“I have always hoped to be an engaging, hands-on, inquiry-based, best-practice science teacher, and I thought I was. But after piloting this unit, I’m really thinking differently about my teaching. The combination of a unit-challenge, three dimensional scientific instruction, truly inquiry lessons in a real-world problem-solving approach to learning has created learning in my students that I have never seen before in all my years of teaching.” - Mi-STAR Teacher

Program Type

Curriculum/Instructional Materials
Teacher Development/Training
Hands on/Project-Based

Target Audience

All Students

Teachers/Educational Leaders




Grades 6 - 8

 Accomplished link

Program Impact

Mi-STAR is motivated by a vision for the future of STEM education in which science is taught and learned as an integrated body of knowledge that can be applied to address relevant real-world problems. 

Mi-STAR was developed to meet the needs of teachers, schools, and districts who are committed to improving students’ learning outcomes in science and engineering.

Through its partnerships and collaborations, Mi-STAR offers a three-year long integrated science curriculum for grades 6-8 designed in full alignment with all of the Next Generation (and Michigan) Science Standards. All units in the curriculum are pilot-tested prior to release and are continually refined based on feedback received from implementing teachers. Mi-STAR teachers are supported by an ongoing professional learning program that includes web-based learning modules, a community helpdesk, and a community forum. A train-the-trainer delivery model for the professional learning program promotes implementation fidelity and development of local professional learning communities. 

The Mi-STAR community includes scientists, engineers, curriculum developers, education researchers, assessment experts, middle-school teachers, school administrators, and others.

Mi-STAR’s materials and programs support three-dimensional learning as envisioned by the National Academies’ Framework for K-12 Science Education.


Program Overview

Mi-STAR is motivated by a vision for the future of STEM education in which science is taught and learned as an integrated body of knowledge that can be applied to address relevant real-world problems.

Mi-STAR Curriculum

Mi-STAR’s curriculum is designed to empower teachers to provide high quality STEM experiences to students. Each unit in the curriculum is built around a problem-based “unit challenge.” Every unit challenge is related to one or more of the 21st-century grand challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering and other professional science/engineering societies (e.g., energy, water, sustainability, health). Each unit challenge is also designed to focus on a question that is relevant to young people and their families.

Because Mi-STAR units focus on developing solutions to real-world problems:

  • Engineering is central to the Mi-STAR curriculum, it is not an add-on or afterthought;
  • The units require students and teachers to integrate content and methods from across the science and engineering disciplines;
  • The curriculum prompts collaboration with local communities and businesses to promote place-based learning and career exploration.

The Mi-STAR Instructional Model supports students’ ongoing mastery of the transferable or ‘employability’ skills that are critical for future success in the workplace, which include the ability to:

  • Work independently and as part of a team;
  • Communicate effectively verbally and in writing;
  • Approach new problems with creative solutions;
  • Think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of possible solutions to problems;
  • Use data and logic to make ethical, socially responsible decisions when faced with choices;
  • Recover from disappointing outcomes and adapt to new situations;
  • Function as a leader or a follower depending on the situation;
  • Work on a problem over an extended period of time.

Each unit in the Mi-STAR middle school curriculum addresses multiple Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) performance expectations (PEs). The lessons within each unit and the units that comprise the curriculum scaffold students’ mastery of all three dimensions of the PEs (that is, the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts).

Every unit in the curriculum includes multiple opportunities for multi-dimensional classroom-based assessment that gauge students’ mastery of each of the three dimensions of the PEs. Multi-dimensional items are also included in pre- and post-assessments for each unit. The items on the pre/post assessments are designed to measure student growth and to provide students with opportunities to practice responding to questions that are similar in content and format to what they will encounter on high-stakes tests.

Mi-STAR Professional Learning

Mi-STAR’s professional learning program is uniquely suited to empowering STEM teachers because it provides scalable opportunities for intensive in-depth learning that is augmented by long-term sustained interaction with Mi-STAR staff, experienced professional learning facilitators, and other teachers who are using Mi-STAR.

Mi-STAR’s professional learning program emphasizes strategies designed to help teachers implement Mi-STAR’s curriculum in an effective, student-centered way. Mi-STAR’s scalable train-the-trainer model for professional learning also provides a framework for teachers to grow as leaders.

The professional learning program begins with an online training that introduces the basics of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including the nature of the performance expectations and their component science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. The concepts of credible evidence of mastery and multidimensional assessment are also addressed. Further, the online program introduces teachers to best-practice pedagogy that supports student-centered, teacher-facilitated learning.

Following the online introduction to NGSS-aligned teaching and learning, teachers engage in face-to-face experiential sessions that give them the opportunity to interact with trained facilitators (the Mi-STAR Professional Learning Facilitators) and their teacher-colleagues as they work through issues related to classroom-based implementation of the curriculum and associated pedagogy. Assessment of student learning is also addressed using samples of Mi-STAR embedded assessments and associated scoring rubrics.

Prior to classroom implementation of any Mi-STAR unit, teachers work their way through an online “Unit Primer.” Unit Primers are available for each of the units and are designed to give teachers a broad overview of each unit’s challenge, storyline, science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. Teachers who wish to gain more experience helping students use the science and engineering practices or crosscutting concepts can implement one or more of the Mi-STAR “off-the-shelf” lessons, which specifically address these topics.

How To Get Involved

Districts, schools, and teachers that want to become a part of the Mi-STAR community should contact us for more information. Mi-STAR also welcomes inquiries from individuals or organizations who are interested in sponsoring teachers, schools, or districts as they become part of the Mi-STAR community.

The first step in joining the Mi-STAR community is for a district or school to identify one or more individuals who will become Mi-STAR Professional Learning Facilitators (PLFs). Mi-STAR staff work with PLFs to prepare them to guide classroom teachers through the process of effectively implementing Mi-STAR’s three-dimensional standards-based curriculum. Once trained, PLFs continue to collaborate with Mi-STAR staff on a regular basis to ensure implementation fidelity and to provide feedback about the curriculum and Professional Learning Program in support of continual improvement of Mi-STAR.

PLFs provide in-district support to Mi-STAR classroom teachers who implement the curriculum. PLFs are assisted in their efforts by web-based training modules prepared by Mi-STAR staff for every unit in the Mi-STAR curriculum. PLFs are expected to meet on a regular basis with the Mi-STAR teachers they serve and to develop local professional learning communities. Mi-STAR PLFs and teachers have access to a community helpdesk and community forum which give them direct access to Mi-STAR staff and the ability to connect and collaborate with other members of the Mi-STAR community.

Intensive summer workshops, open to both teachers and PLFs, augment the professional learning support provided during the academic year. These deep-dive workshops introduce participants to Mi-STAR’s method for developing problem-based integrated science and engineering curriculum. Workshops focus on topics such as unpacking the three dimensions of a set of performance expectations, using the backwards design process, developing a sequence of lessons (storyline) that will result in students’ mastery of all aspects of the performance expectations (that is, the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts), and using student-centered pedagogy. Mi-STAR staff and participating engineers and scientists support the teachers’ work during the workshops and provide pre-hub and post-hub support.

Corporations or other entities that would like to sponsor development of a unit that focuses on a particular topic should contact us for a consultation.

Funders and Partners

Major support for Mi-STAR comes from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, National Science Foundation, MiSTEM Advisory Council Grants through the Michigan Department of Education, and Michigan Technological University. Non-profit organizations including the Michigan Science Teachers Association, Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association, and MiSTEM Network provide guidance and assistance to Mi-STAR.

Individuals from the numerous organizations have been particularly important in developing Mi-STAR. These organizations include Michigan Technological University, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Saginaw Valley State University, Western Michigan University, Adams Township Schools, Bangor Township Schools, Bay City Public Schools, Grosse Pointe Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kent Intermediate School District, Macomb Intermediate School District, Midland Public Schools, Oakland Schools, Rochester Community Schools, Saginaw Intermediate School District, and the American Geosciences Institute (AGI).


Marianne Semones, Program Director

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Design Principles

The programs in this database clear a high bar. STEMworks reviewed each program against the Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

  • Accomplished
  • Developing
  • Undeveloped

Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.