Best STEM Books for K-12: List Coming Soon from NSTA

blog header reading "Best STEM Books for K-12, Coming November 2016"

Over the last few years, members of the teaching community have asked for a list of books containing the best STEM content for K–12. So we’re thrilled to be working on that now and to be able to invite readers to join us in late November, when we announce the list. Please bookmark this site (Best STEM Books for K–12), and follow NSTA on Twitter or Facebook to see if your favorite books make the list.


When an acronym becomes so common that users forget its origins, it can take on a life of its own. That’s what’s happened to STEM. The integration of mathematics, engineering, technology, and science began as a model (“METS”) in grant funding. From a basket category for college and career, STEM has now become a model for education from early childhood onward.

But the journey from a paradigm to implementation has proved challenging in school settings. In many schools “silos” still exist; Teachers of each discipline form a community of learning and cooperate in their ideas, but often the ways of knowing in each discipline remain.

STEM is more than a concept diagram with connections among four (or more) subject areas. It’s a unique way of knowing and exploring the world. The STEM approach involves the essence of the practices of science and engineering. Tools like mathematics, technology, and communication skills are interwoven in STEM explorations. That seamlessness is what challenges educators around the world.

Nowhere is that more obvious than when teachers look to find literature to integrate into a STEM curriculum. NSTA has worked with the Children’s Book Council for 45 years to identify Outstanding Science Trade Books. Often in their annotations the reviewers have indicated the winners were great for STEM curricula.

But are they really STEM? Experts, including the NSTA Board, were interested in the question. The first draft of a new set of criteria came from J. Carrie Launius at the University of Missouri.  In her research, Launius proposed that redefining the STEM literature genre would not only improve teachers’ understanding of the approach but would raise the level of understanding among students.

To represent the philosophy of STEM, NSTA invited a unique collaboration with three other groups, the American Association of Engineering Educators, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, and the mathematics reps from Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees. Through almost a year of study, the group came up with these criteria for the best STEM literature for young readers:

STEM Superlatives

The best books would invite STEM‐like thinking by

  • Modeling real‐world innovation
  • Embracing real‐world design, invention and innovation
  • Connecting with authentic experiences
  • Showing assimilation of new ideas
  • Illustrating teamwork, diverse skills, creativity, and cooperation
  • Inviting divergent thinking and doing
  • Integrating interdisciplinary and creative approaches
  • Exploring multiple solutions to problems
  • Addressing connections between STEM disciplines
  • Exploring Engineering Habits of Mind
    • Systems thinking
    • Creativity
    • Optimization
    • Collaboration

STEM in Practice

The best STEM books might represent the practices of science and engineering by:

  •  Asking questions, solving problems, designing and redesigning
  •  Integrating STEM disciplines
  •  Showing the progressive changes that characterize invention and/or engineering by
  •  Demonstrating designing or redesigning, improving, building, or repairing a product or idea
  • Showing the process of working through trial and error
  •  Progressively developing better engineering solutions
  •  Analyzing efforts and makes necessary modifications along the way
  •  Illustrates at points, failure might happen and that is acceptable providing reflection and learning occurs.
    •  Communication
    •  Ethical considerations

Challenging criteria, to be sure. What might be most startling is what they don’t include: specific requirements for extensive content in any of the individual subject areas. This was a subject of extensive discussion by the group. In the end, they decided that while a great integrated STEM book might have a lot of content, a book might represent the best STEM attitudes and practices an be just plain “inviting.”

Next, the Children’s Book Council took over, contacting dozens of publishers to let them know the effort was underway. And the results: Astounding! While in most years about 150 books are submitted for Outstanding Science Trade Books, the first solicitation for Best STEM Books drew more than double that many.

But of course, it was a new process and a new vision.  Among the entries were many really great books about science, some new approaches to mathematics and some fascinating engineering stories. But were they STEM? Did they tell? Or invite?

Months of reading and rich discussions ensued. Books were read, rated and re-examined. Judges struggled to separate the content of the books from the ways that creative STEM teachers could use them.

What Will Make the List?

But in the end, the process worked. The collaboration among teachers from different backgrounds proved that STEM works—in all sorts of problem-solving situations.

The result is a list of BEST STEM books that the associations hope will help influence not just publishing but education at all levels. The field is blooming!

So the Associations and their representatives invite you to enjoy the first list of the best STEM literature—coming in November. We can’t wait to share!

2016 Selection Committee

Juliana Texley, NSTA Past President; Carrie Launius, NSTA District XI Director, Retired K-12 Classroom Teacher, St. Louis, MO; Christine Royce, Professor, Department of Teacher Education, Shippensburg University; Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science Education, Director, Integrated STEM Instructional Leadership (PreK-6) Post-Baccalaureate Program, Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences, Towson University, Chair, Pre-College Engineering Education Division, American Society for Engineering Education; Peggy Carlisle, Gifted Education Teacher, Pecan Park Elementary School, Jackson, MS; Sharon Brusic, Professor & Coordinator for Technology & Engineering Education, Dept. of Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Millersville, PA; Suzanne Flynn, Professor, Lesley University/Cambridge College, Fort Myers, FL; Thomas Roberts, VP of Programming for ITEEA Children’s Council, Doctoral Candidate in STEM Education at the University of Kentucky; Kathy Renfrew, Proficiency Based Learning Team, Science Specialist, Agency of Education , Barre, VT; Diana Ibarra, Shuyuan Science and Sustainability Programs Manager, The Independent Schools Foundation Academy, Hong Kong.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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