The Impact of Inclusive STEM Education


The Impact of Inclusive STEM Education

from Minecraft Education

By Lisa Milenkovic     May 15, 2024

The Impact of Inclusive STEM Education

STEM identity can last a lifetime and help students thrive in school, future careers and life. Inclusive STEM programs widen job opportunities for the growing technology sector, support students in building digital literacy skills and empower young people to become creators — not just consumers — of technology.

Educators face the challenge of engaging students in STEM amidst limited resources. As the demand for digital skills grows, schools must develop inclusive programs to engage diverse learners. STEM education is not just about science and math; it develops skills such as creativity, communication, empathy and critical thinking that complement technologies like generative AI and coding. However, many educators have difficulty finding effective ways to integrate STEM across the curriculum, attract diverse learners and connect with real-world challenges.

Building STEM Literacy at a Large Florida School District

Broward County Public Schools is the sixth-largest school district in the United States, serving over 250,000 students across 326 schools and education centers in the Fort Lauderdale area. The district serves a diverse student body, and as educators at Broward, we place tremendous value on meeting the needs of all our students — especially in creating equitable opportunities for skill-building and STEM.

In 2013, the STEM and Computer Science (STEM+CS) team was created to implement an interdisciplinary grades K-12 STEM program outside the grade-level core disciplines of ELA, math, science and social studies, and separate from the standard Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to reach all students. The program has since grown to reach hundreds of thousands of students over the past ten-plus years, improving district-wide opportunities and outcomes.

The following design elements drive success with STEM programming:

  • Everyone needs to have foundational STEM literacy. The STEM+CS team develops every opportunity from a lens of inclusion and accessibility for all. Equity of opportunity accessibility is first and foremost in every initiative within STEM+CS.
  • Preparing future global innovators takes a district-wide team of facilitators, classroom teachers and school administrators. The BrowardSTEM team leads and supports with experience, expertise and agility in core content standards, STEM implementation, instructional technology and interdisciplinary applied problem-based learning.
  • Partner with exemplary resources and organizations to provide the tools of engagement that meet all students where they are with easy entry points, broad accessibility, scalability and growth potential. For example, we used Minecraft in one classroom long before Minecraft Education. We learned through the typical problems of bringing new technology into education, such as the need to bring the IT team and school administration in before attempting implementation! This initial pilot program provided the foundation of district readiness to scale quickly as the interest and need for professional learning grew with the ease of accessibility of Minecraft Education through Microsoft.
  • Research is foundational to sustaining and expanding access to all students. STEM+CS instruction will always be bringing new technology into the K12 classroom. There is limited prior knowledge or best practices for including these new tools in instruction, especially with the challenges of limited classroom time, teacher expertise, and meeting the needs of all learners. We engage in several research-practice partnerships to learn what works and how to overcome barriers to spread and scale techniques and innovate when needed. Research formality ranges from classroom-based informal needs assessment and feedback regarding professional learning to high-level National Science Foundation-funded studies.
  • Iterate on what works and learn from what doesn’t. Minecraft Education had a large group of early adopters — teachers waiting for an easy way to bring games-based learning into the classroom with a tool their students already loved. The initial training and implementation focused on these teachers providing feedback on tool integration. They continue to serve as the go-to teachers as Minecraft Education expands to include the tools and resources for content instruction in areas such as computer science with coding, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

The Broward Schools STEM+CS building in Minecraft

STEM Solves Local and Global Problems

Learning connects past experiences to new situations, forming a knowledge web that grows stronger through real-world problems and diverse content.

The STEM education program at Broward County Public Schools focuses on STEM literacy, which includes technological literacy, environmental literacy and STEMpathy, which refers to the use of STEM and computer science for social good. The program aims to provide students with diverse opportunities and pathways to become future-ready graduates. This includes developing environmental awareness through connections to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, critical thinking skills through coding and robotics, problem-based learning with a focus on authentic citizen science, career skills through application to students' current interests, such as eSports and sustainability, empathy and SEL through design thinking, and perseverance and problem-solving skills in preparation for the technological future.

Every student must have the tools, voice and choice to express and own their learning. Minecraft Education was a critical tool for achieving our goals of building essential skills and integrating STEM across all disciplines at Broward Schools. The platform helps us reach all students with STEM+CS by embedding the principles of Universal Design for Learning. It gives students a familiar environment within which they can create, code and collaborate, all while learning through standards-aligned lessons.

We employed the computer science progression offered by Minecraft Education, a CSTA-aligned curriculum that helps educators ramp up their teaching of CS to elementary, middle or high schoolers. The program also includes citizen/participatory science and service learning, environmental stewardship and applications across all disciplines, as well as STEM quarterly challenges tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, computer science, and applications, such as security, robotics and games.

Build Contextual Understanding: Integrate STEM With Computer Science Across Disciplines

The implementation of Broward County Public Schools' STEM+CS programs began with professional development aimed at equipping educators with the necessary tools and strategies. These programs include computer science courses, computational thinking integration, code/CS clubs, app challenges, spatial computing, environmental stewardship, robotics, esports, Minecraft Education, SECME/engineering, maker spaces and a PBL portal. These programs provide students with a wide range of opportunities to explore their interests and develop STEM and computer science skills.

Schools offer Computer Science 1 and 2 at the elementary level with the goal of integrating computer science into core content using tools like Scratch, and Minecraft. There are multiple entry points at the middle and high school levels depending on the student's prior computer science experiences. Students can navigate diverse pathways based on their interests, with guidance provided to schools and parents to support students through rigorous programs. Many industry certification opportunities are tied to the courses.

Through this program, Broward County Public Schools is preparing its students to become future-ready graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the technological future.

The research-practice partnership work in Broward Schools is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers #1542842, #2031425 and #2219351. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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