I will enlist my teammates to do the same in their “mixed” classes.
    • Our last research project for Language Arts in May/June 2017 will be a collaborative report on a self-selected topic from the areas of science, technology, engineering, math, or related careers that we’ve studied through our STEM experiences.

    Procedure for data collection and analysis

    • First, I will conduct a survey to find out the future career interests of my students and ask them which subjects in school they think will best help them achieve their goal. My observations on STEM curriculum suggest that students don’t consider jobs in science, technology, engineering, or math until they are exposed to it in middle or high school.
    • While students are engaged in STEM activities, I will keep a written and video log of their group interactions. These logs will be the major database for the project report.
    • Student presentation of results, digital reports, and self-selected research projects will be analyzed to determine the effects of the project.
    • The “mixed” classes will be closely observed and observations will be analyzed and reported.
    • I will conduct a post-research survey of career interests and subjects needed to reach their goals.
    • Finally, I will evaluate student growth in the skills needed for careers in the 21st Century, which are collaborate, plan, solve problems, create, redesign, and communicate results.


    Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

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