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The STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator

What is the compelling question or challenge?

How do we empower K-12 Educators to develop their own new approaches to teaching and learning in STEM disciplines when such innovation is often risky, expensive, and grows only with long-term support?

What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address?

Constructive STEM professional development is not something to be performed upon teachers regardless who the facilitators are or what mandate or intention they have. Some teachers are able to maximize those opportunities, but they are the exception. Studies show that the majority of teachers benefit from development when the teachers themselves identify the topic, via community models like the Professional Learning Community model (e.g., Hord 2004), and when the development is sustained over time at least through the planning and implementation phases (Guggenheim 2013). Both of these traits are expensive to implement concerning teachers‚ time, equipment acquisition, and implementation support.

Like in the business world, innovation in the education world often has to be supported through pooled space and resources, access to experience and expertise, and a community that encourages risk-taking and accountability. School districts, even regional school districts or intermediate units, often cannot provide these supports inadequate supply. However, the “business incubator” model commonly used by research universities to provide resources and expertise in partnership with local small businesses or entrepreneurs and government agencies, suggests a new path forward to foster the very innovation necessary to develop future generations of scientifically-literate and engineering-savvy citizens. This submission for the 2026 Big Idea Machine proposes to extend the business incubator model toward a STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator to foster innovations in the STEM classroom and in STEM professional development.

In my vision for the STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator model, institutions of higher learning would provide a regional hub for teachers to gain access to pooled space and STEM-related equipment along with skills and content workshops necessary to utilize them. The incubator would also provide teachers with long-duration support for the design, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination for their ideas both across the region and the nation. Participating teachers would gain access to STEM expertise in support of their teaching as well as access to research opportunities for themselves and their students. Most importantly, the incubator can support the formation of a community of practice for STEM educator-scientists, affording them a chance to leverage regional and national partnerships to secure new opportunities for themselves and their students regardless of classroom size, location, or district budgets. When thus empowered, STEM education will thrive as our teachers are given a real chance to innovate in a supportive environment where they can develop and demonstrate new answers to the questions of what works in STEM education.

To test the effectiveness of STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator, we first must investigate the following research questions:

1) How effective is increased access to long-duration K-12 STEM teacher professional development at increasing regional STEM teaching effectiveness across varied educational settings?

2) How adequate is improved access to constant implementation support and pooled STEM research resources at improving student learning of science and engineering practices?

3) What are the benefits to institutions of higher education of implementing a “business incubator” model for regional STEM teacher professional development?

Successful implementation and evaluation of this professional development model have the potential to allow the STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator to become a significant shift in how regional partnerships can grease the skids of innovation among all of our STEM educators regardless of their local district infrastructure.

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