Four Different Types of STEM Schools

It seems like every day a new “STEM school” pops up; which is awesome because we need them. We need a lot of them. But what does “STEM school” mean? What makes one school more STEM than another?

MCESA and Arizona STEM Network created an instrument to help better define what is going on in STEM schools. The instrument is titled the STEM Immersion Guide and can be found online at

What Makes a STEM School a STEM School?

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. These are not new concepts to schools. Engineering courses may be new, at least in most elementary schools, but the others have been around long before STEM. So subject areas alone do not make a school “STEMy.”

The STEM Immersion Guide doesn’t just articulate that the subject areas are present, but how the subjects are applied to learning. Those applications are defined under four STEM school categories:

  • Exploratory
  • Introductory
  • Partial Immersion
  • Full Immersion

The classifications are not intended to imply “better or worse.” They are intended to describe four different, but equally valuable, STEM school experiences. Let’s take a look at what these four categories of schools look like.


Exploratory STEM schools facilitate the exploration of STEM for the students that are interested.

These schools may offer after or before school STEM activities such as a robotics club. They make science fairs a priority. They also offer summer STEM programs for students wishing to participate. STEM is valued at these schools, but is not embedded within the traditional school day.

You can view a video of a description of an Exploratory STEM school here.


STEM schools in the Introductory category are those that introduce STEM to students during the regular school day.

These schools provide STEM projects as an add-on to the regular curriculum. This may take place in the form of integrated STEM units where students are taught to solve authentic, real-world problems. This often happens with the support of a purchased curriculum or a partnership with an industry or nonprofit organization.

You can view a video of a description of an Introductory STEM school here.

Partial Immersion

Partial Immersion schools have transformed the traditional curriculum into a teacher-created integrated curriculum. These schools put STEM as their instructional focus and offer ongoing problem-based investigations. Schools often have school-wide STEM themes that all students participate in at some level. Some schools have created a school-within-a-school where more intensive STEM instruction happens for those students that are interested.

You can view a video of a description of a Partial Immersion STEM school here.

Full Immersion

Very few schools fall into the Full Immersion category. These are non-traditional schools that have been created to offer a different kind of school experience. All instruction is integrated and designed to provide students with an authentic STEM profession readiness experience. Students work alongside STEM professionals, constantly collaborate with peers inside and outside of school, and drive most of the learning through inquiry.

You can view a video of a description of a Full Immersion STEM school here.

What’s Next?

Identifying with one of these types of STEM schools is important as we continue to strive to teach a deeper level of critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Creating these types of STEM schools isn’t easy and doesn’t happen over night. It takes a vision from the leader and support from the school and community.

We encourage school leaders to use the STEM Immersion Guide to identify current practices and set goals with their staff and community. Let the guide help articulate the type of instruction you believe you have the capacity and demand for.