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Costa, M.C.;  Domingos, A.M.D.;  Teodoro, V.D.;  Vinhas, �.M.R.G. Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/36342 (accessed on 15 June 2024).
Costa MC,  Domingos AMD,  Teodoro VD,  Vinhas �MRG. Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/36342. Accessed June 15, 2024.
Costa, Maria Cristina, António Manuel Dias Domingos, Vítor Duarte Teodoro, Élia Maria Rodrigues Guedes Vinhas. "Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/36342 (accessed June 15, 2024).
Costa, M.C.,  Domingos, A.M.D.,  Teodoro, V.D., & Vinhas, �.M.R.G. (2022, November 24). Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/36342
Costa, Maria Cristina, et al. "Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education." Encyclopedia. Web. 24 November, 2022.
Teacher Professional Development in STEM Education
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The implementation of an integrated approach of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education with real-life scenarios is crucial to motivate students to learn and to better prepare them for real-world problems, which is a big challenge for teachers. By an integrated approach of STEM education in class, it is considered tasks that preferably include content related to all four of the STEM subjects included in the acronym. In addition, at the elementary level (e.g., primary school), it is recommended that tasks are introduced to students guided by the teacher in order to be adequate to their age. In this regard, teachers need to create a guided discovery environment to promote students’ learning in STEM subjects. Therefore, teachers need to participate in effective in-service professional development programmes to gain knowledge and skills to be able to develop this approach.

STEM education professional development COVID-19 pandemic

1. Introduction

The literature refers to the need for implementing an interdisciplinary and student-centered teaching approach to better prepare students for the increasingly demanding challenges of modern societies [1][2]. In this regard, several authors argue that the introduction of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, based on real-life scenarios, motivates students to learn and promotes the development of 21st century skills [3][4][5]. Therefore, it is recommended the implementation of STEM education either at the level of elementary and middle school [3] up to high school [6]. In fact, STEM has been gaining more prominence and currently it is part of the school curriculum in several countries [1][7].
Although there is limited agreement in the international community about what STEM education means and how it should be taught [8][9][10][11], some authors present theoretical frameworks regarding STEM integration [8][12]. By an integrated approach of STEM education in class, in the study, researchers consider tasks that preferably include content related to all four of the STEM subjects included in the acronym [9]. In addition, at the elementary level (e.g., primary school), researchers recommend that tasks are introduced to students guided by the teacher to be adequate to their age. In this regard, teachers need to create a guided discovery environment to promote students’ learning in STEM subjects.
In Portugal, there are increasing calls for innovative approaches, having recently emerged several guidelines, namely on Essential Learning [13] in conjunction with the Profile of Students When Completing Mandatory Schooling [14]. The last document mentions the need for educational systems that contribute for the development of skills that allow students to respond to the complex challenges of the 21st century, taking into account the evolution of knowledge and technology. In this sense, the curriculum must be interpreted and managed by teachers, in order to explore real and different themes, adapting them to the school environment and to students’ needs. Therefore, there are implications for teaching practice and the contents of each area must be addressed and framed in everyday problems of both the students and the socio-cultural environment where they are inserted in [14]. This is a big challenge for teachers, who need professional development to be able to achieve these goals [1][2][15].
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, affected all life in the world and had implications for the educational systems of different countries [16][17][18]. In Portugal, on 16 March 2020, the suspension of face-to-face teaching and learning activities was decreed to face the epidemiological context. Again, in January 2021, another suspension of face-to-face teaching showed that the pandemic was not yet over. This problem happened all over the world, where isolation and other measures were taken in different countries. The suspension of face-to-face teaching brought great challenges to schools, students and their teachers, who had to prepare and lecture classes online using resources that many of them did not know how to use before [19][20][21]. Therefore, the pandemic is a real-world scenario that has invaded our lives, provoking different opinions in the population because not everyone understood the need for extreme measures such as compulsory isolation or vaccination, among others [18].

2. Teachers’ Perceptions about the PDP and STEM tasks implemented in two 6th grade classes in the context of Covid-19 pandemic 

An integrated approach of STEM education based on real-life scenarios was developed in the context of a collaborative Professional Development Programme (PDP), targeted to primary school teachers (6 to 10 years old). Because of Covid-19 pandemic, the PDP was implemented in an exclusively online context through the Zoom platform, from October 2020 to February 2021. By “exclusively online” it is meant without face-to-face meetings.

To guide the study, the following research questions are addressed:

What are teachers’ perceptions about an online STEM hands-on PDP?

What STEM teaching strategies favoured students’ understanding of a real-world problem?

At the last workshop of the PDP, a short and simple questionnaire was applied to teachers using Google Forms with four Likert items with a five-point scale (these items were previously assessed and validated by one of the authors not involved in the construction of the questionnaire). Table 1 shows the relevant questions and Table 2, the results of the answers to the questions (n = 13).

Table 1. Questions of the questionnaire.
  Question Type Main Result
Q1 Is the STEM approach proposed in the PDP more motivating for students’ learning? Likert scale 13 (100%) for ≥ “High”
Q2 Do you think it is important to obtain training in the areas covered in the PDP? Likert scale 13 (100%) for ≥ “High”
Q3 Was attending this PDP useful for your classroom practices? Likert scale 12 (92.3%) for ≥ “High”
Q4 Was the online format, with demonstrative videos and interactive sessions to teach how to use the resources proposed through screen sharing in the Zoom platform, adequate? Likert scale 12 (92.3%) for ≥ “High”
Table 2. Frequency of the answers to the questions with a five-point Likert scale.
  Very Little Little More and Less High Very High
Q1       2 (15.4%) 11 (84.6%)
Q2       1 (7.7%) 12 (92.3%)
Q3     1 (7.7%) 2 (15.4%) 11 (76.9%)
Q4     1 (7.7%) 3 (23.1%) 10 (69.2%)
As can be seen in both tables, all teachers responded positively to all the questions. For example, in Q1, all teachers agree that the approach proposed in the workshops is more motivating for students’ learning. This approach is related to hands-on experiments implemented promoting interdisciplinarity with STEM contents, which is in line with the literature that recommends it (e.g., [22]).
Regarding the importance of obtaining training in this area, all the teachers recognize that it is “High” and “Very High”, with 92.3% for “Very High”. This means that they find this PDP important and that they need to have guidance related to STEM education. Besides recognizing the importance of promoting STEM education, it also means that teachers understand the need to acquire knowledge and skills to implement STEM hands-on practices in class. These results are in line with Margot and Kettler [23] who report that teachers suggest the need for effective professional development that provide them with learning opportunities to increase their knowledge and ability to effectively integrate STEM content.
Question Q3 is related to the usefulness of the PDP in teachers’ practices and question Q4 with the online format. All teachers responded positively to both questions. However, the results are not as enthusiastic as in the previous questions. This may be related to their confidence on knowledge and skills about implementing hands-on practices in class and, regarding question Q4, on the preference for face-to-face workshops.
Based on excerpts from teachers’ final reports, presented in February 2021, researchers highlight the following dimensions: Motivation and expectations, Online format, Workshops and curricula contents, Impact of the PDP in teachers, Innovative practices, Collaborative environment among teachers and educators, and Impact in students.
Besides revealing great expectations, motivation and enthusiasm, the excerpts from teachers also refer to the structure and content addressed in the PDP (e.g., Olinda, Beatriz, Paula), which they consider that corresponded to their interests and improved their professional performance. In addition, Naomi indicates that curricula content was “approached in a clear, objective and attractive way” with “informative and precise materials” and with the support of the educators. Additionally, besides “professional enrichment” as described by teacher Alcina, Beatriz refers to “different ways of approaching certain topics” that she did not “put into practice” before, which means that she did not use this approach before, therefore she had the opportunity to learn and practice. Moreover, she recognizes that this “innovative approach” promotes students’ interest. Indeed, this is related to innovation in the approach of the PDP that promotes innovation in teachers practices and has impact on students. Furthermore, Beatriz highlights the collaborative environment of the workshops and the knowledge it provided to “reach students”. In fact, she refers that she gained knowledge and autonomy to implement an approach more motivating to students. Teacher Mary also refers to new resources and different pedagogies that improved her knowledge and performance. Paula mentions improvements in her knowledge and confidence about STEM contents (“more secure”) and the collaborative work that provided “new ideas, technologies and tools”. In addition, Paula states that she “will continue to implement the knowledge and practices” acquired in training. Based on these perceptions, it is verified that teachers refer that they improved their knowledge, confidence and performance regarding the approach implemented in the PDP, which is crucial for them to develop these practices in class. In fact, as referred by [24], teachers’ beliefs and perceptions will influence their STEM instruction.
Regarding the online context of the workshops, teachers made positive comments such as “it still allowed the exposition of doubts, the participation and interaction in the activities, the deepening of new knowledge and the sharing among the trainees” (Beatriz); “I was always motivated despite not being face-to-face” (Olinda); “was fundamental and added value, for a better understanding of the subjects addressed and their application” (Cristal); “the work of the trainers was exceptional, having put researchers at ease and motivated to the issues in question” (Catherine). Indeed, Beatriz refers to innovation in her practices, namely regarding interdisciplinarity related to STEM education. Cristal highlights the importance of “synchronous sessions” to provide knowledge about STEM subjects and Catherine refers to the “exceptional” work of the educators.
Based on teachers’ testimonies and on the results of the answers to question Q4, it is concluded that, although being online workshops, teachers found the approach of the educators appropriate and that it was a worthwhile PDP. This feedback from teachers is important to conclude that it is important to continue to promote their professional development, even without face-to-face workshops.
Elisa is a Mathematics and Natural Sciences teacher whose case study will be presented in the next subsection. Like the other teachers, she participated in the PDP in the school year 2020/2021 and lectured two 6th grade classes with 26 and 19 students each. Given the COVID-19 pandemic scenario, this was one of the topics addressed on the workshops. For example, how to use mathematics for students to understand various virus transmission scenarios. In her final report, Elisa refers to the importance of promoting an interdisciplinary approach of STEM education and her expectations about the PDP:
The theme is too important to update the trainee’s knowledge as a teacher at the 2nd cycle of elementary education, making this PDP a real training opportunity.
(…) the trainee’s initial expectation was that she would certainly enjoy different and innovative experiences, as is typical of the activities promoted by most higher education institutions.
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
In the above citation, it is possible to understand that Elisa recognizes the importance of the contents approached in the PDP and that she had high expectations about “different and innovative experiences” because the PDP was implemented by a higher education institution. Concerning the online format of the PDP, she refers that:
(…) all contents were fully complied with, the different scheduled workshops were developed in synchronous sessions, via the Zoom platform, and no constraints resulted from this.
There is no question that certain face-to-face experiences would be more fruitful. However, the content approach, in the different sessions, was completely appropriate to the context in which researchers are living.
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
As referred above, although Elisa considers that face-to-face activities are more fruitful, she also considers that the approach used by the educators on the online workshops of the PDP “was completely appropriate” and “no constraints resulted from this”.
Teacher Elisa  wanted the activities to be within the curriculum she was teaching and to have meaning for her students. After several proposals by the educators and discussion, she finally opted for one of the proposals with an interdisciplinary approach in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. One goal was to use mathematics to help interpret and predict the evolution of the pandemic according to various possible contagion scenarios. Inspired by the [25] paper, Elisa planned and developed several tasks to be implemented in classes with different curricular unities: Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
In a first stage, she started by introducing the COVID-19 theme in the Natural Sciences class because the virus context is part of the curricular contents of this discipline, in the field of Environmental Aggressions and Integrity of the Organism. However, Elisa felt that her students did not fully understand how the virus spread and why this pandemic had such an impact on our lives that isolation measures had to be taken.
In a second stage, she developed several tasks to be implemented in the Mathematics classes. Table 3 describes some possible scenario of infection proposed to the students to help them understand the reason for the need of confinement isolation situations.
Table 3. Tasks implemented in the Mathematics classes.
Tasks Scenario of Infection Basic Number of Transmission
1 Each student infects two colleagues R0 = 2
2 Each student infects three colleagues R0 = 3
3 Each student only infects one colleague R0 = 1
4 Probability to infect someone is less than one R0 < 1
In task 1, Elisa explained that it would be considered the scenario where “Each student infects two colleagues” and that “Sick students are isolated at home and no longer infect colleagues”. She also constructed a grid with 12 lines and 12 columns, where each square represents one student from a school (Figure 1). In addition, a table with the “Day” in the first column, the “Number of students who gets sick” in the second column and the “Total number of sick students” in the third column was constructed (Table 4). After, she asked the students to start painting the number of sick students on the grid:
Figure 1. Grid where each square represents one student at a school.
Table 4. Each student infects two colleagues.
Day Number of Students Who Gets Sick Total Number of Sick Students
0 0 0
1 1 1
2
Imagine that each square on a grid (Figure 1) represents a student from a school. One day, which researchers will call day 1, one of the students becomes sick with COVID-19. Represent him, painting a red square on the grid.
She also asks students to fill in Table  4 with the following information:
Fill in the table, with the information about the “Number of students who gets sick” (Column 2) and the “Total number of sick students” (Column 3). For example, on day one, you write one on both columns.
Next, she gives information about how the sick student infects the others:
Let us now assume that each sick student will infect two students on average (To say that it is on average means that it may be that only one person infects one colleague, but there is another that infects three, and therefore, on average, each person infects two colleagues). So, the next day, day 2, there are two more students with COVID-19 who were infected by the first student with this disease; in all, there are already three sick students. Therefore, paint two more squares on the grid, and fill in the table with this information: on day two, two in column two and three in column three.
Elisa asks students to continue:
Again, sick students are isolated at home and no longer infect colleagues. Now, each of these two students is going to infect two other colleagues, and on the third day, there are four more sick students. Therefore, paint four more squares on the grid, and fill in the table with this informatio
Next, she asks several questions:
(a)
If each of these students now infects two more colleagues, how many new students will be infected on the 4th day?
(b)
And what is the total number of sick students?
(c)
In what day is everyone sick?
(d)
What if the school had 1000 students, after how many days would all students be sick?
(e)
Can you write the numbers of column two in powers of two?
After implementing the tasks based on the first scenarios, Elisa refers that:
At this stage, at least in the 6th B class, a high point of motivation of the students was visible in solving the task. The students were generally and visibly excited because they understood the situation they were experiencing.
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
She continues, exemplifying students’ discourse:
“Now I understand, now I understand everything, this is so fast, contagion, … and researchers are not counting everyone, families are missing and other people who have contact with them!”
[Student C]
The student was immediately supported by his colleagues….
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
The above citations show that the students did understand the “situation they are experiencing”, which is the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognized the problem of spreading the decease so fast. On the work sheet of task 2, Elisa asked several questions. Next, researachers present answers that students gave to the following question: Compare this result with the result you got when each student infected two students. What do you conclude?
I can conclude that the contagion of the students was faster in this situation, so much that they were all sick on the sixth day, two days earlier than in the past situation.
[Student D]
I conclude that if each student infects one more student, then the results would be drastic; for example, on day 5, in Table 1, there are 31 sick students. However, in Table 2, that same day, there would be 121 sick students.
[Student E] 
When each student infects three, there are many more infected students, and the growth is much more exponential.
[Student F]
Based on her observations, Elisa concludes about students’ perceptions:
Overall, the students realized the dimension of the problem, became more informed about its magnitude, and realized that, in reality, the processes are much worse than in the model studied.
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
This conclusion is in line with one of her goals, which was to raise awareness and understanding about the need for confinement in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. To reinforce this perception, she introduced the following task:
You certainly understood the evolution scenarios of COVID-19, which you analyzed in the previous tasks. Point out three reasons, of a social nature, for which confinement was necessary.
Next, some students’ answers are presented:
A person can infect more than one person and the disease will spread more easily. If everyone gets infected, doctors cannot treat everyone. Researchers were confined to allow time for the vaccine to be made.
Confinement is important for the virus to infect fewer people in order not to infect more people. If researchers become contaminated, hospitals will be full. If researchers are confined, scientists will have more time to produce the vaccine.
The reason was because if researchers continued to live together, COVID would spread and the hospitals would be full, and they would not be able to treat everyone.
Prevent the disease from spreading further. Prevent further deaths. Hospitals would run out of beds.
Confinement is important to ensure social distance, that is, it avoids physical contact through kissing, hugging or even the simple touch and thus researchers control the spread of the virus. On the other hand, the fact that researchers are confined will greatly reduce large clusters of people, whether at work, in transport or in social gatherings.
In her report, Elisa explains the reflection with students on measures to be taken to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic:
In this task, the students reflected on the objectives pursued with confinement and social isolation as well as all the other rules that are suggested for the control of the pandemic.
In fact, based on students’ answers, it is possible to conclude that they understood the reasons for confinement, as intended by teacher Elisa.
Besides tasks 1 and 2 from Table 3, Elisa conducted tasks 3 and 4 from the same table. 
Elisa also used Excel files to illustrate what happens in the different scenarios over the days, which allowed the students to observe how quickly the numbers grew in cases where the probability of infecting someone was greater than one. On the other hand, when it was less than one after some days, no one else will be sick (Figure 1).
Figure 2. Examples of Excel files.
Elisa decided to end this theme consolidating knowledge of Natural Sciences that she thought had not been well assimilated at the beginning of the school year:
To complete the task around Dr. Providência’s article [25], students completed a text of gaps mobilizing knowledge on the topic “Microorganisms” that were the target of exploration, in the Natural Sciences classes and evaluated in tests and where some weaknesses had been seen. In this way, it functioned as a moment of knowledge recovery/consolidation.
(Elisa, Final report, 2021 January)
Table 5 shows STEM contents included in the tasks developed and implemented by teacher Elisa.
Table 5. STEM contents of the tasks implemented by teacher Elisa.
Science Technology Engineering Mathematics
Natural Sciences
Microorganisms
Disease spread
Pandemic
Computer
Internet
Wikipedia
Power Point
Excel.
Planning, designing and performing the activities. Powers
Exponential growth
Mathematical model
Variable
Iteration
Functions
Graphics
Organization of tables
and data visualization.
With regard to implications on her future practices, Elisa refers that:
The trainee considers that the frequency of this training, from now on, will have implications for the preparation of her classes. She will seek to intensify her teaching practice with experiences that require the mobilization of different areas of knowledge and will lead her students to a better articulation of knowledge, promoting as much as possible the development of the ability to reason, communicate and defend points of view in all students.
(Elisa, Final report, January 2021)
In her final report, Elisa referred to the impact on her classes and on the students:
The trainee feels quite satisfied with the work she developed, firstly, because she realized that her students were very motivated, that they adhered to the proposed tasks, there was even an unusual frenzy, especially in class B and some students verbalized that the task allowed them to understand the frightening spread of the virus that plagues us.
In fact, Elisa recognizes motivation in her students who finally understood “frightening spread of the virus”. Although she already introduced this theme previously, she reinforces that it was with these tasks that students understood the need for measures to prevent propagation of the disease:
It should be noted that the trainee at the time of application of the activity had already taught the content of “Microorganisms” and obviously had contextualized and integrated the whole problem of the pandemic, but it was with the activity “When will everyone be sick?” that students understood the reason for the rules to which researchers are/are subject to limit the spread of the disease.
Additionally, the teacher highlights the interdisciplinary approach provided in the tasks she implemented in class:
On the other hand, the interdisciplinary aspect of the task allowed the articulation of the disciplines of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Information and Communication Technologies and, thus, to participate in the Domain of Curricular Autonomy and Flexibility, as well as in the School Project.
Finally, Elisa identifies the importance of implementing this approach with students to better prepare them to the real-world challenges as stated in the literature. Moreover, she intends to keep participating in this type of PDP:
In today’s world, full of complex challenges, the development and integration of multiple literacies, inspired by real situations, will certainly allow for more meaningful learning in which talent, individual qualification, the scientific system and democratic citizenship are strengthened. researchers are grateful for the opportunity, and researchers await other formative moments of undeniable value.
In summary, the teacher Elisa case study exemplifies the implementation of interdisciplinary tasks related to STEM, with real-world problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Results and conclusions 

Although some teachers mentioned their preference for face-to-face workshops, they also recognized the relevance of the online format, where the hands-on experiments were exemplified through videos and live sessions with the teachers. In addition, they referred that the programme corresponded and exceeded their expectations concerning its structure, contents, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and improvement in teachers’ practices. Moreover, teachers revealed interest, enthusiasm and motivation regarding the contents provided in the workshops of the PDP and referred that they gained new knowledge that will have impact in their practices. Furthermore, they mentioned that promoting interdisciplinarity with several subject matters and resorting to real-world scenarios is more motivating to students and contributes to promote their interest to learn. This is in line with the literature that recommends that this approach improves students significative learning and consequently their learning achievement. These Teachers’ beliefs and perceptions are important because, as referred by Margot and Kettler [24], they will influence teachers STEM instruction.

Therefore, an exclusive online PDP can provide teachers with knowledge, and also can engage and motivate them to innovate their practices as required in an effective PDP. Moreover, several teachers, who participated in this study, developed interdisciplinary tasks related to STEM contents and implemented them in class. Because of the current scenario of Covid-19 pandemic, teacher Elisa case study was chosen to exemplify the implementation of STEM integrated tasks based on a real-world scenario. It was verified that she did develop STEM practices within an authentic context for the purpose of connecting these subjects to enhance student learning as stated by Kelley and Knowles[15]. In fact, she used the real scenario of COVID_19 pandemic with the aim of introducing tasks with meaning for her students and related to the curricula of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Information and Communication Technologies. Moreover, the teacher achieved one of her initial objectives, which was to make students understand the dissemination of the decease and to be aware of the need for measures to face the pandemic. Furthermore, Elisa recognized that it was based on this approach that students finally understood the problematic of exponential grow of infection and the impact on real life, and consequently the need for isolation or vaccination measures. Also, she identified critical thinking skills and significative learning because of this initiative. Her conclusion is in line with Stohlmann et al.[24], who states that a strategic approach of STEM education provides students with higher levels of critical thinking skills, improves problem solving skills, and also increases learning retention. Moreover, relevant interdisciplinary learning environments were provided as recommended by some authors. Indeed, Elisa case study highlights the interdisciplinary tasks she implemented in class and the importance of implementing this approach with real life scenarios that provides students with meaningful learning and better prepares them to the real-world challenges. In fact, teacher Elisa case study exemplifies the implementation of interdisciplinary tasks related to STEM (Table 10), with relevant real-world problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as recommended in the literature[15].

Furthermore, based on Aguilera et al. and Vasquez et al. [8][12] theoretical framework for STEM education, tasks developed by Elisa are between the second and third level. In fact, the learning goals transcend the individual disciplines, are curriculum oriented (interdisciplinary) and, also, focus on a real-world problem and are oriented towards social implications (transdisciplinary). Indeed, the real real-world problem of COVID-19 pandemic, caused by coronavirus SARS-COV-2, was approached, in order to make students understand the phenomena, namely several scenarios of infection. In addition, social implications were discussed such as the need for measures to prevent or minimize the problem. Elisa was able to prepare and implement STEM tasks highlighting the role of mathematics for her students to understand this problem, which was successful, because it was based on these tasks that students finally understood the pandemic, which did not happen before when the subject was approached in the science class. Therefore, it was the STEM approach that promoted meaningful learning in students.

Based on this research, it was verified that it is possible to operationalize an exclusive online PDP in STEM education that motivates teachers and improves their knowledge and skills to implement STEM hands-on practices in class. In addition, teachers recognize the importance of resorting to relevant real-world scenarios because it increases students’ motivation to learn. Finally, teacher Elisa case study exemplifies a strategy to implement integrated STEM hands-on tasks in class, based on real-world scenarios, as is the case of COVID-19 pandemic, which is an approach that promotes students’ meaningful learning.

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