skip to main content

Title: Insights from the First Two Years of a Project Partnering Middle School Teachers with Industry to Bring Engineering to the Science Classroom
Barriers to broadening participation in engineering to rural and Appalachian youth include misalignment with family and community values, lack of opportunities, and community misperceptions of engineering. While single interventions are unlikely to stimulate change in these areas, more sustainable interventions that are co-designed with local relevance appear promising. Through our NSF ITEST project, we test the waters of this intervention model through partnership with school systems and engineering industry to implement a series of engineering-themed, standards-aligned lessons for the middle school science classroom. Our mixed methods approach includes collection of interview and survey data from administrators, teachers, engineers, and university affiliates as well as observation and student data from the classroom. We have utilized theory from learning science and organizational collaboration to structure and inform our analysis and explore the impact of our project. The research is guided by the following questions: RQ 1: How do participants conceptualize engineering careers? How and why do such perceptions shift throughout the project? RQ 2: What elements of the targeted intervention affect student motivation towards engineering careers specifically with regard to developing competencies and ability beliefs regarding engineering? RQ 3: How can strategic collaboration between K12 and industry promote a shift in teacher’s conceptions more » of engineers and increased self-efficacy in building and delivering engineering curriculum? RQ 4: How do stakeholder characteristics, perceptions, and dynamics affect the likelihood of sustainability in strategic collaborations between K12 and industry stakeholders? How do prevailing institutional and collaborative conditions mediate sustainability? In year one, we involved nine 6th grade teachers, three engineering companies, and over 500 students. In year two, we expanded to include 7th grade teachers in our partner schools and the new students moving up to 6th grade. Lessons aligned with students' everyday experiences and connected to industry. For example, students created bouncy balls and tested their effectiveness on materials produced from partner manufacturing facilities. From preliminary analysis of data collected in the first two years of the project (e.g, the Draw an Engineer Test and teacher interviews), we have begun to see evidence of positive student and teacher impact. Additionally, our application of collaborative theory to the investigation of stakeholder perceptions of the project has revealed implications for partnering with school systems and engineering industry. For example, key individuals at each organization may serve as important conduits for program communication and collaborative work. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1657263
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10157696
Journal Name:
ASEE Annual Conference proceedings
ISSN:
1524-4644
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. One significant barrier to broadening participation in engineering and recruiting future engineers is the pervasive lack of understanding or even misunderstanding of what engineering is and what engineers do. The challenges to broadening participation in engineering are further complicated as underrepresented groups often report constructs, such as cultural milieu and outcome expectations, as more important than interest in influencing career choices. Addressing such issues is difficult and single exposure interventions are unlikely to make engineering careers seem more relevant or attainable for most students. More sustainable interventions, designed to (1) challenge misperceptions and create relevant conceptions of engineering; (2) maintain and expand situational interest; and, (3) integrate with individual interests, values, and social identities, appear to hold more promise for creating significant change. As a possible means of developing more sustainable interventions, our ITEST project partners researchers, teachers, and local industry representatives in creating a series (approximately 6 across an academic year) of engineering-related learning activities for middle school children in three school systems in or near rural Appalachia. Across the first year of implementation, we involved nine teachers, six people working at three different companies and more than 500 students with a series of activities in each classroom. Tomore »examine the impact of our project, we are using mixed methods, including interviews, surveys, classroom observations, and classroom artifacts gathered from multiple project stakeholders, to answer the following research questions: RQ 1: How do participants conceptualize engineering careers? How and why do such perceptions shift throughout the project? RQ 2: What elements of the targeted intervention affect student motivation towards engineering careers specifically with regard to developing competencies and ability beliefs regarding engineering? RQ 3: How can strategic collaboration between K12 and industry promote a shift in teacher’s conceptions of engineers and increased self-efficacy in building and delivering engineering curriculum? RQ 4: How do stakeholder characteristics, perceptions, and dynamics affect the likelihood of sustainability in strategic collaborations between K12 and industry stakeholders? How do prevailing institutional and collaborative conditions mediate sustainability? Our findings to date offer insights across all research questions and have important implications for stakeholders hoping to raise awareness of engineering among youth, particularly in rural areas.« less
  2. Our NSF-funded ITEST project focuses on the collaborative design, implementation, and study of recurrent hands-on engineering activities with middle school youth in three rural communities in or near Appalachia. To achieve this aim, our team of faculty and graduate students partner with school educators and industry experts embedded in students’ local communities to collectively develop curriculum to aim at teacher-identified science standard and facilitate regular in-class interventions throughout the academic year. Leveraging local expertise is especially critical in this project because family pressures, cultural milieu, and preference for local, stable jobs play considerable roles in how Appalachian youth choose possible careers. Our partner communities have voluntarily opted to participate with us in a shared implementation-research program and as our project unfolds we are responsive to community-identified needs and preferences while maintaining the research program’s integrity. Our primary focus has been working to incorporate hands-on activities into science classrooms aimed at state science standards in recognition of the demands placed on teachers to align classroom time with state standards and associated standardized achievement tests. Our focus on serving diverse communities while being attentive to relevant research such as the preference for local, stable jobs attention to cultural relevance led us tomore »reach out to advanced manufacturing facilities based in the target communities in order to enhance the connection students and teachers feel to local engineers. Each manufacturer has committed to designating several employees (engineers) to co-facilitate interventions six times each academic year. Launching our project has involved coordination across stakeholder groups to understand distinct values, goals, strengths and needs. In the first academic year, we are working with 9 different 6th grade science teachers across 7 schools in 3 counties. Co-facilitating in the classroom are representatives from our project team, graduate student volunteers from across the college of engineering, and volunteering engineers from our three industry partners. Developing this multi-stakeholder partnership has involved discussions and approvals across both school systems (e.g., superintendents, STEM coordinators, teachers) and our industry partners (e.g., managers, HR staff, volunteering engineers). The aim of this engagement-in-practice paper is to explore our lessons learned in navigating the day-to-day challenges of (1) developing and facilitating curriculum at the intersection of science standards, hands-on activities, cultural relevancy, and engineering thinking, (2) collaborating with volunteers from our industry partners and within our own college of engineering in order to deliver content in every science class of our 9 6th grade teachers one full school day/month, and (3) adapting to emergent needs that arise due to school and division differences (e.g., logistics of scheduling and curriculum pacing), community differences across our three counties (e.g., available resources in schools), and partner constraints.« less
  3. Despite limited success in broadening participation in engineering with rural and Appalachian youth, there remain challenges such as misunderstandings around engineering careers, misalignments with youth’s sociocultural background, and other environmental barriers. In addition, middle school science teachers may be unfamiliar with engineering or how to integrate engineering concepts into science lessons. Furthermore, teachers interested in incorporating engineering into their curriculum may not have the time or resources to do so. The result may be single interventions such as a professional development workshop for teachers or a career day for students. However, those are unlikely to cause major change or sustained interest development. To address these challenges, we have undertaken our NSF ITEST project titled, Virginia Tech Partnering with Educators and Engineers in Rural Schools (VT PEERS). Through this project, we sought to improve youth awareness of and preparation for engineering related careers and educational pathways. Utilizing regular engagement in engineering-aligned classroom activities and culturally relevant programming, we sought to spark an interest with some students. In addition, our project involves a partnership with teachers, school districts, and local industry to provide a holistic and, hopefully, sustainable influence. By engaging over time we aspired to promote sustainability beyond this NSF projectmore »via increased teacher confidence with engineering related activities, continued integration within their science curriculum, and continued relationships with local industry. From the 2017-2020 school years the project has been in seven schools across three rural counties. Each year a grade level was added; that is, the teachers and students from the first year remained for all three years. Year 1 included eight 6th grade science teachers, year 2 added eight 7th grade science teachers, and year 3 added three 8th grade science teachers and a career and technology teacher. The number of students increased from over 500 students in year 1 to over 2500 in year 3. Our three industry partners have remained active throughout the project. During the third and final year in the classrooms, we focused on the sustainable aspects of the project. In particular, on how the intervention support has evolved each year based on data, support requests from the school divisions, and in scaffolding “ownership” of the engineering activities. Qualitative data were used to support our understanding of teachers’ confidence to incorporate engineering into their lessons plans and how their confidence changed over time. Noteworthy, our student data analysis resulted in an instrument change for the third year; however due to COVID, pre and post data was limited to schools who taught on a semester basis. Throughout the project we have utilized the ITEST STEM Workforce Education Helix model to support a pragmatic approach of our research informing our practice to enable an “iterative relationship between STEM content development and STEM career development activities… within the cultural context of schools, with teachers supported by professional development, and through programs supported by effective partnerships.” For example, over the course of the project, scaffolding from the University leading interventions to teachers leading interventions occurred.« less
  4. Major challenges in engineering education include retention of undergraduate engineering students (UESs) and continued engagement after the first year when concepts increase in difficulty. Additionally, employers, as well as ABET, look for students to demonstrate non-technical skills, including the ability to work successfully in groups, the ability to communicate both within and outside their discipline, and the ability to find information that will help them solve problems and contribute to lifelong learning. Teacher education is also facing challenges given the recent incorporation of engineering practices and core ideas into the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and state level standards of learning. To help teachers meet these standards in their classrooms, education courses for preservice teachers (PSTs) must provide resources and opportunities to increase science and engineering knowledge, and the associated pedagogies. To address these challenges, Ed+gineering, an NSF-funded multidisciplinary collaborative service learning project, was implemented into two sets of paired-classes in engineering and education: a 100 level mechanical engineering class (n = 42) and a foundations class in education (n = 17), and a fluid mechanics class in mechanical engineering technology (n = 23) and a science methods class (n = 15). The paired classes collaborated in multidisciplinary teams ofmore »5-8 undergraduate students to plan and teach engineering lessons to local elementary school students. Teams completed a series of previously tested, scaffolded activities to guide their collaboration. Designing and delivering lessons engaged university students in collaborative processes that promoted social learning, including researching and planning, peer mentoring, teaching and receiving feedback, and reflecting and revising their engineering lesson. The research questions examined in this pilot, mixed-methods research study include: (1) How did PSTs’ Ed+gineering experiences influence their engineering and science knowledge?; (2) How did PSTs’ and UESs’ Ed+gineering experiences influence their pedagogical understanding?; and (3) What were PSTs’ and UESs’ overall perceptions of their Ed+gineering experiences? Both quantitative (e.g., Engineering Design Process assessment, Science Content Knowledge assessment) and qualitative (student reflections) data were used to assess knowledge gains and project perceptions following the semester-long intervention. Findings suggest that the PSTs were more aware and comfortable with the engineering field following lesson development and delivery, and often better able to explain particular science/engineering concepts. Both PSTs and UESs, but especially the latter, came to realize the importance of planning and preparing lessons to be taught to an audience. UESs reported greater appreciation for the work of educators. PSTs and UESs expressed how they learned to work in groups with multidisciplinary members—this is a valuable lesson for their respective professional careers. Yearly, the Ed+gineering research team will also request and review student retention reports in their respective programs to assess project impact.« less
  5. K-12 teachers serve a critical role in their students’ development of interest in engineering, especially as engineering content is emphasized in curriculum standards. However, teachers may not be comfortable teaching engineering in their classrooms as it can require a different set of skills from which they are trained. Professional development activities focused on engineering content can help teachers feel more comfortable teaching the subject in their classrooms and can increase their knowledge of engineering and thus their engineering teaching self-efficacy. There are many different types of professional development activities teachers might experience, each one with a set of established best practices. VT PEERS (Virginia Tech Partnering with Educators and Engineers in Rural Communities) is a program designed to provide recurrent hands-on engineering activities to middle school students in or near rural Appalachia. The project partners middle school teachers, university affiliates, and local industry partners throughout the state region to develop and implement engineering activities that align with state defined standards of learning (SOLs). Throughout this partnership, teachers co-facilitate engineering activities in their classrooms throughout the year with the other partners, and teachers have the opportunity to participate in a two-day collaborative workshop every year. VT PEERS held a workshop duringmore »the summer of 2019, after the second year of the partnership, to discuss the successes and challenges experienced throughout the program. Three focus groups, one for each grade level involved (grades 6-8), were held during the summit for teachers and industry partners to discuss their experiences. None of the teachers involved in the partnership have formal training in engineering. The transcripts of these focus groups were the focus of the exploratory qualitative data analyses to answer the following research question: How do middle-school teachers develop teaching engineering self-efficacy through professional development activities? Deductive coding of the focus group transcripts was completed using the four sources of self-efficacy: mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion and physiological states. The analysis revealed that vicarious experiences can be particularly valuable to increasing teachers’ teaching engineering self-efficacy. For example, teachers valued the ability to play the role of a student in an engineering lesson and being able to share ideas about teaching engineering lessons with other teachers. This information can be useful to develop engineering-focused professional development activities for teachers. Additionally, as teachers gather information from their teaching engineering vicarious experiences, they can inform their own teaching practices and practice reflective teaching as they teach lessons.« less