skip to main content

Title: Elementary Teachers’ Verbal Support of Engineering Integration in an Interdisciplinary Project
This study investigates how teachers verbally support students to engage in integrated engineering, science, and computer science activities across the implementation of an engineering project. This is important as recent research has focused on understanding how precollege students’ engagement in engineering practices is supported by teachers (Watkins et al., 2018) and the benefits of integrating engineering in precollege classes, including improved achievement in science, ability to engage in science and engineering practices inherent to engineering (i.e., engineering design), and increased awareness of engineering (National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council; Katehi et al., 2009). Further, there is a national emphasis on integrating engineering, science, and computer science practices and concepts in science classrooms (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Yet little research has considered how teachers implement these disciplines together within one classroom, particularly elementary teachers who often have little prior experience in teaching engineering and may need support to integrate engineering design into elementary science classroom settings. In particular, this study explores how elementary teachers verbally support science and computer science concepts and practices to be implicitly and explicitly integrated into an engineering project by implementing support intended by curricular materials and/or adding their own verbal support. Implicit use of more » integration included students engaging in integrated practices without support to know that they were doing so; explicit use of integration included teachers providing support for students to know how and why they were integrating disciplines. Our research questions include: (1) To what extent did teachers provide implicit and explicit verbal support of integration in implementation versus how it was intended in curricular materials? (2) Does this look different between two differently-tracked class sections? Participants include two fifth-grade teachers who co-led two fifth-grade classes through a four-week engineering project. The project focused on redesigning school surfaces to mitigate water runoff. Teachers integrated disciplines by supporting students to create computational models of underlying scientific concepts to develop engineering solutions. One class had a larger proportion of students who were tracked into accelerated mathematics; the other class had a larger proportion of students with individualized educational plans (IEPs). Transcripts of whole class discussion were analyzed for instances that addressed the integration of disciplines or supported students to engage in integrated activities. Results show that all instances of integration were implicit for the class with students in advanced mathematics while most were explicit for the class with students with IEPs. Additionally, support was mainly added by the teachers rather than suggested by curricular materials. Most commonly, teachers added integration between computer science and engineering. Implications of this study are an important consideration for the support that teachers need to engage in the important, but challenging, work of integrating science and computer science practices through engineering lessons within elementary science classrooms. Particularly, we consider how to assist teachers with their verbal supports of integrated curricula through engineering lessons in elementary classrooms. This study then has the potential to significantly impact the state of knowledge in interdisciplinary learning through engineering for elementary students. « less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
2021 ASEE Annual Conference proceedings
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. To support teachers in providing all students with opportunities to engage in engineering learning activities, research must examine the ways that elementary teachers support how diverse learners engage with engineering ideas and practices. This study focuses on two teachers' verbal supports in classroom discussions across two class sections of a four-week, NGSS-aligned unit that challenged students to redesign their school to reduce water runoff. We examine the research question: How and to what extent do upper-elementary teachers verbally support students' engagement with engineering practices across diverse classroom contexts in an NGSS-aligned integrated science unit? Classroom audio data was collected daily and coded to analyze support through different purposes of teacher talk. Results reveal the purpose of teachers’ talk often varied between the class sections depending on the instructional activity and indicate that teachers utilized a variety of supports toward students' engagement in different engineering practices. In one class, with a large percentage of students with individualized educational plans, teachers provided more epistemic talk about the engineering practices to contextualize the particular activities. For the other class, with a large percentage of students in advanced mathematics, teachers provided more opportunities for students to engage in discussion and support for students tomore »do engineering. This difference in supports may decrease the opportunities for some students to rigorously engage in engineering ideas and practices. This study can inform future research on the kinds of educative supports needed to guide teaching of integrated engineering activities for diverse students.« less
  2. Background/Context: After-school programs that focus on integrating computer programming and mathematics in authentic environments are seldomly accessible to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly bilingual Latina students in rural contexts. Providing a context that broadens Latina students’ participation in mathematics and computer programming requires educators to carefully examine how verbal and nonverbal language is used to interact and to position students as they learn new concepts in middle school. This is also an important stage for adolescents because they are likely to make decisions about their future careers in STEM. Having access to discourse and teaching practices that invite students to participate in mathematics and computer programming affords them opportunities to engage with these fields. Purpose/Focus of Study: This case study analyzes how small-group interactions mediated the positionings of Cindy, a bilingual Latina, as she learned binary numbers in an after-school program that integrated computer programming and mathematics (CPM). Setting: The Advancing Out-of-School Learning in Mathematics and Engineering (AOLME) program was held in a rural bilingual (Spanish and English) middle school in the Southwest. The after-school program was designed to provide experiences for primarily Latinx students to learn how to integrate mathematics with computer programming using Raspberry Pimore »and Python as a platform. Our case study explores how Cindy was positioned as she interacted with two undergraduate engineering students who served as facilitators while learning binary numbers with a group of three middle school students. Research Design: This single intrinsic case focused on exploring how small-group interactions among four students mediated Cindy’s positionings as she learned binary numbers through her participation in AOLME. Data sources included twelve 90-minute video sessions and Cindy’s journal and curriculum binder. Video logs were created, and transcripts were coded to describe verbal and nonverbal interactions among the facilitators and Cindy. Analysis of select episodes was conducted using systemic functional linguistics (SFL), specifically language modality, to identify how positioning took place. These episodes and positioning analysis describe how Cindy, with others, navigated the process of learning binary numbers under the stereotype that female students are not as good at mathematics as male students. Findings: From our analysis, three themes that emerged from the data portray Cindy’s experiences learning binary numbers. The major themes are: (1) Cindy’s struggle to reveal her understanding of binary numbers in a competitive context, (2) Cindy’s use of “fake it until you make it” to hide her cognitive dissonance, and (3) the use of Spanish and peers’ support to resolve Cindy’s understanding of binary numbers. The positioning patterns observed help us learn how, when Cindy’s bilingualism was viewed and promoted as an asset, this social context worked as a generative axis that addressed the challenges of learning binary numbers. The contrasting episodes highlight the facilitators’ productive teaching strategies and relations that nurtured Cindy’s social and intellectual participation in CPM. Conclusions/Recommendations: Cindy’s case demonstrates how the facilitator’s teaching, and participants’ interactions and discourse practices contributed to her qualitatively different positionings while she learned binary numbers, and how she persevered in this process. Analysis of communication acts supported our understanding of how Cindy’s positionings underpinned the discourse; how the facilitators’ and students’ discourse formed, shaped, or shifted Cindy’s positioning; and how discourse was larger than gender storylines that went beyond classroom interactions. Cindy’s case reveals the danger of placing students in “struggle” instead of a “productive struggle.” The findings illustrated that when Cindy was placed in struggle when confronting responding moves by the facilitator, her “safe” reaction was hiding and avoiding. In contrast, we also learned about the importance of empathetic, nurturing supporting responses that encourage students’ productive struggle to do better. We invite instructors to notice students’ hiding or avoiding and consider Cindy’s case. Furthermore, we recommend that teachers notice their choice of language because this is important in terms of positioning students. We also highlight Cindy’s agency as she chose to take up her friend’s suggestion to “fake it” rather than give up.« less
  3. COVID-19 has altered the landscape of teaching and learning. For those in in-service teacher education, workshops have been suspended causing programs to adapt their professional development to a virtual space to avoid indefinite postponement or cancellation. This paradigm shift in the way we conduct learning experiences creates several logistical and pedagogical challenges but also presents an important opportunity to conduct research about how learning happens in these new environments. This paper describes the approach we took to conduct research in a series of virtual workshops aimed at teaching rural elementary teachers about engineering practices and how to teach a unit from an engineering curriculum. Our work explores how engineering concepts and practices are socially constructed through interactions with teachers, students, and artifacts. This approach, called interactional ethnography has been used by the authors and others to learn about engineering teaching and learning in precollege classrooms. The approach relies on collecting data during instruction, such as video and audio recordings, interviews, and artifacts such as journal entries and photos of physical designs. Findings are triangulated by analyzing these data sources. This methodology was going to be applied in an in-person engineering education workshop for rural elementary teachers, however the pandemic forcedmore »us to conduct the workshops remotely. Teachers, working in pairs, were sent workshop supplies, and worked together during the training series that took place over Zoom over four days for four hours each session. The paper describes how we collected video and audio of teachers and the facilitators both in whole group and in breakout rooms. Class materials and submissions of photos and evaluations were managed using Google Classroom. Teachers took photos of their work and scanned written materials and submitted them all by email. Slide decks were shared by the users and their group responses were collected in real time. Workshop evaluations were collected after each meeting using Google Forms. Evaluation data suggest that the teachers were engaged by the experience, learned significantly about engineering concepts and the knowledge-producing practices of engineers, and feel confident about applying engineering activities in their classrooms. This methodology should be of interest to the membership for three distinct reasons. First, remote instruction is a reality in the near-term but will likely persist in some form. Although many of us prefer to teach in person, remote learning allows us to reach many more participants, including those living in remote and rural areas who cannot easily attend in-person sessions with engineering educators, so it benefits the field to learn how to teach effectively in this way. Second, it describes an emerging approach to engineering education research. Interactional ethnography has been applied in precollege classrooms, but this paper demonstrates how it can also be used in teacher professional development contexts. Third, based on our application of interactional ethnography to an education setting, readers will learn specifically about how to use online collaborative software and how to collect and organize data sources for research purposes.« less
  4. This research paper presents preliminary results of an NSF-supported interdisciplinary collaboration between undergraduate engineering students and preservice teachers. The fields of engineering and elementary education share similar challenges when it comes to preparing undergraduate students for the new demands they will encounter in their profession. Engineering students need interprofessional skills that will help them value and negotiate the contributions of various disciplines while working on problems that require a multidisciplinary approach. Increasingly, the solutions to today's complex problems must integrate knowledge and practices from multiple disciplines and engineers must be able to recognize when expertise from outside their field can enhance their perspective and ability to develop innovative solutions. However, research suggests that it is challenging even for professional engineers to understand the roles, responsibilities, and integration of various disciplines, and engineering curricula have traditionally left little room for development of non-technical skills such as effective communication with a range of audiences and an ability to collaborate in multidisciplinary teams. Meanwhile, preservice teachers need new technical knowledge and skills that go beyond traditional core content knowledge, as they are now expected to embed engineering into science and coding concepts into traditional subject areas. There are nationwide calls to integrate engineeringmore »and coding into PreK-6 education as part of a larger campaign to attract more students to STEM disciplines and to increase exposure for girls and minority students who remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer science. Accordingly, schools need teachers who have not only the knowledge and skills to integrate these topics into mainstream subjects, but also the intention to do so. However, research suggests that preservice teachers do not feel academically prepared and confident enough to teach engineering-related topics. This interdisciplinary project provided engineering students with an opportunity to develop interprofessional skills as well as to reinforce their technical knowledge, while preservice teachers had the opportunity to be exposed to engineering content, more specifically coding, and develop competence for their future teaching careers. Undergraduate engineering students enrolled in a computational methods course and preservice teachers enrolled in an educational technology course partnered to plan and deliver robotics lessons to fifth and sixth graders. This paper reports on the effects of this collaboration on twenty engineering students and eight preservice teachers. T-tests were used to compare participants’ pre-/post- scores on a coding quiz. A post-lesson written reflection asked the undergraduate students to describe their robotics lessons and what they learned from interacting with their cross disciplinary peers and the fifth/sixth graders. Content analysis was used to identify emergent themes. Engineering students’ perceptions were generally positive, recounting enjoyment interacting with elementary students and gaining communication skills from collaborating with non-technical partners. Preservice teachers demonstrated gains in their technical knowledge as measured by the coding quiz, but reported lacking the confidence to teach coding and robotics independently of their partner engineering students. Both groups reported gaining new perspectives from working in interdisciplinary teams and seeing benefits for the fifth and sixth grade participants, including exposing girls and students of color to engineering and computing.« less
  5. The Maker Partnership Program (MPP) is an NSF-supported project that addresses the critical need for models of professional development (PD) and support that help elementary-level science teachers integrate computer science and computational thinking (CS and CT) into their classroom practices. The MPP aims to foster integration of these disciplines through maker pedagogy and curriculum. The MPP was designed as a research-practice partnership that allows researchers and practitioners to collaborate and iteratively design, implement and test the PD and curriculum. This paper describes the key elements of the MPP and early findings from surveys of teachers and students participating in the program. Our research focuses on learning how to develop teachers’ capacity to integrate CS and CT into elementary-level science instruction; understanding whether and how this integrated instruction promotes deeper student learning of science, CS and CT, as well as interest and engagement in these subjects; and exploring how the model may need to be adapted to fit local contexts. Participating teachers reported gaining knowledge and confidence for implementing the maker curriculum through the PDs. They anticipated that the greatest implementation challenges would be lack of preparation time, inaccessible computer hardware, lack of administrative support, and a lack of CS knowledge.more »Student survey results show that most participants were interested in CS and science at the beginning of the program. Student responses to questions about their disposition toward collaboration and persistence suggest some room for growth. Student responses to questions about who does CS are consistent with prevalent gender stereotypes (e.g., boys are naturally better than girls at computer programming), particularly among boys.« less