What is the PictureSTEM Project?

The PictureSTEM Project includes instructional units for K-2 classrooms that use an engineering challenge and picture books as supports for learning science, mathematics, engineering, computational thinking, and reading. These transformative new models for STEM provide students with authentic, contextual activities that engage learners in specific content while integrating across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Currently, there are limited curricula that address this need for integration. The goal of PictureSTEM is getting these high-quality, research-based materials into practice in a form that fits with teachers’ current implementation structures. Therefore, the units are modular with the ability for teachers to implement different lessons during different parts of their school day. Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Computational Thinking (STEM+C) with reading provides children opportunities to see the connections between the subjects we see in school and also see how these content areas are used together to solve problems for people.

The PictureSTEM Units:

Kindergarten: Designing Paper Baskets

Overview: Max and Lola are going to display their rock collection at a local nature center. They want to give people who visit their display a basket to help them collect their own rocks; however, they will not be able to make enough for everyone. In this unit, students explore patterns and investigate the strength of paper before designing a paper basket plan to be given to Max and Lola’s visitors.


First Grade: Designing Hamster Habitats

Overview: Perri’s Pet Palace wants to offer its customers an enlarged hamster habitat that meets all of the basic needs of a hamster. In this unit, students learn about animal’s basic needs and how a habitat provides for these needs. Students also learn spatial reasoning through exploration of 2D and 3D shapes (tangrams and solids) before applying them to design a prototype of a hamster habitat cage and exercise trail.


Second Grade: Designing Toy Box Organizers

Overview: Talia’s Toy Box Company has received complaints from parents about how messy toy boxes can get and how hard it is for their children to find their toys without dumping out all of the toys. In this unit, students investigate standard units of measure and sort objects according to their physical properties before applying them to design a toy box organizer.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1055382 through the Early Faculty Career program from the EEC division, through Grant No. 1519387 through the I-Corps for Learning program, and through Grant No. 1543175 through the STEM + Computing (STEM+C) program from the DRL division. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

6 thoughts on “PictureSTEM Project

  • July 6, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    This is excellent! I have always used literacy to teach science and math, but its link to STEM and the Engineering Design Process is awesome. You did a very good job and the links you provide are very good. Any chance you have done work like this for middle grades?


    • August 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Hi Darlyne-
      We are working on a middle school project as well. It is called EngrTEAMS. You can find it at EngrTEAMS.org. However, it does not integrate literacy.
      🙂 Tamara

  • June 8, 2016 at 12:42 am

    This made by day, I am a STEM community manager from California. We were planning to convert all our campaigns for Encouraging STEM Education to visual treat strategy. This would include infographics, gifs, interactive posters and puzzles ..etc. I reached picture stem during my research and it was totally inspiring and encouraging. Thanks and wishing you every best 🙂

    • June 10, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Wonderful! We are updating the units this summer (latest versions posted 06/10/16). Let us know if you have any questions. We have added computational thinking to the units.

  • March 11, 2017 at 7:46 am

    This sounds like a great program. You may want to Check out Future City; a middle school program and national competition established by the National Society of Engineers that combines literacy with engineering design. There are 40 regions nationally and one is in Indiana (see http://www.etcs.ipfw.edu) the contest has been very successfully incorporated into school curriculum by some schools to achieve a blend of literacy and engineering. There is also a strong STEAM component.

    • June 10, 2017 at 10:56 am

      Thank you, Carol. We will check it out.


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