The Argument-based Strategies for STEM Infused Science Teaching (ASSIST) approach provides a framework for developing engaging science learning environments at all grade levels.  The approach is built on the Science Writing Heuristic (SWH) and combines information from three main research supported areas:  Argument-Based Inquiry (ABI) teaching approaches, Multimodal Communication (MMC), and characteristics of effective STEM learning environments. 

Characteristics of Effective STEM Learning Environments

The momentum associated with STEM education and STEM learning over the past several years has led to emerging ideas about what are the characteristics of effective STEM learning environments.  The approaches and the tools presented in this handbook have been developed with the intent of promoting the following overall characteristics:

  • Focus on cognitively demanding targeted concepts as opposed to focus on retention of specific content facts.
  • Utilization of curriculum that staff members personally develop rather than a curriculum that is imposed or developed elsewhere.
  • Development of inter-disciplinary teams of teachers who work together to develop curriculum and carry out instruction that infuses all STEM areas in learning activity.
  • Interaction with real-world and authentic problems and issues rather than simply learning about isolated scientific facts.
  • Collaboration in ways that involve working with peers in the same physical location as well as with audiences and peers from other schools and other sites.
  • Involving new and emergent technology in instructional activity and all facets of student work.

Implementation of Argument-Based Science Teaching Practices

The most critical factor of the ASSIST approach is the daily, consistent utilization of the aspects of the SWH.  The SWH provides a framework for activity that can be utilized with any content and to support development of conceptual understanding of any targeted concepts.  The SWH has been developed as an approach that when implemented, not only allows students to develop conceptual understanding, but also develop abilities aligned with science practices and an appropriate view of the nature of science.  Ideally, teachers design coordinated classroom activity based on this framework for every unit of study, so that the aspects of the approach become the natural way in which science concepts are engaged with in the classroom.  In essence, this framework becomes how the students “do science”. 

The following categories both describe the coordinated sequence that can be utilized over an extended period to develop conceptual understanding and specific individual types of activity that should be taking place at any given point in an argument-based learning environment.  The goal is not to have all of the following characteristics take place on any given day, but rather have these types of activities flow together throughout an overall unit of study.  Included with each overall category are questions that can frame both the student activity and questions teachers can consider as they develop classroom activity based on this approach:

  • Big Questions: What are our questions?  What can we research? What can we test? What can we develop?
  • Testing & Observations: How should we set up our tests?  How should we collect and record our observations?
  • Claims & Evidence: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our claims based on our evidence?
  • Consultation with Experts:  How do our claims relate to accepted scientific ideas?

In addition to the characteristics above, the goal of working to develop an integrated STEM learning environment necessitates the explicit consideration of the following on a daily basis.  Again, not every characteristics is intended to be integrated every day, but over the course of a unit of study, each should be engaged with at some point:

  • Math Infusion: What is the best mathematical process to use?  Why is a certain mathematical process relevant?
  • Technology Infusion: How can technology help the processes above? What is appropriate technological integration?
  • Engineering Infusion:  How can I apply my understanding to developing a product or a process?

Utilization of Multimodal Communication

Multimodal communication refers to the use of different modes of representation in an integrated fashion to communicate about scientific concepts.  Research exploring utilization of this in science classrooms indicates that the more students are able to integrate text with different modes (charts, tables, diagrams, graphs, equations, etc.) and to utilize strategies such as captions, mode placement, and reference in text to other modes to link text with other modes, the more conceptual understanding students develop.  Multimodal communication also models how scientists communicate and thus, consistent use of this practice will also help students develop a better understanding of how science knowledge is generated.  Ideally, multimodal communication can be utilized as a part of any of the aspects of the SWH approach or as a method for producing an overall reflection at the conclusion of unit activities.