STEM Through Play: Bringing Educators & Researchers Together


As we have seen in previous posts, the partnership between the Mattel Children’s Foundation and the USC Rossier School of Education represents a novel approach to developing quality materials, studying them rigorously and disseminating them at scale. In this final post, we discuss the products that have been created through the partnership to date and identify some expected areas of future work.

The first and most important product we have created is the fourth grade curriculum. This is available to download on the Speedometry website, free of charge. The PDF contains detailed instructions for teachers and supplementary documents needed by educators to bring the units to life in their classrooms. To support teachers in implementing the curriculum, we created professional development videos that help teachers understand the 5E inquiry model used in the units. These videos are also on the website and anyone can watch the videos at any time.

In addition to the main curriculum, we created a supplementary set of materials that parents, guardians or even after-school educators can use to reinforce the activities that are taking place in the classroom. Again, these materials are available to download for free and are accompanied by a video to help adults understand how to use these activities.

Because we know that educational budgets are stretched tight and teachers already spend too much of their own money purchasing supplies for the classroom, we wanted to ensure that teachers could implement Speedometry without having to buy materials. To that end, Mattel has graciously given away thousands of free kits to educators who want to use them to teach Speedometry in their classes. These kits include 40 cars and loops and more than 100 feet of track, and they can be used not just for Speedometry but for all kinds of innovative science and mathematics activities.

The Future of Speedometry and STEM Learning

While we are excited about what we have done, the educators’ responses to the launch of Speedometry tell us that there are more opportunities to bring in high-quality science and math instruction into schools. We see several possible ways we can extend what we’ve accomplished to benefit students and educators.

One extension is to bring the curriculum to places that have not adopted the Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards by demonstrating alignment between Speedometry and state-specific standards. For instance, we have been working with educators in the Austin Independent School District (Texas) to demonstrate the alignment of the curriculum with that state’s standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). In some states, the activities may be more appropriate for different grade levels (not just fourth grade), but we are confident that the lessons can work with most any set of standards that encourage students to actually do science in the classroom.

Another extension is to expand the curriculum to additional grades. For instance, expanding the curriculum to middle school grades would allow students to use more advanced methods of scientific inquiry than fourth graders can apply. Expanding the curriculum to early elementary would allow students to develop foundational skills in observation and data collection. We believe there are promising standards at multiple grade levels in both Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Finally, we are optimistic about the possibility of expanding the out-of-school element of the Speedometry curriculum — perhaps by creating standalone lessons and units for afterschool programs. The greatest effects on student learning, motivation and engagement will likely be seen if the curriculum can be reinforced outside of school for several years to come.

We end this series with the hope that our work can encourage future partnerships that bring educators and researchers together with organizations that want to improve the quality of education for kids. While not without its challenges, our work with the Mattel Children’s Foundation has resulted in a set of high-quality products, the opportunity to conduct rigorous research and plans to expand the work moving forward. We are excited and proud of the work we have done and look forward to more opportunities to improve math and science education in our schools.

Dr. Morgan Polikoff is an Assistant Professor of Education at Rossier. His areas of expertise include K-12 education policy; Common Core standards; assessment policy; alignment among instruction, standards and assessments; and the measurement of classroom instruction.