STEM Lesson Planning

Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven


We will discuss standards only briefly here. We find it useful to spend some time diving deeply into the science standards in your state. This is because unpacking the standards in science is critical to teaching science or integrated STEM in the early and elementary years. In addition, seeing the way in which both the knowledge (what we want students to know) and the practices (what we want students to be able to do) are both integrated into the standards in your state as well as in the national NGSS standards. The crosscutting concepts are also evident in the standards.

When considering the role of standards in science and integrated STEM projects, we have found success in first identifying a focal or anchoring standard and then identifying the one or more supporting standard(s). We have most frequently first identified a science standard, then built projects around those. However, we have also successfully started with math as the focal standard, then asked our pre-service teachers to build a project integrating at least one science standard that way. An example of such a project is in the Math unit.

Lesson Planning

Similar to the standards, we place less emphasis on lesson planning in this text because this tends to be covered in other courses and may vary by department or university, and may even be guided by state testing or university or college accreditation standards. What we do want to discuss in more detail is the critical importance of a few components of lesson planning in science and integrated STEM. These components are as follows:

  1. Take the long view. We must think about linking learning experiences in science over time, and not view a given lesson plan as a stand-alone science experience (e.g., we covered “weather” this year, because we did that one lesson plan on weather that one day in the fall). Rather, science explorations require in-depth exploration over time. This is especially true considering the current thinking in science education as we discussed previously, which demands that students are doing the science themselves, figuring out for themselves what will happen to the toy bear if we put it in the bowl of water and put it in the freezer. Making conclusions and connections, through careful facilitation from a teacher, about the connection between temperature and the movement of molecules (or toy bears!)
  2. Include clear learning objectives. Science teachers have to think about learning objectives in terms of both what we want students to know and what want them to be able to do. This aligns well with the standards. But being clear on this in a particular lesson plan can be tricky.
  3. Find reputable sources. Many practicing teachers report to us that they find activity ideas to do in science or STEM online, especially on websites like Pinterest. This can be a great source of inspiration, but it can also be a problem, if the science is inaccurate, or if the activities do not support the kind of learning that we have discussed so far – one that is inquiry-rich, with opportunities to explore over time, and to engage in the science practices (also supporting a constructivist theory of learning, as noted above). Finding and critically evaluating resources to support science and STEM teaching will continue to be a challenge, so find resources to guide you in this process.


National Association for the Education of Young Children, (2019) To Pin or Not to Pin? Choosing, Using and Sharing High-Quality STEM Resources.

This resource is relevant to K-8 teachers and learners for critically evaluating resources to support science and STEM teaching


Assessment is a critical part of teaching. How will you know if your students learned the content you had hoped they would learn, such as the names of the moon phases? How can we assess skills, which include the science practices, and even habits of mind, like engagement or curiosity? Assessment is important to all of the areas of learning in your classroom (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova, 2015), and science and STEM is no exception.

There are different types of assessment, which you will likely learn more about in other classes. As a quick review, there are formal assessments, like standardized tests, and informal assessments, like anecdotal notes. There are also formative assessments, which are mean to directly inform your teaching practice and may be done before, during, and after teaching. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are meant to measure whether the learning objectives have been met at the end of some time period. For example, during a unit of study focused on the moon, the anchor standard I am going to address is, 1.ESS1.1: “Use observations or models of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.” I ask my 1st grade students to diagram one of the moon phases in their science journals that we have just talked about. I review these to see if students understand the term and can explain it, and if not, I will revisit the concept on the next day (formative, informal). At the end of the unit, I give my students a fill in the blank test that I created (summative, informal) to assess whether my students all now name the phases of the moon accurately (measuring content knowledge). I also ask them to do a short presentation in pairs to explain how the phases of the moon are created, using a model they have made (measuring practices like communicating thinking, creating and using a model, and demonstrates conceptual understanding).

We can also think of assessments in terms of the methods of assessment. We might use multiple choice or fill in the blank questions when we are asking students to do simple tasks, like recall. On the other hand, we might use more complex assessment methods such as performance assessments, when we are asking students to show that they understand and can complete more complex tasks (Arter, 1999). For the 3-dimensional science teaching approach we have discussed here, performance assessments are very often appropriate. This is because we want students not only to recall facts, but also to find out about scientific phenomena, or facts, for themselves by engaging in the science practices that scientists use, such as creating models. Below are some examples of performance assessments that you might use to assess your students’ learning in science or integrated STEM.

For the standard K.LS1.2: Recognize differences between living and nonliving organisms and sort them into groups by observable physical characteristics, a kindergarten teacher asks each student to sort a set of pictures into living and nonliving things and explain how they did it. (see example rubric below)

A 1st grade teachers asks students to select the best tools to use when observing objects in the sky. ( 1.ESS1.2)

A 2nd grade teacher asks students to create a list of observations and wonderings while viewing eagles on a webcam. (2.LS1.1)

 A 3rd grade teacher asks students design an experiment to test the strength of different magnets. (3.PS2.2)

A 4th grade teacher asks her students to graph the results of an experiment on speed and energy and write a Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning response. (4.PS3.1)

A 5th grade teacher asks students to work in pairs to build, test, and improve a simple catapult. ( 5.ETS1.1)

Rubric life science kindergarten

Reflection Question

Choose one of the other example assessment items noted above in this chapter and create a rubric that might be used to assess performance.


Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Elementary Science Methods Copyright © 2023 by Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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