A Novel Approach for Integrating Literacy and STEM


A Novel Approach for Integrating Literacy and STEM

Sarah Valter

NBCT, Mentor Teacher

Sappington Elementary &

Dan Rocchio, Ed.D.

Professor Emeritus

Maryville University


If you’ve checked out ILA’s “What’s Hot in Literacy 2017 Report,” you may have noticed “Disciplinary Literacy” showing up in several key places. With a growing emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) this is not surprising. While teachers have always worked to effectively integrate literacy into content area instruction, an increased emphasis on critical thinking, teamwork, and problem solving is pushing teachers in new directions. One instructional approach that specifically integrates STEM and literacy into the classroom is called Novel Engineering (NE)

As a Mentor Teacher, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the growing impact of NE in the classroom setting this school year. At Sappington Elementary in the Lindbergh School District, our teachers have spent the past several months experimenting with this instructional approach in second, third, and fourth grade classes. After listening to a teacher read aloud a high-quality piece of literature, our students begin the NE process by engaging in a discussion to identify the key problems in the story. Once these specific problems have been pinpointed, children team up in cooperative groups to apply the engineering design process by building a model to solve one particular story problem.  This team of intermediate level teachers specifically emphasizes the “4 Cs of Design Thinking”: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication.

Most recently, I had the privilege of experiencing a fourth-grade NE lesson from the book Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming. In this book, Mr. McGreely’s eager anticipation of a garden full of vegetables is continuously threatened by a group of hungry rabbits. As students teamed up to begin applying the design process in groups of four, both enthusiasm and engagement were high. Students excitedly discussed which problem would be their focus, and how they could begin to design a solution. They thought about perspective as they determined if they would solve Mr. McGreely’s problem by keeping the rabbits out of the garden, or if they would focus on the rabbits’ problem by helping them get in. Solutions were varied and creative. One group developed a bunny trap, complete with an iPhone taped inside so they could use video monitoring to track the garden’s invading rabbits.  Another team designed a wall around the perimeter of the garden that the bunnies would not be able to penetrate. A third group enthusiastically planned how they could set dishes of melatonin around the edges of the garden so the bunnies would fall asleep and no longer eat the vegetables inside. What struck me most as I watched these children work is how the skills they were applying in this setting were preparing them for a future of collaborative work. Natural leaders stepped up in each group. Communication was critical for success. Students had to be strategic in using their resources effectively and accurately, referring back to the story often.  As the teacher facilitated, I watched in wonder as these kids took complete ownership of their learning by applying their own background knowledge, understanding of the story, and creative thinking to help their team design a possible solution.

This NE model holds great promise for helping our team of intermediate teachers plan an efficient way to integrate engineering units into busy teaching schedules. In turn, this integrated literacy and engineering model has the potential to improve engineering thinking, speaking, listening, and the deep reading comprehension skills of our intermediate level students. We have not yet gathered systematic data on this work, but in partnership with Dan Rocchio we have applied for funding that will help us with continued professional development and data collection.

Our work has been informed by the research of Watkins, Spencer, & Hammer (2014) who found that NE can promote the deep reading of fiction and nonfiction, and that teachers play a significant role in coaching students to apply deep reading strategies and high level problem solving strategies.  Lopez-Wilson & Gregory (2015) have provided examples of problems, texts, design challenges, and disciplinary connections to help teachers plan instruction using the NE model.  A cohort of Sappington teachers hopes to continue professional development by attending a summer STEM workshop offered by Maryville University.  This program of STEM certification has been designed by Dr. Steve Coxon of Maryville University and leading STEM educators in the St. Louis area.  See this link for more information. https://www.maryville.edu/ed/stem-education-certificate-program/.

For further information about NE please check out the website developed by Tufts University  https://www.novelengineering.org/.  In addition Tufts University has developed a challenge to teachers and children across the country.  See the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1Ix0Axa-LQ&feature=youtu.be.

We welcome your responses to these ideas on our website: https://www.stlsuburbanreading.org./ Please click on the “continue reading” link and you can respond at this site.


International Literacy Association. (2017). What’s hot in literacy:2017   report. Retrieved from https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default- source/resource-documents/whats-hot-2017-report.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Lopez-Wilson, A. & Gregory, S. ( 2015).  Integrating literacy and engineering Instruction for young learners. The Reading Teacher. 69(1), 25-33.

Watkins, J., Spencer, K., & Hammer, D. (2014). Examining young students’ problem scoping in engineering design. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 4: (1), 42-53.

Literature Cited

Fleming, C. (2002). Muncha!muncha! muncha! New York, New York: Athenium Books for Young Readers.




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