STEM Teaching Tools

The STEM Teaching Tools site has tools that can help you teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We are currently focused on supporting the teaching of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Each tool is focused on a specific issue and leverages the best knowledge from research and practice. Under the News section, you can learn a bit more about how you might use them. This article provides background on this effort. Review more resources in our Tools area and also check out the online “short courses”.


STEM Teaching Tools Website

The Solution

Idaho has a problem. We aren’t providing enough education and training to produce a STEM-ready workforce to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow in Idaho and it affects everyone. We have a solution and you can be part of it.

In July 2015, the legislature created the Idaho STEM Action Center (AC) to meet this need. Using the legislatively provided $2,000,000 and in-kind donations and a small amount of donations,  204,000 Idaho students and 4,800 educators participated last year in a STEM AC provided or supported program. That divides out to only $9.57 per person. Do that math. That’s incredible.

But what if we could reach more educators, students and communities? In order to plus up efforts, the STEM AC wants to add individuals and industry supporters and partners. On September 18, 2017, the Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation was created to raise awareness and funding of STEM AC efforts. This public charity is securing 501(c)(3) status.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was instrumental to the creating of the STEM AC and sees the Foundation as “critical to gaining community and industry buy-in for more comprehensively building STEM into our K-through-Career Education system.” Maureen O’Toole, the Foundation’s founder, agrees, “The Foundation will multiply the STEM AC’s ability to provide innovative, life-shaping education by including the financial support of individuals and organizations.”

You + Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation = Solution

It all adds up. The Foundation wants you in the equation.

To learn more, contact Maureen O’Toole at, (208) 332-1723

Boise’s first Picademy Training

In July of 2017, the Idaho STEM Action Center partnered with the  Raspberry Pi Foundation to host the first Picadmey training in Boise, Idaho. This training was one of only four Picademy trainings across North America this year. Other 2017 training sites were in Providence, Rhode Island, Irvine, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This training is geared towards providing educators with knowledge of digital making and the confidence to creatively compute with tools like the Raspberry Pi computer. Raspberry Pi minicomputers are the size of a credit card and plug directly into your monitor. These are an affordable way to allow people of all ages to engage in and get excited about computing and coding with languages such as Python and Scratch.

Two cohorts of forty educators from across the nation were chosen from a competitive pool to attend this highly sought-after professional development experience. 36 Idaho educators were among the 80 educators to receive training in Boise.

All educators who completed the training received official Raspberry Pi certification, recognizing their mastery of the skills they need to teach computer science and coding in their learning environments. As a part of this program, they also join global community of certified educators to exchange ideas and best practices.

The Idaho STEM Action Center is committed to Idaho’s computer science initiative. We are proud to have worked with global leaders like the Raspberry Pi Foundation to help increase statewide computer science awareness and access. Through sustained partnerships with global leaders in the field, the STEM Action Center will continue to provide high-quality professional development opportunities, grants, camps, competitions, scholarships and much more.

Check out Boise's Picademy Training:


Help Idaho Define “STEM School”

House Bill 70, which is intended to honor and award STEM schools, passed both the House and Senate during the 2017 session with significant bipartisan support. This bill will allow schools to apply for a STEM School Designation that would be awarded by the State Board of Education in conjunction with the Governor’s Idaho STEM Action Center. The goal of this designation is to publicly recognize schools that offer a high quality, integrated STEM education that can serve to highlight best practices in STEM throughout Idaho. The established criteria will also serve as a guide for the creation of new STEM schools. The Idaho designation is voluntary and may come with a monetary incentive for successful applicants.

You can help Idaho determine the parameters that will be used to award the STEM School Designation. In its June bulletin, the State Board of Education will request that interested participants sign up to be part of the negotiated rule-making process. The committee will meet from July – September 2017. The final recommendations will go before the State Board of Education during the October meeting. If passed, these will move to the 2018 legislative session for final approval. This would mean that during the 2018 – 2019 school year, STEM schools could apply to the STEM Action Center for the designation.

Please click here to review the May Bulletin, page 50 to register for the negotiated rule making. Please contact Tracie Bent as soon as possible if you are interested in participating as the deadline has been extended to mid-June.

Legislators Pass Computer Science Standards

We have exciting news for Idaho’s Computer Science community! Idaho legislators unanimously passed Idaho Content Standards in Computer Science (IDAPA during the 2017 session. The development committee for the Idaho Computer Science Standards was comprised of State Department of Education staff, Career-Technical-Education staff, STEM AC staff, K-12 educators and administrators, higher education, and industry experts invested in creating guidelines and a roadmap for K-12 CS education offerings and ensuring a common tool that could be used across the state.


Computer Science is a rapidly growing field and according to the Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho has 1,300 unfilled computer science-related job openings. Therefore, the intent of the CS standards is to help clarify student learning outcomes and to provide guidance to districts and educators that choose to implement CS for their students.

The STEM Action Center recognizes that CS might be unfamiliar for some educators, so we have teamed up with several organizations to provide high-quality statewide CS professional development workshops. K-12 educators are encouraged to apply for a variety of opportunities that will teach innovative ways to incorporate CS into classroom instruction and provide the ongoing support they need to be successful.

Here are a few grants currently open that are aligned with the new Idaho CS Standards:

  • C-STEM Center Professional Development
  •’s Professional Learning Program
  • University of Idaho’s Dual Credit Training
  • Picademy USA PD Training
  • iSTEM Summer Institute

K-12 educator interested in getting ready to implement the recently adopted Idaho Computer Science Standards check out CS-specific professional development opportunities at

The role of out-of-school time in preparing a STEM Ready America

21st century skills like critical thinking and perseverance are in high demand in today’s workforce—but industry leaders report a significant gap between the skills they need and the skills workers have. New findings from the Afterschool & STEM System Building Evaluation 2016, previewed March 1st at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., demonstrate that afterschool programs play a vital role in closing the gap by helping students develop the skills to succeed in school, work, and life.

Supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and STEM Next, the study surfaced several key findings that illustrate the potential for afterschool to prepare students for future success:

  • 72 percent of students reported an increase in their perseverance and critical thinking skills
  • 73 percent reported an increase in their personal belief that they can succeed at science
  • 78 percent reported a positive change in their interest in science
  • 80 percent reported a positive gain in their science career knowledge
  • Check out findings from the study in the new “STEM Ready America” compendium, alongside articles from 40 experts and thought leaders in the out-of-school time and STEM learning spaces—and stay tuned for the release of the full study later this month.

    What Makes A Great Science Teacher?

    **Written by Jason George | Featured in November-December 2016 issue of Education Matters

    • Jason George is a teacher at Vision Charter School in Caldwell, Idaho. He has been recognized as one of Idaho’s top secondary science educators.

    After recently winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, I was asked what makes a great science teacher. Wow, what a question! Not sure I can sum it all up in one article because there is so much that goes into being a great teacher.

    First and foremost, I should start by saying that great science teachers are keenly aware that they don’t know everything, and research on teaching and learning is constantly yielding vast amounts of data that should cause us to reflect daily upon our teaching practices.

    Great science teachers—and all great teachers for that matter—are willing to grow as professionals and try new things. Parents, administrators, and education stakeholders shouldn’t worry too much about the teacher who makes a mistake because they are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and push their students. In fact, this should be encouraged!

    We should, however, worry about the teacher who claims to have it all figured out and is unwilling to change their teaching pedagogy regardless of what the research says about the way students learn. These teachers don’t want to rock the boat, are satisfied with the status quo, and go about their business as usual.

    We are dealing with a generation of students who are facing this rapidly changing world and that change dictates that we remain flexible and open to new and even uncomfortable ideas. Great science teachers understand this and that is why they are beginning to focus less on content and instead focus on how to develop critically thinking students who understand the scientific process, which is an invaluable decision-making tool.

    Our students today have to listen to a cascade of voices and opinions via family, friends, and social media. It is wise then for great science educators to teach them how to evaluate these voices and opinions and to help students make claims based on the weight of evidence before arriving at a decision. This is not just a scientific skill; it is a life skill.

    Great teachers want their students to wait to make a claim until they have had a chance to analyze the data and the patterns within that data. Great teachers want their students to understand that there might be multiple ways they can test and solve difficult problems. Great teachers want their students to evaluate the differing perspectives brought forth by a wide variety of stakeholders and make sure that their decisions are based on broad scientific consensus and not public opinion or past cultural norms.

    Here’s what great science teachers are:

    • In order to develop these problem-solving skills, great science teachers are not going to give students problems that have a predetermined pathway and a single answer already in mind.
    • Great science teachers are not going to dismiss creativity and ingenuity in favor of cookie-cutter labs that only measure the student’s ability to follow directions rather than their ability to design unique ways to test problems.
    • Great science teachers are not opposed to progress; they are opposed to blind progress that results from narrow-minded thinking.
    • Great science teachers are not opposed to hands-on learning; they are opposed to activities that are simply fun or entertaining but don’t really result in any sort of conceptual understanding or change.
    • Great science teachers look to identify student misconceptions and help them think about previously held understandings concerning the way the natural world operates.
    • Great science teachers are always conscious of a student’s zone of proximal development and seek to push their students out of their comfort zone so that real learning can take place. We don’t grow unless we are uncomfortable.
    • Great science teachers seek to have their students develop models (no, a model is not something that can be eaten later) to test and understand new phenomenon.
    • Great science teachers ask more questions that lead to more questions and refuse to just give out answers and teacher-centered directions.
    • Great science teachers don’t place a worksheet in front of students and call it “science”.
    • Great science teachers are coaches, facilitators, mentors, and leaders of student-led discussion and student-generated research.
    • Great science teachers ask why and how questions constantly.
    • Great science teachers lead students to develop claims, evidence, and
      reasoning to support their position.
    • Great science teachers invite students to argue with their peers, be critical of information, and don’t shy away from controversial topics for the sake of politics.
    • Great science teachers make real world connections for students, and invite them to pursue careers that will solve the difficult problems we face.
    • Great science teachers encourage their students to fail so that they can eventually come to a solution.

    Great science teachers are many things, but they are definitely not stagnant. I love what I do, I hope that I can continue to pursue the excellence demanded by this profession. I strongly believe that students need great science teachers more than ever.

    We have huge problems when it comes to complex issues such as climate change, global health issues, energy, infrastructure, and cyber security.
    As a society, we need creative students who are willing to move outside the box that might have been constructed for them and pursue solutions that were never even imagined prior to their generation.

    I am proud to inspire these students and I hope that a new generation of STEM teachers will rise up and take the torch so that we can continue to hope for a better future.

    STEM Is A State Of Mind

    Timothy Hunt earned a Ph. D. in English from Northern Illinois University in 1971.  For many years he taught humanities, non-profit management and communication at colleges and universities in Arizona and Idaho.  He is now retired and lives in Hayden with his wife and their three cats.

    I very much liked what Angela Hemingway wrote recently, that the working definition of STEM in Idaho is an integration of two (or more) STEM fields and is broad, encompassing not only the traditional STEM fields, but also health care and social sciences. She hit on a very important point—most productive thinking is done by people who think in interdisciplinary terms.

    About thirty years ago, I met an inventor in Sandpoint named Jim Healy.  He had founded a company called Lead-Lok which I visited.  Their main product was a really neat looking apparatus (a locking lead) that enabled patients to be attached to electrical monitoring machines without the traditional discomfort associated with the removal of the leads.  I remember an EKG when I was seventeen; the worst part was tearing off those leads. Goodness, it hurt. Jim’s invention had clips that could be opened again and removed painlessly.

    He reminded me of Gyro Gearloose, the anthropomorphic chicken and famous inventor who lived in Duckburg, Donald Duck’s home town.  That is, Jim had a rare ability to leave this universe for another presumably parallel one where he could do some uninterrupted thinking and then return with his newly found knowledge.  In the instance I recall, we were standing in his garage looking at some water skis he had invented when it occurred to me that my neighbor back home in Flagstaff had a problem that needed fixing.  He had dropped and broken one of his two garage door openers; back in those days that meant you needed a new motor which was expensive. I asked Jim and he left me briefly for that other universe. Fortunately he returned, and with the answer. The difficulty was simply to ascertain the radio frequency of the opener and the motor.  A tool used in television repair, he told me, could identify frequencies.  Replacement was easy once that information had been obtained.  I returned to Flagstaff with that solution, my neighbor went to a television repair shop, and presto, a new opener was born for no cost whatever since the repairman got a kick out of being asked and rebuilding the old apparatus.  I have often wondered whether or not the television repairman advertised his newly found skill.  Today we have different ways of setting frequencies.  Now Jim Healy had no background in electronics.  His inventions were from an entirely different realm of STEM; but he was willing to think in interdisciplinary terms, at least long enough to solve a problem.

    For many years I taught interdisciplinary studies, the humanities.  I recall that I came to understand Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” only after I came to understand the nature of the medieval cathedral.  I also remember hearing about a linguist who was working on the development of languages in Scandinavian countries.  He met an ichthyologist at a cocktail party and the two began discussing the research problem in linguistics. It happens the fish doc had been working with the migration of herring in the same geographical region and knew that the fish moved in regular patterns. By backing up the movement of the herring through the centuries, the linguist was able to figure out how fishermen moved to follow their prey and after that the language patterns virtually worked themselves out.  Yes, I am a firm believer in interdisciplinary thinking.  I am delighted that Angela has introduced her readers to the notion in STEM fields.


    Defining STEM

    Defining STEM – Critical, But Not As Easy As You Might Think


    This is a guest blog post by Angela Hemingway, Executive Director, Idaho STEM Action Center, that was featured recently by Education Commission of the States –

    As the term STEM has become more widely used, people can recite the words associated with the acronym: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. However, beyond this seemingly simple definition, various stakeholders often have significantly different conceptions of what STEM actually means in application. To some it’s a very single-subject, segregated expression of disciplines, such as chemistry or biology or engineering. Others describe STEM as the integration of two or more disciplines, such as math and engineering. Still others focus on the need for STEM to mirror professional practices, which often include not only integration of two or more of the STEM fields, but also critical thinking and the ability to solve real-world issues.

    However, if one of the goals of STEM education is to prepare young people for careers in STEM occupations, it is absolutely essential that states adopt a definition of STEM on which all stakeholders can agree, and that the definition corresponds with how STEM knowledge and skills are applied in the world of work.

    To ensure consistency throughout the state when discussing STEM, the Idaho STEM Action Center has adopted a broad, integrated definition of STEM that aligns with the definition used by the Idaho Department of Labor. When educators apply this integrated approach in their classroom, students will ultimately benefit by entering the workforce with the frame of mind and skills they need for success.

    Relatively few states, though, have set out to adopt a statewide definition of STEM that is shared by the diverse STEM stakeholders. What led Idaho to embark on this process? Quite simply, after four meetings of the Idaho STEM Action Center Board, it occurred to me that the definitions of “STEM” that our industry and education representatives were using were very different. That is, the education definition was more the “siloed” vision of the STEM disciplines – students study math, or physics, or biology, not necessarily an integration of these subjects. Alternatively, many industries assumed integration of disciplines. In other words, most students taking advanced math in college do not necessarily pursue careers as mathematicians, but as engineers, physicists, etc. who use advanced math to do their jobs. I realized that if our Board’s education and labor representatives were defining “STEM” in different ways, ultimately it would be difficult for us to determine the end goal of our efforts.

    I decided to see what research had been done on defining STEM. I reviewed a variety of sources, from education and economics (i.e., jobs and labor reports), from both academic journals and government reports. I knew that doing so would help ensure the Idaho STEM Action Center defined STEM in a way that was not only true to the needs of labor (an integrated STEM approach), but also would differentiated the Center’s work from that of the Idaho Department of Education, which is very focused on specific subjects.

    Based on this research, the definition of STEM presented to and approved by the Idaho STEM Action Center board is that STEM is “an integration of two (or more) STEM fields” and that the definition is “broad,” encompassing not only the traditional STEM fields, but also health care and social sciences. This integrative and broad definition mirrors the occupations defined as STEM by Idaho Department of Labor and the requests from employers that STEM graduates integrate STEM disciplines in the workplace and possess the soft skills to succeed.

    Having a clear definition of STEM will allow the Center to systematically focus on projects and programs that are truly integrative while also tracking outcomes related to all STEM jobs.