Initial Publication Date: July 22, 2013

STEM Education Center

Research into the improvement of STEM teaching and learning through

College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Established: 2009

Profile submitted by Gillian Roehrig

Vision and Goals

The Center is focusing on four main areas of STEM education:

  • STEM integration
  • Learning and cognition
  • Research on instructor preparation
  • Evaluation and assessment

STEM Integration

The first focus of the Center is STEM Integration. STEM Integration is the merging of the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in order to: deepen student understanding of each discipline by contextualizing concepts, broaden student understanding of STEM disciplines through exposure to socially and culturally relevant STEM contexts, and increase interest in STEM disciplines to broaden the pipeline of students entering the STEM fields.

The needs that guide the Center's research agenda around STEM Integration are as follows:

  • Students need rich and engaging learning experiences that foster deep content understanding in STEM disciplines and their intersections.
  • Most teachers have not learned disciplinary content using STEM contexts, nor have they taught in this manner, and therefore new models of teaching must be developed if STEM integration is to lead to meaningful STEM learning; and
  • There is a need for curricula that integrate STEM contexts to teach disciplinary content in meaningful ways that go beyond the blending of traditional types of understandings.

Learning and Cognition

The second focus of the Center is understanding how people learn to think scientifically and mathematically. Current research on this question addresses simple concepts of less relevance to questions of K-20 STEM instructors. STEM Education Center researchers will investigate how students understand complex scientific concepts, and how their understanding can be improved through the use if technology supports. They will also investigate how people master the abstract mathematical concepts and formalisms necessary for successful careers in STEM fields. This research will expand and strengthen the foundational psychological and neuroscience knowledge underlying STEM practice and education.

Research on Instructor Preparation 

The third focus of the STEM Education Center is research on the preparation and development of P-20 STEM instructors. Research in the preparation of K-12 STEM teachers will address instruction in the STEM disciplinary departments as well as the initial licensure courses housed in the College of Education and Human Development. Improvements in teaching and student learning at the undergraduate level being researched by STEM Education Center faculty will provide teacher candidates experience with the types of reform-based instruction called for at the K-12 level. Research in K-12 teacher preparation addresses life-long learning across pre-service, induction and professional development years looking at teachers

Evaluation and Assessment 

The final focus of STEM Education Center is evaluation and assessment. This will include research about how best to evaluate STEM programs and how best to assess understanding of STEM, which includes curriculum development. Existing evaluation and assessment techniques need to be refined and more carefully aligned with the actual purpose they are purported to serve. The most appropriate statistical, interpretive and measurement techniques and how these approaches can be optimized to provide useful information to decision makers needs to be determined. Furthermore, careful assessment of student learning and incorporation of these measures into evaluations of STEM programs, such as instructor preparation, is critical to improving STEM education and to improving STEM assessment and evaluation.

Center/Program Structure

The STEM Education Center is administratively housed within the College of Education and Human Development with affiliate faculty from College of Science and Engineering, College of Biological Sciences, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Science, and the Medical School. Leadership is provided by faculty from the STEM Education program within the department of Curriculum and Instruction. Faculty and staff include six tenured faculty, two clinical faculty, one professor emeritus, three research associates, approximately 25 full-time graduate research assistants (funded on center grants), and 1.5 administrative staff positions. Collaboration toward external grant funding is expected.

Description of Programming

The primary focus of the STEM Education Center is research not education outreach ( Our research incorporates a significant number of teacher professional development institutes and workshops - two of our larger programs are described below:

  • The Region 11 Mathematics and Science Teacher Partnership (MSTP) is a collaboration between the Metropolitan Educational Cooperative Services, Intermediate District 287, Northeast Metro Intermediate District 916, Columbia Heights Public Schools, Brooklyn Center Public Schools, University of Minnesota, Hamline University, Normandale Community College, and SciMathMN and has provided professional development for STEM teachers across the metropolitan area of the Twin Cities for six years. Academic leadership for the professional development content and research is provided by the STEM Education Center at the University of Minnesota. Seventy-nine secondary science and mathematics teachers, 357 elementary teachers, 119 middle- and high-school life science teachers, and 48 ninth-grade physical science teachers have already completed a five-day professional development series and professional learning community tasks. During 2013-14, we will provide STEM integration professional development for earth science teachers. In addition, over 2,000 K-12 mathematics teachers have participated in professional development related to preparing students to succeed in mastery of algebra at 8th grade.
  • Our latest grant is a $8 million MSP grant from NSF - EngrTEAMS: Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis, Measurement, and Science in a Team-based Targeted Mathematics-Science Partnership ( The EngrTEAMS project aims to increase grade 4-8 student learning of science concepts, as well as the mathematics concepts related to data analysis and measurement, by using an engineering design-based approach to curricular development and teacher professional development. The partnership involves the University of Minnesota's STEM Education Center and the NSF-funded Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, Saint Paul Public Schools, North Saint Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, and South Washington County Schools. Together, these partners will explore the overarching research question: What are the effects of engineering design pedagogies and curricula combined with a coaching model on student learning in science, data analysis, measurement, and critical thinking? This summer we provided three-weeks of professional development for our first cohort of 50 teachers.

Successes and Impacts

Our biggest success is our ability to bring in external grant funding to support the research associates and graduate students within the STEM Education Center. Over $30 million of external funding and $500,000 of business sponsorship has already been secured. This funding impacts STEM teaching and learning from pre-school through undergraduate levels both in Minnesota and nationally.

A more recent success is the development of an external advisory board designed to help the STEM Education Center achieve its mission and vision by providing necessary guidance and assistance. In fulfilling this role, the objects of the advisory board include but are not limited to the following:

Community Builder- the board will help the STEM Education Center to build successful partnerships and support for collaborations with a variety of constituencies, including legislators, school districts, potential donors, the business community, community organizations and the media.

Resource- the board will provide expert advice and consultation, idea generation, financial support and other investments in support of the STEM Education Center's mission

Center of Influence- the board will serve as an active advocate, with both internal and external constituent groups, in assisting the STEM Education Center in achieving strategic priorities and promoting its local and national prominence.

Elements Contributing to Success

  • The College of Education and Human Development provides funding for a full-time administrative assistant and four undergraduate work study students. They also provided initial funding for our research associates to give us time to secure external funding for these critical staff members.
  • Our faculty have strong partnerships with K-12 schools which facilitate research in classroom settings and facilitate a direct impact on STEM teaching and learning in our partner schools.
  • Campus culture values interdisciplinary work and we have strong partnerships with faculty in science and engineering.
  • A strong presence in the local community that has lead to long lasting partnerships with external organizations and individuals.