Building Cohesion Across Representations: A Mechanism for STEM Integration




The mechanisms of integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) remain largely underspecified in the research and policy literatures, despite their purported benefits. Our novel claim is that one key mechanism of STEM integration is producing and maintaining cohesion of central concepts across the range of representations, objects, activities, and social structures in the engineering classroom.


We analyze multiviewpoint videos of multiday classroom activities from Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes in digital electronics in two urban high schools.


To forge cohesion, teachers use coordination of representations, tools, and materials, and they use projection to reference places and events, past and future. Teachers also perform explicit identification to label central invariant relations that are the conceptual focus of their instruction. Teachers typically perform identification, coordination, and projection on the particular STEM representations used in projects in order to improve the cohesion of the conceptual content of a curriculum unit. Teachers can also represent the larger sequence of project activities within the curriculum to construct a cohesive account of how the various activities and representations relate and build upon key ideas.


This paper found that cohesion-producing activities promote student understanding by threading conceptual relations through different mathematical representations, scientific laws, technological objects, engineering designs, learning spaces, and social structures. In these ways, cohesion can promote STEM integration in the engineering classroom.