The image shows students building a robot. The text reads "Using rubrics for assessment in STEM."

Using rubrics for assessment in STEM education

What does success in STEM look like?

Assessment in STEM education was one of my biggest challenges when I switched from teaching middle school science to STEM. At its core, STEM class is about teaching students to solve problems. The specific topics and projects can vary widely. However, whether students are learning about civil engineering, 3D printing, or app creation, they should leave STEM classes as better problem solvers. 

I knew all this going into my first STEM class, but I also had no idea how to quantitatively measure my students’ problem-solving skills… And I quickly discovered that my students believed if their solution to a STEM challenge was successful, they would earn an “A.” If their idea failed, well, they would also fail. I knew this was not the way, and I had to fix it.

Assessment in STEM education should be about the process

After some reflection and research, I decided the best course of action would be to revamp my STEM challenges and ensure that students were focusing on the problem-solving process over the product. With this goal in mind, I created a rubric that breaks down each step of the engineering design process and outlines the actions students should engage in during each step. I made sure my rubric was general enough that it could be used with any STEM project. This allows me to accurately measure my students’ ability to problem solve and track their growth over time.

This image shows a pencil and Engineering Design Process rubric on a wooden background.

Changing student mindsets

Next, to ensure my new assessment strategy was successful, I needed to introduce the rubric to my students and gain their buy-in.  I started by color-coding the rubric and taping it to the students’ desks. I inserted an anchor chart of the rubric in our daily slideshow. Then I rewrote my lesson plans to ensure we were discussing and reflecting on the rubric and the engineering design process at the beginning and end of each class. 

I used this same rubric for every project we completed in STEM class. A copy of the rubric was attached to each new project, and I had my students refer to it frequently with goal setting and self-assessments. I even had them compare the number of points on the rubric related to their prototype versus the number of points on the rubric related to all the other parts of the process.

So what happened?

Using a well-defined rubric for assessment in STEM class was one of the best things I did for my classroom! 

The rubric allowed me to:

  • Quantitatively measure my students’ problem-solving skills
  • Track growth in my students’ problem-solving abilities
  • Give my students specific feedback around problem-solving 
  • Provide a more true measure of student success in STEM

The rubric allowed my students to:

  • Know exactly what was expected of them during each step of the engineering design process
  • Reflect on their own areas of strength and weakness 
  • Set goals around problem-solving
  • Change their mindset around what it means to be successful in STEM

Now it’s your turn!

If you don’t already use a rubric for assessment in STEM, I highly recommend trying it out. It will shape the way you teach, and ensure your students are leaving with the 21st-century skills that will benefit them throughout K-12 education and beyond. Grab a free copy of my engineering design process rubric and revamp assessment in your STEM class today!

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