CEP 817:Problem of Practice Final Report

My problem of practice was created with the lens of a former middle school science teacher that moved to a middle school literacy position during the fall of 2014. As a literacy teacher, my block consisted of one hundred and twenty minutes to engage in components of balanced literacy, which includes: shared, guided, and independent reading and writing daily. Fast forward two years, my scheduled changed from teaching one hundred and twenty minute blocks to teaching three sixty minute blocks of literacy, one literacy intervention period, and one section of seventh grade science.

Through informal observations, student to teacher discourse, and student to student discourse, it was apparent students in the seventh-grade science course lacked scientific thinking. Through coursework in CEP 817, I chose to explore how I could create a STEM infused middle school literacy classroom to develop scientific thinking and literacy using Design Thinking Model from the Stanford Design School.


The empathize mode of design thinking requires the designer to understand the user that they are designing for. As part of this mode, I observed, engaged, and tried to deeply understand my students’ perceptions of science to thoughtfully integrate STEM into my literacy block. The method of empathy research that was used to collect data include: What? How? Why?, composite character profiles, and an empathy map. After analyzing the results of the empathy research pictured in Appendix A-C, it was apparent that my students needed opportunities to play, collaborate, create, share, and redesign.

When working with the Makey Makey, students viewed the instructional task as non-academic and required them to create meaning through tinkering. Comments like, “This is fun!” and the huge smiles indicate that students would benefit from opportunities to create meaning of content through tinkering. Some students found tinkering to be engaging and exciting, whereas others found it to be extremely challenging. Collaboration and creation are two other ideas that my students needed to problem solve and to create authentic products to showcase their learning. Students providing peer coaching can help others to reflect, redesign, and approach problems with diverse strategies.





During the define mode of design thinking, I created a point of view or problem statement reflective of what my students’ needs were in relation to STEM engagement and instruction in a literacy classroom. The design techniques used to define my problem of practice included: 5 Whys?, How-Why Laddering, and Point of View Madlibs. See Appendix D-F. Based on the data collected from the above activities, my problem of practice was to determine how to get middle school students engaged in interdisciplinary STEM learning in a literacy classroom to develop problem solving, scientific literacy, and real world application of STEM skills and strategies. Factors that inspired the problem of practice include a school wide emphasis on math and literacy instruction due to low attainment scores on district standardized assessments, limited STEM inquiry experiences prior to coming to middle school, and lack of teacher confidence in the STEM fields. Creating an interdisciplinary STEM learning experience will help provide students with opportunities to develop scientific thinking simultaneously as they are developing literacy skills. Also, interdisciplinary STEM learning experiences can be used as a professional learning opportunity to build STEM capacity school wide.


The ideation mode of design thinking consists of brainstorming and incubation in small groups of students, colleagues, and independent reflection. In the first part of incubation, I surveyed colleagues in fifteen minute sessions around the following questions:

  • How can I teach the growth mindset to develop perseverance?
  • How can I infuse science into the literacy block?
  • How can I ensure administrative support?

Students were interviewed about the following questions:

  • What makes science fun?
  • How do you solve problems?
  • What is your favorite part of the reading block?
  • How do you learn best?
  • How could we infuse science into our reading class?

Following the discussion with students and peers, I generated ideas about how to integrate STEM into the literacy block in an authentic way. Appendix F includes notes in relation to integrating NGSS skills and standards via literacy centers such as a maker center, genius hour, or independent reading. The most feasible of the three included integrating STEM texts during independent reading. Our classroom already includes a STEM library with hundreds of books related to ecology, earth science, and physical science as well as a subscription to Scholastic’s Science World Magazine. Creating a literacy based makerspace seemed like a greater challenge, however it would infuse science and engineering practices in way that would promote collaborative problem solving, encourage a productive struggle, and apply STEM practices in a more authentic way. These ideas were touched on during data collection during empathize and define modes.


The prototype phase of design thinking requires the designer to make their ideas concrete by creating something users could interact with. Before creating a prototype, I wondered: How can I integrate STEM in an authentic way? How can I put students in the driver’s seat to promote student engagement? How can I implement components of balanced literacy and STEM in a 60 minute literacy period?

Utilizing learning centers seemed like the most feasible option to ensure all the components of balanced literacy were still being implemented. The prototype learning center seen in Appendix H consists of four task cards for a creation center. The creation center task cards were created using the NGSS crosscutting skills and science/engineering practices to explore literacy concepts such as story elements, character analysis, and writing original stories. Students were tasked with building a scene of a story in the form of a diorama, design and constructing a mask of a character, creating stop motion videos retelling stories, and a five-minute building challenge with a written or video reflection. These tasks were created to give students choice, provide opportunities to engage with literacy with hands on activities. The activities require students to problem solve using science and engineering practices such as developing and using models, obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information, and engaging in argument with evidence.


The last mode of design thinking is the design mode which consists of putting ideas out there to test the prototype, obtain feedback, and refine solutions. This process allowed me to identify my prototype’s strengths and areas of improvement. Students were observed completing the task cards after being introduced to the learning center and the parameters which included:

  1. Select any task card of your choice.
  2. Complete the assigned task in 20 minutes or less.
  3. Use only the materials that were provided in the supply basket.
  4. Monitor time to ensure completion.

It was apparent that students struggled with the freedom to create. Many students tinkered without a plan which led to frustration from starting ideas, then revising, starting over, and even completely quitting. Other students thought the tasks were note feasible in the time allotted. Frontloading steps of the engineering design process would have been beneficial as well as providing planning scaffolds such as a brainstorming graphic organizer to ensure all students were successful. See Appendix I for photos of student products.


            Engaging in design thinking to tackle my problem of practice illustrates the importance of knowing your user and in this case, knowing your students. Prototyping and testing is a never-ending process and constantly requires redefinition to meet the needs of the diverse learners we encounter every day. Each phase challenged me to look a little deeper at how I could provide students with opportunities to collaborate, wonder, discover, and experience learning in a way that would not only engage, but also create opportunities to spark new learning. It’s clear I have more questions, have ideas spinning for how to improve my current prototype, how to integrate alternatives ways to integrate STEM in my literacy classroom.


School at Standford. (2010). Bootcamp bootleg. Retrieved from https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/the-bootcamp-bootleg

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