Jaime Patterson | December 2015

STEAM-ER Series: Higher Level Thinking

Welcome to the STEAM-ER series: Higher Level Thinking

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss Engagement through Rigor for each of the STEAM content areas.  In the STEAM-ER introduction, I shared five areas that encourage engagement through rigor: higher level thinking, engagement, deep inquiry, demonstration, and quality over quantity (see full intro article here).  Today we will look at higher level thinking.

There are many resources for higher level thinking.  Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge are two common references for building higher level thinking into lessons.  I advise my teachers to not write a lesson without it.

Blooms, Higher Level Thinking, Education ClosetDOK Steps 2, Higher Level Thinking, Education Closet

The Depth of Knowledge steps and Bloom’s Taxonomy provide building blocks for increasing the level of thinking.  Creating opportunities for students to work within the recalling and remembering level is relatively simple because we are asking students to identify or recall information. However, moving to the higher levels things become a little more difficult.  Let’s take a look at how to do this within the STEAM areas.


Webb (2002) offers some of the following activities for using the higher levels in science.

DOK Level 1

Recall or recognize a fact, term, or property. Represent in words or diagrams a scientific concept or relationship. Provide or recognize a standard scientific representation for simple phenomenon. Perform a routine procedure such as measuring length.

DOK Level 2

Specify and explain the relationship between facts, terms, properties, or variables. Describe and explain examples and non-examples of science concepts. Select a procedure according to specified criteria, and perform it. Formulate a routine problem given data and conditions. Organize, represent and interpret data.

DOK Level 3

Identify research questions and design investigations for a scientific problem. Solve non-routine problems, then develop a scientific model for a complex situation. And finally, form conclusions from experimental data.

DOK Level 4

Based on provided data from a complex experiment that is novel to the student, deduct the fundamental relationship between several controlled variables.  Conduct an investigation, from specifying a problem to designing and carrying out an experiment, to analyzing its data and forming conclusions.


The SBBC Department of Instructional Technology has developed a comprehensive chart of both teacher directed and student directed activities pushing students to the higher level thinking skills.  Download their chart here DOK_technology.


Engineering standards are embedded within the next generation science standards and are engineered with higher level thinking in mind.  The objectives of secondary education engineering are already designed with the Depth of Knowledge levels:

A. Defining and delimiting engineering problems involves stating the problem as clearly as possible in terms of criteria for success, and constraints or limits.
B. Designing solutions to engineering problems begins with generating a number of different possible solutions, Then, evaluating potential solutions to see which ones best meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
C. Optimizing the design solution involves a process in which solutions are systematically tested, and the final design is improved by trading off less important features for those more important.


Similar to many of the STEAM subjects, the arts push students to the higher levels due to the nature of artistic creation.  Gerald Aungst of edutopia designed a wonderful reference chart providing concrete examples of how each of the arts can utilize the higher levels of Depth of Knowledge.  Download that chart here.


The Kentucky Department of Education has a great resource using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to building higher level thinking in Mathematics.

DOK Level 1

Identify a diagonal in a geometric figure. Multiply two numbers. Find the area of a rectangle. Convert scientific notation to decimal form. Measure an angle.

DOK Level 2

Classify quadrilaterals. Compare two sets of data using the mean, median, and mode of each set. Determine a strategy to estimate the number of jellybeans in a jar. Extend a geometric pattern. Organize a set of data and construct an appropriate display.

DOK Level 3

Write a mathematical rule for a non-routine pattern. Explain how changes in the dimensions affect the area and perimeter/circumference of geometric figures. Determine the equations and solve and interpret a system of equations for a given problem. Provide a mathematical justification when a situation has more than one possible outcome. Interpret information from a series of data displays.

DOK Level 4

Collect data over time taking into consideration a number of variables and analyze the results. Model a social studies situation with many alternatives and select one approach to solve with a mathematical model. Develop a rule for a complex pattern and find a phenomenon that exhibits that behavior. Complete a unit of formal geometric constructions, such as nine-point circles or the Euler line. Construct a non-Euclidean geometry.

Higher Level Thinking Resources
Depth of Knowledge Steps
Bloom’s Taxonomy

The Center for Teaching and Learning UNC
Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix and Curricular Examples
Kentucky Dept. of Ed Mathematics

These resources will help teachers create Engagement through Rigor in all of the STEAM areas.
Piquès & Pirouettès

Next Week: STEAM-ER Series: Engagement
Quality engagement provides an opportunity for rigor in the classroom.  Next week we continue our STEAM-ER series by taking a look at how we can increase engagement in the classroom.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.