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Future Approaches to Instructional Materials in STEM Education

By Okhee Lee, New York University; Tricia Shelton, NSTA; Scott E. Grapin, University of Miami

Posted on 2023-01-26

Future Approaches to Instructional Materials in STEM Education

To guide classroom instruction and illustrate the vision of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC] 2012) and the NGSS, instructional materials have become a focus of attention in the science education community (Campbell & Lee 2021). In a previous blog post (Shelton & Soriano 2022), we described three categories of NGSS-designed science instructional materials that NSTA is developing to promote teacher professional learning. In a subsequent blog post (Lee et al. 2022), we described future approaches in STEM education centering equity and justice (see the figure below).

Science Instructional Shifts Image

Extending our two previous blogs, in this blog, we describe how science and STEM instructional materials address equity and justice in traditional, contemporary, and proposed future approaches. Conceptions of what counts as science and STEM learning have been evolving. At the same time, approaches to designing instructional materials that reach all students have also been evolving. To illustrate traditional, contemporary, and proposed future approaches, we use our own research programs that promote science and STEM learning with all students, especially English/multilingual learners (Grapin et al. in press).

Traditional Approaches in Science Instructional Materials

Traditional instructional materials in science education focused on canonical knowledge of science disciplines. To provide access to canonical science knowledge for diverse student groups, instructional materials that had been designed for students generally were supplemented with add-on instructional strategies for specific student groups (e.g., English learners, students with disabilities). For example, accommodations for English learners were added in the form of bubbles on the margins of lesson plans or a list of strategies.

Our previous instructional materials, called Promoting Science Among English Language Learners (P-SELL), were based on the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996). These materials focused on promoting all students’ conceptual understanding and science inquiry. Then, the materials offered specific instructional strategies to integrate science and language for English learners in five domains: (a) literacy strategies, (b) language support strategies, (c) discourse strategies, (d) home language support, and (e) home culture connections (Lee & Buxton 2013).

Contemporary Approaches in Science and Engineering Instructional Materials

Contemporary instructional materials in science and engineering education engage all students in making sense of phenomena and designing solutions to problems as scientists and engineers do in their professional work. To promote students’ equitable engagement in science and engineering, design principles for equity are embedded in (or “baked into”) instructional materials. This contrasts with traditional approaches that added strategies to make canonical science knowledge accessible to specific student groups.

Our current instructional materials, called Science And Integrated Language (SAIL), are based on the Framework (NRC 2012) and the NGSS. To engage multilingual learners in NGSS three-dimensional learning (what we call “doing science, using language”), we focus on key design principles (Lee et al. 2019; One design principle involves anchoring our materials in local phenomena. By doing so, our materials cultivate the rich knowledge, experiences, and language that multilingual learners bring to science classrooms. Another design principle involves embedding opportunities for multilingual learners to use a wide range of meaning-making resources, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, as they engage in goal-directed interactions to make sense of phenomena and problems. By doing so, our materials create a fertile context for multilingual learners’ science learning and language learning to develop in tandem.

Proposed Future Approaches to Instructional Materials in STEM Education

Pressing societal challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, have further exposed injustices disproportionately impacting minoritized groups. In future approaches, students explain and design solutions to societal challenges that involve STEM knowledge and practices. Justice is at the center of future STEM instructional materials. Design principles for justice guide instructional materials development toward the goal of promoting informed and responsible citizens who advocate for a more just society. This contrasts with contemporary approaches that tend to address science phenomena and engineering problems separate from their social relevance (what we call “sanitized phenomena and problems”).

Our latest instructional materials, called “Justice-Centered STEM Education,” are grounded in but go beyond the Framework (NRC 2012) and the NGSS. Justice-centered STEM education (a) engages students in pressing societal challenges that disproportionately impact minoritized groups, (b) leverages the convergence of STEM subjects to explain these challenges, and (c) engages students in designing justice-centered solutions (; These design principles, similar to the design principles in contemporary approaches described above, are “baked into” our instructional materials. For example, we empower students to design solutions to pressing societal challenges that center the experiences, knowledge, and voices of their communities (Grapin et al. in press).


As conceptions of what counts as science and STEM learning have been evolving, approaches to developing instructional materials that reach all students have been evolving as well. Over the years, conceptions of science and STEM learning have evolved from seeing students as receivers of canonical science knowledge, to agents of sense-making of phenomena and problems, to advocates for designing solutions to pressing societal challenges. Accordingly, science and STEM instructional materials to address equity and justice have evolved from traditional approaches that offered accommodations through add-on instructional strategies, to contemporary approaches that use “baked in” equity design principles, to proposed future approaches that use justice-centered design principles.


Campbell, D. T., & Lee, O. (2021). Instructional materials designed for A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards: An introduction to the special issue. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 32(7), 727-734.

Grapin, S. E., Dudek, S., & Lee, O. (in press). Justice-centered STEM education with multilingual learners: Computational modeling to explain and design solutions to COVID-19 disparities. Science Scope.

Grapin, S. E., Haas, A., Llosa, L., & Lee, O. (in press). Developing instructional materials for English learners in the content areas: An illustration of traditional and contemporary approaches in science. TESOL Journal.


Lee, O., & Buxton, C. A. (2013). Integrating science and English proficiency for English language learners. Theory Into Practice, 52(1), 36-42.

Lee, O., Llosa, L., Grapin, S. E., Haas, A., & Goggins, M. (2019). Science and language integration with English learners: A conceptual framework guiding instructional materials development. Science Education, 103(2), 317-337.

Lee, O., Shelton, T., & Grapin, S. (2022). Future approaches in STEM education. Arlington, VA: National Science Teaching Association. 


National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

National Research Council. 2012. A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Shelton, T., & Soriano, K. (2022). NSTA science instructional materials. Arlington, VA: National Science Teaching Association.

Instructional Materials NGSS STEM Three-Dimensional Learning

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