Building a Successful University: School Partnership for STEAM Education: Lessons from the Trenches

Bhaskar Upadhyay, John Alberts, Kara Coffino, and Andrew Rummel

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Austin Public Schools, Austin, Minnesota, U.S.
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.
Corresponding author: 


In this paper, we report on a successful U.S. university–school partnership to prepare science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) teachers and build STEAM leadership capacity based on the qualitative and quantitative data collected over two years. Our framework for a STEAM-integrated school and teachers was based on integrated learning theory supported by socio-constructivist, inquiry learning and context-based pedagogy. The university–school partnership for STEAM education supports the idea that the partnership to prepare STEAM teachers and school leaders should incorporate the issues and views of the stakeholders with a continuous feedback loop for better and effective professional development (PD). The university-school partnership for STEAM school teachers and leaders showed that despite initial challenges, success is achievable if the partnership is built of equal opportunities to learn and guide the outcomes. Our data analysis produced four key lessons of a successful partnership for an effective and sustainable STEAM teacher PD program.

Keywords: university-school partnership, STEAM education, STEAM teacher development, leadership, noncognitive skills

          We argue that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines provide significant and growing opportunities for students in building 21st century skills (Bryan et al., 2015). Furthermore, STEM education, if done well, builds critical pedagogical skills and practices in students. We assert that critical thinking, combined with critical pedagogy, would add value to STEM education because critical pedagogy would enhance students’ ability to reflect and evaluate social and cultural issues supported by STEM knowledge. Students need to be well developed and educated in effectively and efficiently managing tasks that require complexity in thinking, ability to work in linguistically and culturally diverse communities, problem-solving, and systems thinking approaches (National Research Council, 2011). We also contend that STEM education means integrating curricular approaches through inter-and transdisciplinary interactions and grand challenges such as energy, environment, health, and food security. For our students to become well-rounded citizens of the globe, they also need to understand the values of language and arts within STEM education. Therefore, in this paper, we focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education. The addition of the arts disciplines allows for students to understand that art, which brings social, cultural, and political issues during STEM engagement, is an integral part of doing and engaging in STEM disciplines. In our conceptualization of STEAM, we firmly believe that the STEM disciplines are influenced by the social, cultural, and linguistic values and beliefs of a community and nation. Thus, STEAM presents greater possibilities for students and teachers to integrate grand challenges in the school curriculum and find connections between the STEM disciplines and the arts, which include language, social studies, and performing and other arts. Furthermore, if the goal of STEM education is to celebrate diversity of ideas and cultures, inclusion and equity are central parts of any university-school partnership that prepares teachers for teaching in a STEAM school (Eisenhart et al., 2015; Means et al., 2016).

          Our goal in this paper is to report (a) the lessons learned in a university-school partnership and (b) the nature of university-school collaboration during the STEAM teacher PD program. We present our findings from a two-year teacher and leadership development partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Austin (Minnesota) Public Schools. The goal was to help prepare teachers for a fifth- and sixth-grade STEAM school (188 students) that the school district was preparing to open. Since conceptualization of STEM has been both varied and contested, we first present a brief review of current STEM conceptualization, followed by a university-school partnership for STEM/STEAM schools. Second, we present our model of the partnership for a STEAM school. Third, we present the methods of data collection and analysis. Fourth, we present four lessons of this partnership, and finally we discuss what this means to other university-school partnerships for STEM/STEAM.

Conceptualizing STEM/STEAM for Partnership

          We have conceptualized STEM/STEAM through three lenses. The first is from the learning theory of integration (Frick, 2018; Martín-Páez et al., 2018; Pearson, 2017). Integrating multiple disciplines for better and more complete learning is rooted in the belief that everyday problems need knowledge and ideas from varied fields (Satchwell & Loepp, 2002; Thibaut et al., 2018). Therefore, our solutions are codependent on varied disciplinary and experiential knowledge (Upadhyay et al., 2017). Many supporters of integrated learning assert that student learning is better and more meaningful when students find varied disciplinary ideas and practices helpful in solving complex social challenges (Frick, 2018; Huber & Hutchings, 2004).

          The second reason for integrated STEAM education relies on the value of inquiry learning. Inquiry learning supports students in developing both the kinds of questions they want to explore and how they want to explore them (National Research Council, 2000). Inquiry learning is best accomplished when students can integrate different disciplines and their sociocultural experiences, which allows students to make better sense of content as well as its connections to their sociocultural and local issues (Satchwell & Loepp, 2002). Therefore, integrated STEAM has potential to improve learning as well as engagement in STEM disciplines. The third argument for integrated STEM education is that learning takes place in a collaborative social and cultural environment, thus the sociocultural theory of learning, specifically social constructivism, asserts that learning is a collaborative, social process where ideas and discourses from different spaces and disciplines allow learners to generate new meanings or knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978). In this regard, STEAM disciplines provide remarkably conducive learning environments where students can draw from different disciplines and
sociocultural experiences to engage in learning and doing STEAM activities (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). We specifically argue that without deeply rooted commitment in the sociocultural nature of learning, integrated STEAM education would not support student learning where local contexts and issues are essential. Therefore, place-based STEAM teaching and learning allows for culturally relevant learning among diverse students. Place-based STEAM teaching also provides better opportunities to engage in learning through local social, cultural, and socioscientific issues (Zeidler et al., 2013). Local social and cultural issues tend to tie to the STEM fields intricately, such as pollution (e.g., from coal-fired power plants), food-processing factories, urban infrastructures, health care, water management, flood management, and many others. Therefore, the third part of our conceptualization of STEM was based on how to bring these fields in direct contact with sociocultural, economic, health, and other socially important issues and make STEM more relevant to students and their communities. The social and personal nature of learning in a context provided us a compelling rationale to think about STEAM education rather than STEM education for our teachers and students.

          Yet, studies in integrating different disciplines, specifically the efforts to integrate mathematics and science in the 1990s, showed mixed results (Czerniak et al., 1999). Some studies showed better learning (Beane, 1996; Berlin, 1994; Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents, 1989; McComas & Wang, 2010; Stevenson & Carr, 1993), and others showed challenges where integration was more forced and perfunctory rather than seamless and deep (Berlin & White, 1992; George, 1996; Lederman & Niess, 1997; Lehman, 1994). In the context of STEM/STEAM integration, until now, the results have been mixed as well (Eisenhart et al., 2015; Means et al., 2016). However, in our professional development (PD) of STEAM teachers, we focused on integrating different content areas more deliberately. So, in our PD we focused on integration from a socio-constructivist learning perspective, because it allowed us to incorporate STEM fields with English language arts areas more organically. We also recognized the value of socio-constructivist learning environments for support for inquiry-oriented, engaged, hands-on, and minds-on STEM/STEAM learning.

STEM/STEAM University-School Partnership

          University–school partnerships are complex and challenging hybrid spaces (Zeichner, 2010). Many partnerships start with a considerable gap between the partners based on their goals and aspirations and expertise, knowledge, reach, and funding capabilities. Yet, we envisioned a partnership where we had possibilities to come together and marry our diverse thinking, ideas, resources, and experiences through collaborative negotiations and open dialogues (Darling-Hammond, 2006; Davies et al., 2007). We strongly believed in a university-school partnership that drew on trust, mutually agreed-upon goals (collaboration), and
reciprocity (contribution of all) as three critical aspects of any successful and transformative partnership (Kruger et al., 2009). The partnership’s eventual goal is to provide learning opportunities to all stakeholders, strengthen professional relationships, and help remove rigid boundaries for more mutually supportive structural spaces (e.g., Herbert et al., 2018). Partnership benefits need to expand beyond teachers, students, and schools. When the broader community is engaged, students and the community see broader connections between school learning and their community. STEAM education’s central underlying premise is to make
student learning more authentic to their environment. A successful university-school partnership requires a collaborative and mutually beneficial space where ideas and actions get challenged for better outcomes (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012).

          In our partnership, community leaders, parents, and experts were essential components because they brought complex local problems (Price & Vali, 2005) as entry points to engage students in STEAM thinking and learning and what they wanted to see in the STEAM school envisioned for their children. Similarly, our university–school partnership had open spaces for teachers to bring their voices from science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, computer technology, music, and sports. We also provided lunchtimes for community members to share their thoughts for their children and also for the STEM partnership. Research
clearly has shown university–school partnerships thrive and have more buy-in in the potential change when teacher and community voices are heard and incorporated in the PD design and implementation (Berger & Johnston, 2015; Price & Vali, 2005). Additionally, we envisioned a collaborative partnership based on the outcomes on the meaning of STEAM teaching and learning, student improvement through STEAM integration, improvement in teaching practices and pedagogies, and STEAM teacher leadership. We further framed these outcomes around the school and student needs for a robust and sustainable STEAM school (Schulz & Hall, 2004; Sirotnik & Goodlad, 1988). Therefore, our partnership for STEAM teacher development was based on synergistic and equitable work that led to better decision-making, was meaningful and sustainable for the partnership duration, and eventually created a positive effect on learning (Essex, 2001).

Key Framework for a STEAM Partnership

          As stated earlier, the major philosophical framework was based on the principles of improvement science (Berwick, 2008) and a short-cycle feedback loop (Park et al., 2014). Improvement science allowed us to focus on what works for addressing a particular problem (building STEAM teacher capacity and leadership), for whom, and in which contexts (Berwick, 2008; Bryk et al., 2010). Therefore, this framework allowed us to support and work with school teachers and leaders to locate challenges and provide context-specific local solutions in the existing structures, curriculum, and pedagogy (Bryk, 2009).

          The short-cycle feedback process was essential to allow both sides to modify, adjust, and address concerns and change the direction of PD in a timely and ongoing fashion. Furthermore, the short-cycle feedback loop supported the workshop’s design process and the adjustments in phases. Continuous feedback allowed us to be more open about STEAM teachers’ needs and the early mitigation of potential problems when the STEAM teacher leaders had to lead their peers in new STEAM teaching and learning contexts. In this partnership, our feedback loop consisted of input from participants (mostly from teachers, principals, and the district coordinator and at times from the community), redesign of workshops by university experts, and feedback from the participants in the workshop, which guided us for the next workshop. See Appendix A for the design of PD and the feedback table.

Methods and Data Collection

          The data in this paper come from a two-year university-school partnership. We employed a mixed-methods design (Creswell & Creswell, 2017) to document and understand lessons learned and the challenges of the partnership. We collected data through surveys, observations, field notes, interviews, and post-workshop reflection among the partners. The data collection was informed by our notion that voices from different stakeholders had to be valued and incorporated for a better and more open partnership that benefited everyone.

          We analyzed data both qualitatively and quantitatively to help us learn the lessons of the STEAM partnership. Qualitative analysis was done holistically by looking for common themes in several types of data that we collected (Miles et al., 2014). We utilized quantitative data analysis to better explain qualitative themes to provide more robust evidence on the lessons that were learned. We generated four themes and called them “lessons learned.”

Lessons Learned: University–School STEAM Partnership

          In this paper, we present four lessons learned through a two-year PD partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Austin Independent School District in southern Minnesota. The four lessons are: (a) attending to the noncognitive features of STEM education, (b) letting teachers experience what the students experience in the classroom, (c) inquiry as access point for disciplinary teachers into the engineering process, and (d) building STEAM teacher leadership capacity. Before going into the details of the four lessons, we provide a short context of the partnership and the PD program.

University-School District Partnership

          The goal of the partnership was to build human capacity of the STEAM teachers at a fifth- and sixth-grade school. The PD program over the two years focused on all STEAM disciplines as well as how transdisciplinary teaching and learning (Evans, 2015) could take place in the classrooms. The participants included the school principal, the STEAM school leadership team comprised of 12 teachers representing each of the disciplines at the school (science, mathematics, language, music, technology, and social studies), and 36 other teachers who would be teaching at the fifth- and sixth-grade STEAM school. The university team provided monthly PD for the leadership team with consultation and feedback after each of PD meeting. The leadership team had eight PD meetings with the university team. The leadership team members facilitated PD for the 36 teachers who would be working in the STEAM school. During all teacher PD days, the members of the leadership team acted as facilitators in small-group settings for discussions and activities, while the university team led the overall PD program. This set-up provided means and opportunities for the school leaders and the leadership team to build their leadership capacities as well as own the learning at all teacher PD days.

          We had set up the PD where the focus was a theoretical background supported by hands-on exploratory interactions with colleagues, the university experts, and the school leader. We also drew various activities from an existing engineering curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (EiE) developed by the Boston Museum of Science. Since many teachers expressed fear and lack of knowledge about engineering and engineering practices, in consultation with the leadership team, we used modified activities from the engineering resource book to give teachers a firsthand experience of doing engineering activities with complete design cycles. This
helped settle the nerves of many teachers by the third PD meeting. We believed that small-step changes would provide lasting and manageable bigger transformation in teachers’ thinking about engineering and engineering practices. The teachers were more comfortable engaging with other parts of the STEAM disciplines. From our data based on the PD times and conversations with the participants during and after the PD, we found four important lessons that stakeholders at any STEAM school need to consider for a successful STEAM initiative and STEAM teaching and learning.

Lesson 1: Attending to the Noncognitive Features of STEAM Education

          One of the big challenges in STEAM teaching and learning is the many variations and similarities between the nature of interactions, skills, ways of thinking, and nature of practices inherent in each of the STEAM disciplines. For students to successfully engage in and learn about STEAM fields, they need to understand and practice how to be a scientist, technologist, engineer, artist, writer, and mathematician at the same time and with purpose. The teachers involved in the PD wanted to measure skills and practices that were essential to having STEAM literacy. One of the teachers asked, “I understand that content is important, but how do we build good STEAM practices in our students? How do we make sure that our students do homework and do collaborative work?” We took this question and discussed the value of noncognitive skills in STEAM disciplines. Some teachers suggested grading students for timeliness, completion of assignments, self-responsibility, and personal accountability, the noncognitive skills required to be successful in STEAM fields. The teachers called these “life- skills.” We wanted to get away from anything that could be perceived as punitive or imposing values that did not fit with many students who were from recent immigrant and nonwhite
families. We strongly believed that in the case of the STEAM school, the cultural values and beliefs of many white teachers did not match with the cultural values and beliefs of many students from immigrant and nonwhite families, thus creating an unproductive learning environment for these students (Upadhyay, 2006; Upadhyay & DeFranco, 2008).

          The STEAM teacher leadership team and the university team used the concept of habits-of-mind (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Costa & Kallick, 2009; Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, & National Writing Project, 2011; Hetland et al., 2007; Katehi et al., 2009) borrowed from Costa and Kallick (2009) and the National Research Council’s (2011) report on successful STEM schools ideas as a basis for a new life-skills rubric. The idea of habits-of-mind for the team was based on Costa and Kallick’s notion that people have certain dispositions that they utilize in solving complex local and global problems that may or may not have readily available solutions. For the purposes of our partnership, these skills were (a) systems thinking, (b) creativity, (c) optimism, (d) collaboration, (e) communication, and (f) ethical considerations.

          The PD team from the university and the school leadership team designed a habits-of-mind rubric to assess what noncognitive skills and practices students should learn as they attend the STEAM school. The school developed the habits-of-mind rubric (Appendix B) focused on three important components of STEAM disciplines: collaboration and complex thinking, communication and compassion, and curiosity. The team chose to name this set of habits-of-mind the “3Cs.” The rubric was presented to all of the teachers, and their input became part of the rubric with multiple rounds of revisions. Through our discussions and interactions with the teachers during PD days, we discovered that these three broad habits-of-mind captured all the components of life-skills that the STEAM school teachers felt important. The focus was on the ownership of new ways of engaging with students and building a more inclusive school environment that would prepare students for content mastery as well as noncognitive skills called the habits-of-mind.

          Figure 1 shows habits-of-mind scores in each of the 3Cs areas in various content areas given by fifth- and sixth-grade teachers for two quarters during this partnership. Appendix B shows the scale (1–4) and descriptors. The data show students’ habits-of-mind growth between two quarters of STEAM schooling. The data clearly show students’ habits-of-mind are robust in science and math but much desired in design labs. Thus, STEAM integration did not have the desired results in design labs, which are closely connected to engineering.

Figure 1
Habits-of-Mind Scores for Grades 5 and 6

Lesson 2: Having Teachers Experience What Students Experience in the Classroom

          One of the biggest challenges for the university team was to build teachers’ and school leaders’ capacity as effective STEAM teachers at the new school. The university team also understood that the teachers were most fearful of how to teach engineering content and, as one teacher put it, “how to deal with effective practices of engineering.” For a lasting change, our STEAM PD needed to provide engineering experiences that the teachers could use in their early STEAM classes and be comfortable with thinking about engineering and doing engineering. The school teacher leadership team chose the “Water, Water Everywhere” activity from the EiE curriculum because a river passes through the community and is a focal point of many school and community activities. Furthermore, a local meat-packing plant uses a lot of water from the underground aquifer, and treated waste water from the plant is mixed into the river.

          The teachers were engaged in learning about the engineering design cycle and designing a system that would filter waste or polluted water. This was the first time the teachers experienced the steps of an engineering design cycle, while designing a filter system to remove pollutants from the waste water that could go into the local river. The teachers used soil, pebbles, tea, wheat flour, cornstarch, and food coloring as pollutants to test the filter. One of the most revealing observations was that the teachers became “more comfortable about engineering and how an engineering experience would work for a student.” One teacher added,

“If I had not done this activity with filters, I would have not felt comfortable even talking about engineering. Now STEAM makes sense to me because I can bring economics, social and cultural values, and ordinary everyday practices like washing vegetables in the river in my teaching. I am not a science teacher, but now I can talk about the filter [activity].”

Clearly, the experience made the teacher comfortable at something new and useful.

          Furthermore, our survey of modified stages of concern (Hall, 1977) showed that teachers needed support to feel comfortable to give STEAM-focused instruction and engineering design practices in their teaching. This provided us with what we needed to cover in the PD for the teachers. The teachers were divided into four categories: nonusers (who believed they did not use STEM/STEAM in their teaching), novices (who used occasional STEM/STEAM in their teaching), intermediates (who used STEM/STEAM frequently in their
teaching), and old hands (who had been using some kind of STEM/STEAM often in their teaching). Figure 2 illustrates the levels of concern and the need for more collaborative and directed PD for STEAM teaching and learning.

Figure 2
Self-Reported Levels of Concern

Note: N = 30. Results from the Stages of Concern Questionnaire of teacher concerns regarding expertise in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM).

          In another engineering activity about renewable energy, the teachers wanted to do a modified windmill activity based on an EiE unit. A local windmill farm was community supported and economically advantageous for the local people. For teachers, this activity provided them an avenue to engage in big-idea problems of energy and climate change. These direct personal experiences further increased the teachers’ self-efficacy and confidence in teaching and learning engineering. Even the English language arts teachers seemed to be willing to extend engineering into their lessons.

          In this process, an English teacher suggested to her group during the PD, “We could use Dragonwings [a historical novel by Yep, 2001] to connect windmill design and building with the events that happened in the novel.” These authentic experiences were about change, which “involves learning, and...all change involves coming to understand and to be good at something new” (Fullan & Miles, 1992, p. 749). We observed that the direct experiences with STEAM disciplines and engineering in particular during the PD helped boost teachers’ confidence in teaching STEAM. When the teachers taught both the water filter and the windmill activities in
the regular classroom, they were more confident in engaging students in engineering design cycles as well as broader social, economic, and cultural questions that connected their community with STEAM.

Lesson 3: Inquiry as Access Point for Disciplinary Teachers Into the Engineering Process

          Many of our teachers and leadership members were knowledgeable about inquiry teaching and learning but less comfortable with the engineering design process and methods. Many engineering problems are about finding the most cost-effective and useful solutions to make life better and easier. Our teachers were less certain about design steps and less concerned about problem-solving concepts. However, the university team and the leadership team wanted to tackle engineering processes through inquiry. We wanted the teachers to
understand that the engineering design cycle they encountered in books and resource materials was another version of inquiry.

          Engineering design involves distinct and overlapping steps: a problem or a question to be answered; thinking through potential and plausible solutions with the help from many sources, including home experiences; planning for both the process of finding a solution and a method of accomplishing tasks to solve the problem; building a workable model following the plan; and modifying the workable model or parts of the workable model so it functions better. These steps or ways of thinking are no different from inquiry teaching and learning because inquiry is also about asking scientific questions, researching for possible answers, planning and carrying out an experiment, and asking new questions to answer unanswered or partially
answered questions. These connections helped teachers to make sense of engineering processes.
The university team engaged teachers in thinking about inquiry in social studies, English, music, arts, science, and mathematics. As one of the leadership team members stated, “There were many different ways of enacting inquiry, and design cycle was one of them with some substitutions.” A teacher captured the sentiment of the entire STEAM teacher group when she stated,

“Just like in inquiry, we repeat the engineering design process in a problem-solving context where useful improvements in the designed product are always desired, and we learn new things with new improvements. In inquiry, we keep the process without a real stopping point.”

          Many teachers found doing engineering and engaging themselves and later their students in engineering designs made them feel more comfortable. They now could envision doing engineering as they had been doing inquiry for so many years in their teaching careers. We asked teachers about their feelings about teaching STEAM and about their students. Table 1 shows greater comfort among teachers than what they had perceived in their students in the 1st year of their teaching STEAM.

Table 1
Frequency Responses on Understanding Integration of STEAM* by Teachers and Students
N = 30 (teachers); 188 (students)

           From the beginning, we understood that STEAM teaching and learning was about an integrated curricular approach to teaching STEAM disciplines. We also acknowledged that this was a superior approach to engaging students in 21st century skills and content, but we could not assume that the teachers would easily implement the new approach. For this, we created PD structures that allowed for teachers to learn new practices through hands-on and minds-on experiences, and later they implemented these activities and learning in their own classes. Direct experiences with feedback from the university experts helped teachers to reproduce success in their classrooms.

Lesson 4: Building STEAM Leadership Capacity

          At the onset of our partnership, we understood that to successfully build and run a new STEAM school, the district had to build effective human capacity at both the classroom teacher and principal levels. At the new STEAM school, we conceptualized building leadership capacity in four ways:

  1. Learning and constructing the meaning of STEAM for the school and the students was a collective and collaborative process between teachers, school administrators, and community members.
  2. We generated ideas and solutions through innovative and new ways to improve STEAM learning experiences of students.
  3. We generated shared beliefs and values around STEAM teaching and learning.
  4. All involved continuously worked towards establishing communication for STEAM instructional improvement.

          Through the two-year PD program and the supports provided during the first year of implementation of the STEAM initiative, the school built a very strong leadership framework through collective accountability. The teachers were constantly pushing students to engage in all content areas through unique activities that showed their collective responsibility to provide best learning opportunities to students through STEAM disciplines. For example, in one of the teacher meetings, the English teacher discussed how she “wanted to use various print media advertisements related to beauty products” where student would explore and discuss the merits of the products. To engage students in critical social and cultural issues, the teacher challenged them by asking, “If they were the inventors of the products, what would be their moral obligations in creating and selling the products?” The teacher groups agreed with the idea and brainstormed what products would fit this task in science, mathematics, social studies, arts, and engineering. The teachers had a collective sense of making this new idea work for the group and finding ways to make STEAM a much broader learning experience, not just engineering and science.

          In another instance a music teacher wanted to create a production for the parents based on how air and water produced sounds. The teacher wondered what effects could be brought into this production from the STEM fields and what cultural values and traditions could come from diverse groups of student refugees, Native Americans, Hispanics, and other immigrant groups. Since students in the fifth grade were designing filters and students in the sixth grade were designing windmills, the theme on air and water in a musical production was fitting. The whole school had a week-long talk about how learning from other content areas was integrated into music, and parents were equally impressed by the collective sense of responsibility. The principal stated, “I am just amazed how much my teachers are part of the school and community. I like when someone other than me is taking the leadership initiative all the time.”

          What is important about the ways in which leadership was thought about and practiced in the STEAM school is that the leadership was not a single person’s trait but a sense of collective progress. As everyone at the school was seeking to teach STEAM through an integrated curricular approach, a common goal was collective success. Without a broad sense of leadership, the success of the STEAM school would not have been possible.

Discussions and Implications

          Successful STEAM university–school partnerships influence positive change in pedagogy and content, supporting learning for diverse groups of students (Darling-Hammond & Lieberman, 2012). University–school partnerships become successful when mutually agreed- upon, common goals are built through prolonged relationships (Kruger et al., 2009) and hierarchical barriers between university and school are removed (Zeichner, 2010). Therefore, our approach to a university-school partnership experience showed that building a STEAM school had to come from the local schools, the teachers, and the school administrators. Our finding related to successful partnerships for STEAM education supports similar findings where stakeholders both valued and knew each others’ role and were clear about goals and aspirations (Ure et al., 2009). As our partnership was based on coequal roles, our engagements before, during, and after the PD showed “nonhierarchical interplay” (Zeichner, 2010, p. 89). This allowed us to develop and engage in an integrated curricular approach to STEAM teaching and learning situated in the local school with local input and support systems.

          We also found that for changes to occur in the areas of STEAM teaching and learning, teachers and school stakeholders have to have direct experiences in content and pedagogy so they can implement change effectively in their classrooms. Studies have shown that many elementary school teachers experience impediments in science because of lower depth in content and lack of resources for effective inquiry teaching and learning (Goodrum et al., 2001; Kenny, 2010). Therefore our partnership provided needed opportunities for teachers to learn and become familiar with some activities and content to build confidence in STEAM teaching
and learning. Engineering design and related activities were areas of great concern for the teachers because they did not have a degree in engineering and had not received PD in engineering. The teachers felt anxious about teaching engineering practices and designs in an integrated STEAM environment. Our finding is similar to studies showing similar results where K-12 teachers were least sure about teaching engineering to their students (Haverly, 2018; Trygstad, 2013).

          A major rationale given to policy and curricular initiatives in favor of STEM/STEAM education has been to build a citizenry with critical thinking, communication, curiosity, complex thinking, compassion, and collaboration skills (National Research Council, 2011; National Science Board, 2010). The teacher and school leaders felt that stressing the 3Cs would improve academic success in all content areas and also support students to connect STEAM content beyond school classrooms. Furthermore, the results showed that integrated STEAM education in this school helped develop many dispositions connected to the 3Cs. The STEAM integration helped students develop habits-of-mind more readily and sustainably. Yet, the results showed less growth in the 3Cs in music and arts. It is concerning in that students did not seem to link habits-of-mind skills to non-STEM areas. However, the design labs, being a part of engineering, showed less growth. We think this is because design labs are new to students and they had not encountered it before in their schooling. We anticipate students showing improvements in 3Cs once they get more acquainted with the discipline in the fifth and sixth grades.

          Similarly, as the teachers received direct hands-on and minds-on experiences in STEAM, specifically engineering, they felt more comfortable with STEAM as a cohesive idea. However, we found students may need more time to feel comfortable with the idea of STEAM so need more frequent engagement with this pedagogy. Finally, without building a robust and dedicated team of STEAM teacher leaders, a STEAM education initiative is not likely to succeed (National Research Council, 2011). STEAM teacher leaders can influence both the pedagogy and content of STEAM teaching and learning in the school. For example, the STEAM teacher leaders in this partnership led group interactions during the PD and helped build STEAM goals and school implementation plans. Research continuously has shown that when school leaders (principals) and teacher leaders guide and provide support to peers for change, the success rate of any kind of school change initiative improves (Bryk et al., 2010). Furthermore, in our STEAM university-school partnership, we were deliberate in being inclusive of all the stakeholders and their voices so everyone embraced the change and activities related to that change. Hence the STEAM leadership team we built through the partnership became successful in leading the STEAM school and were willing to adjust based on diverse student and teacher needs.

          This university–school partnership had some challenges in what STEAM education should look like for the community, teachers, and the school district. Many of the challenges were because of the novelty of STEAM education at that time and the shortage of STEAM teacher leaders who would support and navigate this change in everyday classrooms. Furthermore, in an increasingly diverse classroom, the challenges remained as to who should address these challenges and how as integrated STEAM education takes off. A key reason for the success of this university–school partnership was a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and being coequal partners for change that was based on local school contexts and needs.

Bhaskar Upadhyay is an associate professor of STEM education at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Upadhyay’s research focuses on improving STEM teaching, learning, and engagement for students, teachers, and parents from marginalized communities. He teaches courses in STEM teaching methods, research, equity,
diversity, and international education. He is currently leading the design and development of high school citizen science curriculum and an indigenous STEM teacher development program in Nepal. He is the Principal Investigator of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded grant, “Water Values: Advancing Informal STEM
Learning through Native Voices, Planetariums, and Reciprocal Collaboration.” He has been the Program Area Coordinator of STEM Education since 2016 and is currently serving a three-year term as an Executive Board Member of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST) where he also chairs the Indigenous Science Knowledge Research Interest Group (ISK RIG). He is co-editing a book with Dr. Femi S. Otulaja, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and Dr. Pauline Chinn, University of Hawaii at Manoa titled “Stories for sustainable and Resilient communities: STEM education from Indigenous perspectives” to be published by DIO Press.

John Alberts is the Executive Director of Educational Services for Austin Public Schools in Austin, Minnesota. In this role, he is responsible for oversight of teaching and learning, staff development, gifted programs, English learner programs, integration programming, technology services, and federal funds. Additionally, he is
a trained Baldrige evaluator and has served on several evaluation teams through Performance Excellence Network (PEN), and is on the Southeastern Minnesota Board of PEN. He is the co-chair of an annual Gifted and Talented Education Symposium that brings in speakers and attendees from around the world to Austin
each summer. He was named the Austin Education Association Teacher of The Year in 2005. He was named to the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) 23, representing 23 rising alumni. He received the Karl Shurson Quality Award by PEN in 2018 for his work in the Gifted and Talented areas.

Kara Coffino serves in a dual role at Colorado State University as Co-Director of the Center for Educator Preparation and assistant professor in the School of Education. Dr. Coffino’s leadership and scholarship focus on creating pathways to teaching and diversifying the teaching force.

Andrew Rummel is a Digital Learning Coordinator for the Bloomington Public Schools. His work explores technology integration, teacher professional development, digital literacies, and online teaching and learning. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at the University of Minnesota. His dissertation focuses on disciplinary and digital literacies.


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