Navigating Defined STEM

Defined STEM in the Classroom

In this section of the PD Center you can find information that can help you implement Defined STEM resources including performance tasks, literacy tasks, constructed responses, and career videos in the classroom. Find instructional videos and other materials that will provide explanations, suggestions, and helpful tips for ways to utilize Defined STEM with students in the classroom.

21st Century Skills

Twenty-first century learning and innovation skills fuse the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation) (p21, 2014). As the United States global economy demands creativity and innovation, learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments from those who are not. A teaching and learning focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.

21st Century Skills

Understanding by Design and Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning

Working with performance tasks

Performance Tasks: Introduction

The performance task can serve as an authentic assessment that can be utilized by taking into consideration the many different ways that students learn. Each performance task provides many opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding. Since the "one size fits all" classroom minimizes student success, both the performance task and associated content have been designed to provide opportunities for all learners based upon the teacher's knowledge of his/her students. Supporting the performance task are videos, simulations, and learning connections meant to support mixed ability levels, interests, and foundational knowledge

Performance Tasks: Big Idea/Essential Questions

The performance task is based upon the G.R.A.S.P.S. template utilized as part of the "Understanding by Design" framework. The task can guide instruction and allow the educator to serve as facilitator or the task can serve an activity that allows students to demonstrate understandings through relevant utilization of standards-based content, concepts, and skills. Performance tasks are aligned with Essential Questions and associated Big Ideas that consider student knowledge and understanding.

Performance Tasks: Goal

Each performance task begins with a Goal. The goal provides the student with the outcome of the learning experience and the contextual purpose of the experience and product creation.

Performance Tasks: Role

The Role is meant to provide the student with the position or individual persona that they will become to accomplish the goal of the performance task. The majority of roles found within the tasks provide opportunities for students to complete real-world applications of standards-based content. The role may be for one student or in many instances can serve as a small group experience. Students may work together or assume a part of the role based upongroup dynamics. These roles will require student(s) to develop creative and innovative products demonstrating their understanding of the content through the application of the content and a variety of skills across disciplines.

Performance Tasks: Audience

The performance tasks contain an Audience component. The audience is the individual(s) who are interested in the findings and products that have been created. These people will make a decision based upon the products and presentations created by the individual(s) assuming the role within the task.

Performance Tasks: Situation

The Situation provides the participants with a contextual background for the task. Students will learn about the real-world application for the task. Additionally, this section builds connections with other sections of Defined STEM. This is the place that may invite students to consider various video resources, simulations, language tasks, and associated websites when appropriate. This section of the performance task will help the students connect the authentic experience with content and concepts critical to understanding.

Performance Tasks: Products

The Products within each task are designed using the multiple intelligences. The products provide various opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding. Based upon each individual learner and/or individual class, the educator can make appropriate instructional decisions for product development. These considerations may include:

  • having a student complete all products within a task;
  • having students complete a number of products based upon content application and/or student interest;
  • having a student complete certain products based upon the educator's decision to maximize content, concept, and skill application;
  • having student work as part of a cooperative group to complete a product or the products; and/or
  • having students complete products based upon the strength of their multiple intelligences.

Each task contains between four and six products for development consideration. The products are meant to provide students with experiences aligned with 21st Century Learning and Innovation Skills. Additionally, each task contains at least one product that requires the utilization of a technology-based experience. This provides the student with experiential learning opportunities based upon software and web resources and the application of these tools to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. The products provided within each task are closely aligned with the multiple intelligences and the set of products within the task will help educators meet a number of multiple intelligences.

Performance Tasks: Product Videos

The product videos are 2-3 minute videos provided within every product of a performance task. They are specific to each product within the task and act as a guide for teachers and students working through a product. These product videos reinforce the student role, the goal of the task, and connect these to the concepts and skills that will be utilized to produce the product. The videos help generate ideas for ways students can begin the work of researching, analyzing, and synthesizing information to create a product.

Performance Tasks: Rubrics/Exemplars

Rubrics and Exemplars are present for each of the products within the task. This can help the educator communicate what is to be created and a general sample of the product. All rubrics are designed on a 1-4 scale and exemplars are present at the 3 and 4 level. The rubrics present are product rubrics. Educators can add appropriate traits related to standards-based content. Through the technology within Defined STEM, educators can manipulate each rubric as they desire.

Overview Video: Agronomist

Video Library

The video library contains a collection of Career, Applied Mathematics, and Performance Task Process videos that students may use in conjunction with a Defined STEM task or independently.

Career Videos

The career video tab contains videos which feature professionals in a wide range of careers discussing how they use knowledge and skills from all content areas in their everyday work.

Applied Math Videos

The applied mathematics videos help students understand how they can apply specific math concepts to problems or situations they face in Defined STEM tasks and beyond.

Teaching with Performance Tasks

The performance Task process videos are a series of three videos intended for students and teachers. These videos walk viewers through a suggested process of completing a performance task.

Design Process

Design Process (Grades K - 2)

Design Process

Design Process (Grades 3 - 5)

Design Process

Design Process (Grades 6 - 12)

Understanding The GRASP

Step 1 from Working Through a Performance Task

Developing Your Problem Statement

Step 2 from Working Through a Performance Task

Producing Your Product

Step 3 from Working Through a Performance Task

Literacy Tasks: Overview

The language tasks are designed to allow students to produce narrative writing pieces that are connected with content areas and relevant issues. The tasks provide online informational and argumentative resources for students to review prior to engaging in the writing process. All of the language tasks are designed using a similar template. Two types of language tasks are present. The tasks are either informational or argumentative. Each task contains a scoring guide aligned with the Common Core College and Career Anchor Standards for Reading and Writing.

Literacy Tasks: Task Structure

The language task begins by providing the student with a Background of the topic to be considered. The first paragraph is designed to set the stage with a brief description of the content and the ideas to be brought forth through the learning experience.
The second paragraph contains a number of questions based upon the provided resources. Each question asks the student to consider the information provided within the resources. Students can use these questions and the answers to the questions to help focus their writing. The questions provide the educator with a good measure to determine completion of the assigned reading and knowledge of student comprehension of what was read and the content within the reading.
The third paragraph reiterates the content and topic to be considered. It additionally provides the students with an idea to consider that extends the topic being discussed.

Literacy Tasks: Language Prompt

The Language Prompt contextualizes the writing to be completed. The student is asked to write a technical report (Informational) or a position paper (Argumentative) with the audience that the student is writing for provided.
The informational tasks ask the student to consider the evidence provided within the research and the implications that can be drawn from the findings. The completed product provides the student with deeper knowledge of the content and real world applications for the content and concepts. The teacher can set the parameters for the writing based upon student knowledge, skills, writing ability, and grade level.
The argumentative tasks ask the students to consider a topic and determine their point of view. Most tasks ask the student to support or reject an idea or choose a side to a debate. The students are asked to use the research to support their discussion and point of view. They are also asked to consider the potential implications from their decision. The teacher can set the parameters for the writing based upon student knowledge, skills, writing ability, and grade level.

Literacy Tasks: Resources

Each language task contains a number of Resources that might include newspaper articles, scientific journals, magazine articles, periodicals, text-based web resources, and governmental products. Each task typically has between five and eight different resources. The resources are designed to provide a variety of depth and reading level to meet the needs of most learners. Educators may choose to use all of the resources provided or they can choose a number of resources that best meet the needs of the student. Questions within the background are designed to encourage the student to consider certain points and ideas within each resource.

Literacy Tasks: Tier Three Vocabulary

Following the resources section are Tier Three Vocabulary words. These words are specific to each content area and are words that can be found within the provided resources. These words are best learned when a specific need arises and the provided vocabulary can assist the student with content-based comprehension.

Literacy Tasks: Rubrics

All language tasks are connected to one of two Rubrics that have been developed based upon the Common Core standards for writing. The rubrics are Argumentative or Informational based upon the task being completed. The rubrics may be used as they stand or can be adapted through the technology available with the Defined STEM website. Achievement levels and point totals can be added as needed. The students will become familiar with the rubrics as they complete more tasks. This familiarity should help the students become better writers while focusing on content-based reading and writing that deepens their content understanding.

Literacy Tasks: Constructed Responses

Constructed Responses are non-fiction reading and writing experiences connected to content in all subject areas and geared toward students in grades K-6. Constructed responses can be used to enhance and complement the work students do in a performance task or they can be used as stand-alone activities. Within a constructed response task, students are asked to read a non-fiction stimulus and respond to a prompt using evidence from the reading to support their writing.

In grades K-2, constructed responses can be completed orally as an option for differentiation. For every constructed response task in grades 3-6 there is a 3rd/4th grade readability version and a 5th/6th grade readability version provided. These separate versions allow teachers the flexibility to meet students' needs.

Defined STEM Simulations

The Simulations are designed to provide interactive opportunities for students to apply learning through the manipulation of variables. Each simulation allows the students to manipulate one or more variables to gather data that allows the students to better understand content and concepts.
Each simulation contains an Objective(s) and Big Idea(s) that explains the purpose of the simulation and the various learning objectives that can be met through the experience. Potential Lesson Plans are provided at various grade levels for educators who would like to use the simulation as the focus for the classroom experience.
Performance tasks utilize the simulations to extend learning and provide meaningful use of data collected through the simulation. Some products that are developed within a performance task may require student completion of a simulation. The data then forms the focus for the student product created.

Task Center

Researcher: Sampling - Sample Unit

The Task Center allows you to customize and share performance tasks, literacy tasks, and constructed responses. Educators will have the ability to customize copies of an existing performance task to modify one of the Defined STEM tasks to fit their students' needs. Within the Task Center, you will be able to view any tasks that you have customized or shared/assigned to students. Educators can share tasks they have created with others within their building, district or a global sharing for all Defined STEM users. Task modifications are tracked and educators will be given citational credit when other users copy/edit a task.


  • Teachers should aim to do 1-2 performance tasks a semester.
  • Teachers should use the product videos to introduce and EXCITE students about each product. This can be done as a whole group, done individually, or in pairs at centers.
  • Teachers can assign or differentiate with any combination or all of the products based upon content or learning levels.
  • Teachers should begin each task with an illustration to tap into the students' prior knowledge about the content matter.
  • Teachers should culminate each task with a journal prompt which can serve as an assessment piece for the teacher as well as a literacy component for the task.


Students can complete products independently or products can be done orally with a group or with the teacher. Products can be done in centers, as a whole class, or with a small group or team. Products can also be completed as homework. The links to performance tasks can be shared with parents electronically or print-outs can be sent home for students and families. Performance tasks have 1-2 constructed responses that align with the task. These constructed responses not only organically integrate reading and writing standards, but also define concepts and provide content support. Performance tasks are designed so they can be woven into existing curriculum. For example, if a teacher were teaching a unit on Weather, they may choose to integrate the Weather Reporter performance task into that unit. Another strategy is to designate a certain time each week to working on performance tasks. For example, a teacher may implement "STEM Fridays" where students devote Friday afternoons to exploring and experiencing performance tasks.

K-2 Implementation Strategies Video

Strategies for implementation of Defined STEM in K-2 classrooms.

Culminating Unit Activity

The performance task presents a problem that is tied to a primary academic standard. The task connects with numerous other academic standards as well. The task contains a number of products that require the student to demonstrate understandings of the academic standard(s). Additionally, through the task the students are answering one or more essential questions that address a big idea. Rubrics are contained within the task to help the educator assess student understanding. The task can serve as the primary or supplementary assessment for student knowledge and skill development.

Interdisciplinary Unit/Cross-Curricular Teaching

The performance task and associated content provide opportunities for students to build their knowledge and skills and understand how the academic areas connect. The tasks provide great opportunities for team teaching and/or culminating activities that can be shared across subjects. Through product creation, students will be required to utilize technology, the arts, and language arts to complete a majority of the tasks with STEM as the central content. Through the application of 21st century learning and skills, students are engaging in a holistic learning experience designed to help them succeed beyond school.

Independent Learning

The performance task and associated products can be utilized based upon student learning level. The videos and learning connections can provide opportunities for students to link their learning with real-life applications and potential careers. The products within the tasks can be adapted based upon the multiple intelligences or the needs of the individual student. The tasks are strongly aligned with 21st century content and skill development and require the use of technology as part of the product development process. Tasks can help provide motivation for student learning as well as help students understand why they need to learn certain content and skills. The inclusion of simulations can help the student understand concepts in an independent environment. Educators may facilitate the learning experience, serve as a guide to student learning, or allow the students to work and complete the task independently.


Defined STEM and the associated learning resources can be utilized to extend learning for student enrichment by addressing content area learning while also providing the ability for student autonomy. The videos and learning connections provide background information to help the student gain a foundational understanding of specific skills, content, and applications that are to be addressed. The product development process aligns with numerous multiple intelligences and has the student working to demonstrate understanding. Additionally, many of the products created will require the utilization of technology and are closely aligned with 21st century content and skill development. The experiences can be created through classroom learning centers, through differentiated product and process strategies, and by extending the classroom walls.

Summative Assessment

The performance task and connected content may serve as a summative assessment to monitor student understanding. The task would be best utilized as a culminating activity as part of a larger assessment process that includes formative assessment and more traditional summative assessments. As traditional testing methods measure content and concept knowledge, the performance task requires students to demonstrate understanding of content and concept relevance as part of a holistic learning application.

Inverted Classroom

As opposed to using the traditional strategy of using classroom time to provide lecture and foundational content experience followed by drill and practice as homework, students watch lectures at home through technological tools as well as gain foundational knowledge through textbook and associated resources. Class time is then utilized to work on projects, problems, and products through individualized and group work. This allows students to use class time actively and utilize the educator as a critical facilitator guiding learning and the application of new knowledge and skills.

Understanding By Design

Understanding by Design® (UbD™)

UbD offers a planning framework to guide curriculum, assessment and instruction with a focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer. Defined STEM provides sets of performance tasks, literacy tasks and constructed responses in which students engage in "real world" applications of key concepts and skills. In Jay McTighe's whitepaper, he describes the complementary connections between Understanding by Design and Defined STEM.

Key Ideas
The two key ideas of Understanding by Design are contained in its title: 1) focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer, and 2) design curriculum "backward" from those ends.

UbD is based on seven key tenets:

  1. UbD is a way of thinking purposefully about curricular planning, not a rigid program or prescriptive recipe.
  2. A primary goal of UbD is developing and deepening student understanding: the ability to make meaning of learning via "big ideas" and transfer learning.
  3. Understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and transfer their learning through authentic performance. Six facets of understanding the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self assess -serve as indicators of understanding.
  4. Effective curriculum is planned "backward" from long-term desired results though a three-stage design process (Desired Results, Evidence, Learning Plan). This process helps to avoid the twin problems of "textbook coverage" and "activity-oriented" teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
  5. Teachers are coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or activity. They focus on ensuring learning, not just teaching (and assuming that what was taught was learned); they always aim - and check - for successful meaning making and transfer by the learner.
  6. Regular reviews of units and curriculum against design standards enhance curricular quality and effectiveness.
  7. UbD reflects a continuous improvement approach to achievement. The results of our designs - student performance - inform needed adjustments in curriculum as well as instruction.

Defined STEM Reinforcement

Defined STEM reinforces these tenets and supports the Understanding by Design framework for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Through the utilization of performance tasks and related resources, Defined STEM reflects the educational strategies of STEM education and project-based learning. Real-world videos set the stage for each learning experience by showing the practical application of educational concepts within an industry and/or organizational context. Performance tasks built around the demands of specific careers/industries ask the students to apply knowledge and skills in authentic situations. Literacy tasks encourage students to read, synthesize and write informative and/or position papers around the real-world issues. Tasks set in an international context give learners opportunities to explore challenges and opportunities with global implications.