Engineering Your Classroom for Meaningful STEM Learning

Engineering Your Classroom for Meaningful STEM Discovery

Student learning is the expected outcome when you design and deliver a discovery lesson. The days of lecturing to an audience as the means to student-learning have past.  A lesson that requires students to create and construct have shown measured success in meaningful learning for your audience of active thinkers.

Question: Are you most proud of their accomplishments when they memorize a concept or when they design their own solution by combining chunks of information to construct a solution to a problem?

We can use the reverse engineering process to design a lesson for essential learning. The science of reverse engineering begins with the final product; in this case, it is meaningful learning. To learn something means to understand it. The definition of understanding is complex on its own but can be summarized as the ability to make connections and bind together units of knowledge for useful application.

The reverse engineering process works backward to recreate the steps necessary for understanding and learning concepts. The reverse-engineering process analyzes the design of the system and the interrelationships of its segments.

Here are seven reverse-engineering steps to guide your lesson design path and increase meaningful learning.

1. Begin with the End in Mind:

  • Define What Learning Looks Like For This Activity
  • Identify Evidence of Learning: Feedback through dialogue, modeling, observations, performance tasks meet or surpass goals


2. Convert the assessment(s) of learning to a rubric

  • Best practice is to have an established and consistent measure of assessment.
  • This enables students to move into the STEM problem-solving lesson with confidence.


3. Map out a schedule for students that provide time to identify outcomes, produce, explore and reflect on their construction learning experience.

  • How much time is needed to provide student understanding and completion?
  • Scientific Inquiry Steps Include :
    • Statement of the Problem/Question
    •  Research
    •  Hypothesis/Prediction
    • Materials & Procedure of Experiment
    • Data Analysis
    • Conclusion


4. Communicate the Freedom to Discover: Less Scripted Discovery, More Meaningful Learning

  • Using the interrelated STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) sectors
  • Students’ discovery path is built on experience outside the classroom or previous discovery
  • Guide students to record how each STEM sector was used in the task.
  • Expect some students to resist the lack of scripted steps for completion; discovery is an acquired skill. See Step 6: Facilitate problem-solving.


5. Delegate Team to Identify Roles for Completion:

  • Every team member will equally share the roles and responsibilities. No hogs or slugs.
  • Empower team members to equally volunteer to complete segments of the lesson.
  • Guide students to circle all action words (verbs).
  • Team members self-select action task, possibly go around the table to equally take turns, selecting one action task per round to complete lesson.


6. Facilitate problem-solving without giving the answer:

  •  Ask questions that motivate solutions.
  •  Ask questions related to the end result of the problem being solved.
  • Encourage peer “life-line” resources if student needs resources for problem-solving


7. Assess and Celebrate Success:

  • Problem-solve together: Focus on the problem statement and a measured solution.
  • Build Together: Trust your team members enough to ask them for solutions
  • Assess and Celebrate Together: Feedback, Revise, Retry, Achieve.

Learning is a dynamic result of combining chunks of information and using that knowledge to create, describe, model, and connect to other ideas in future lessons. Reverse engineering in the classroom divides the lesson into steps on a path to meaningful learning and understanding for both the teacher and the student. Always begin with the end in mind.

Useful resources you can explore for enriching hands-on problem-based learning include the American Society for Engineering Education’s eGFI publication and  project-based learning ideas at

Kay Borglum is a writer, professional development speaker, Biotechnology and Space Lab Science teacher in a Math, Science, Technology Magnet Public School in Central Florida. Kay earned her Master of Science in Human Factors and Systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. You are invited to explore for more STEM in the classroom ideas. You can network with Kay on

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