A Unique Rotation Model that Engages Students in STEM

Four Teachers from four different classrooms at Huntington Middle School (PA) used their individual strengths in a rotational, project-based model to teach middle-school students how to apply STEM to real-world situations.

The team included technology teacher Matt Rakar, library media specialist Sally Steward, math teacher Ben Young, and science teacher Samantha DeMatteo who split the students into four classes and rotated them every three days. Over time, students used knowledge from all four teachers to finish multifaceted, cross-curricular projects that took approximately nine weeks to complete.

The teachers had the students conduct four large-scale performance tasks from Defined STEM during the school year.  Defined STEM’s standards-aligned, career-focused project-based lessons were the foundation of the STEM course.

Engaging Students in Real-World Hands-On Projects 

One project they conducted, “Artificial Island Real Estate Agent”, asked the students to create their own artificial island using STEM and ELA skills.

  1. As an introduction to the unit, they watched a video on the Palm Islands in Dubai to build their engagement and interest.  “I can’t tell you how many students asked if the islands were real,” said DeMatteo. “It got them excited to know there are people right now working on a project similar to theirs, and someday this could be their job”.
  2. Next, students created a 3D model of their island along with a comprehensive, calculated plan. Teachers pushed students to think critically and use cross-curricular knowledge to make choices including the volume of material needed to make an island, marketing and advertising strategies for selling properties on the island, and the environmental impact of putting an artificial island in the middle of the ocean
  3. Rather than taking a test, students created models, brochures, drawings, and videos to guide a group presentation that they gave to an audience of 100 students.

“Students have to be great researchers to be great problem-solvers,” said Steward, the STEM library media specialist, but they also have to be articulate communicators. “During the artificial island project, students were asked to create an advertisement and marketing plan to sell the homes on their island. We went in-depth on persuasive writing, copyright laws, plagiarism, and how to analyze media when differentiating credible and non-credible sources.”

Although Steward doesn’t teach one of the traditional STEM subjects, the Huntingdon team sees research and writing as a major aspect in problem-solving, thinking critically, and understanding the “big picture” when applying knowledge.

Benefits of the Rotational Model

All four teachers agree that the model is beneficial to them and their students for several reasons:

  • “I like that I am not ‘pretending’ to be the expert on certain topics or spending hours outside of class each week teaching myself about environmental impacts and muscular systems to teach my lessons,” explained math teacher Young. “Having a team of teachers helps fill the gaps where more expertise may be required.
  • They used each other as references and to bounce ideas off of. But even better, the students used them in the same way and could easily see how their disciplines aren’t that different after all.
  • Rakar noted that teaching the same content to four different groups of students every three days is much easier than teaching a new lesson every day. “It’s easier for me to reach the students that are not fond of math for three to five days, rather than each and every day, knowing it is a subject some of them strongly dislike,” explained Young. “Additionally, the students know what math concept they will be studying while they’re with me, and how that applies to the overall project, which keeps the engagement level high.”

Most importantly, the model helped their students to see the “big picture” on how to use cross-curricular knowledge to solve real-world problems, which made the STEM course not only educational but fun.

Learn more about the creation and benefits of the STEM rotational model in this free 60-minute webinar:



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