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This content will become publicly available on August 23, 2023

Title: A balancing act: Elementary teachers and their students balancing tradeoffs in engineering design projects
This fundamental research in pre-college education engineering study investigates the ways in which elementary school students and their teacher balance the tradeoffs in engineering design. STEM education reforms promote the engagement of K-12 students in the epistemic practices of disciplinary experts to teach content.1,2,3 This emphasis on practices is a paradigm shift that requires both extensive professional development and research to learn about the ways in which students and teacher learn about and participate in these practices. Balancing tradeoffs is an important practice in engineering but most often in classroom curricula it is embedded in the concept of iteration1,4; however, improving a design is not always the same as balancing trade-offs.1 Optimizing a multivariate problem requires students to engage in a number of engineering practices, like considering multiple solution, making tradeoffs between criteria and constraints, applying math and science knowledge to problem solving, constructing models, making evidence-based decisions, and assessing the implications of solutions5. The ways in which teachers and students collectively balance these tradeoffs in a design has been understudied1. Our primary research questions are, “How do teachers and students make decisions about making tradeoffs between criteria and constraints” and “How do experiences in teacher workshops affect the ways more » they implement engineering projects in their classes.” We take an ethnographic perspective to investigate these phenomena, and collected video data, field notes, student journals, and semi-structured interviews of eight elementary teachers in a workshop and similar data from two of the workshop teachers’ classes as they implemented the curriculum they learned in the workshop. Our analyses focus on the disciplinary practices teachers and students use to make decisions for balancing tradeoffs, how they are supported (or impeded) by teachers, and how they justify these decisions. Similarly, we compared two of the teachers wearing their “student hat” in the workshop as well as their “teacher hat” in the classroom5. Our analyses suggest three significant findings. First, teachers and students tended to focus on one criterion (e.g. cost, performance) and had few discussions about trying to minimize cost and maximize performance. Second, curriculum design significantly impacts the choices students make. Using two examples, we will show the impact of weighting criteria differently on the design strategies teachers and students make. Last, we noted most of the feedback given was related to managing classroom activity rather than supporting students’ designs. Implications of this study are relevant to both engineering educators and engineering curriculum developers. « less
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ASEE annual conference proceedings
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Despite the recent emphasis on the importance of K-12 students engaging in engineering content and practices, there has been little research done about how teachers learn engineering practices through teacher workshops and even less on how they utilize those experiences to teach engineering in their classes. Using methods of interactional ethnography, we analyzed data from an online teacher workshop in which elementary teachers engineered solutions to a multi-criteria problem in which balancing tradeoffs was a key practice. We found that teachers tended to focus on one criterion rather than both and lacked strategies to consider balancing these tradeoffs. We also found that a second iteration afforded all groups to demonstrate learning through improvement. Implications are discussed related to the importance of a focus on balancing tradeoffs in teacher learning and on pedagogy of engineering projects.
  2. In this study, we examine the reported beliefs of two elementary science teachers who co-taught a four-week engineering project in which students used a computational model to design engineering solutions to reduce water runoff at their school (Lilly et al., 2020). Specifically, we explore the beliefs that elementary science teachers report while enacting an engineering project in two different classroom contexts and how they report that their beliefs may have affected instructional decisions. Classroom contexts included one general class with a larger proportion of students in advanced mathematics and one inclusive class with a larger proportion of students with individualized educational programs. During project implementation, we collected daily surveys and weekly interviews to consider teachers’ beliefs of the class sections, classroom activities, and curriculum. Two researchers performed a thematic analysis of the surveys and interviews to code reflections on teachers’ perceived differences between students in the class sections and their experiences teaching engineering in the class sections. Results suggest that teachers’ beliefs about students in these two different classroom contexts may have influenced opportunities that students had to understand and engage in disciplinary practices. The teachers reported making changes to activities based on their perceptions of student understanding and engagementmore »and to save time which led to different experiences for students in each class section, specifically a more teacher-centered implementation for the inclusive class. Teachers also suggested specific professional development and educative supports to help teachers to support all students to engage in engineering tasks. Thus, it is important to understand teachers’ beliefs to build support for teachers in their implementation of engineering projects that meet the needs of their students and ensure that students have access and support to engage in engineering practices.« less
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  4. This research paper describes a study of elementary teacher learning in an online graduate program in engineering education for in-service teachers. While the existing research on teachers in engineering focuses on their disciplinary understandings and beliefs (Hsu, Cardella, & Purzer, 2011; Martin, et al., 2015; Nadelson, et al., 2015; Van Haneghan, et al., 2015), there is increasing attention to teachers' pedagogy in engineering (Capobianco, Delisi, & Radloff, 2018). In our work, we study teachers' pedagogical sense-making and reflection, which, we argue, is critical for teaching engineering design. This study takes place in [blinded] program, in which teachers take four graduate courses over fifteen months. The program was designed to help teachers not only learn engineering content, but also shift their thinking and practice to be more responsive to their students. Two courses focus on pedagogy, including what it means to learn engineering and instructional approaches to support this learning. These courses consist of four main elements, in which teachers: 1) Read data-rich engineering education articles to reflect on learning engineering; 2) Participate in online video clubs, looking at classroom videos of students’ engineering and commenting on what they notice; 3) Conduct interviews with learners about the mechanism of a pull-backmore »car; and 4) Plan and teach engineering lessons, collecting and analyzing video from their classrooms. In the context of this program, we ask: what stances do teachers take toward learning and teaching engineering design? What shifts do we observe in their stances? We interviewed teachers at the start of the program and after each course. In addition to reflecting on their learning and teaching, teachers watched videos of students’ engineering and discussed what they saw as relevant for teaching engineering. We informally compared summaries from previous interviews to get a sense of changes in how participants talked about engineering, how they approached teaching engineering, and what they noticed in classroom videos. Through this process, we identified one teacher to focus on for this paper: Alma is a veteran 3rd-5th grade science teacher in a rural, racially-diverse public school in the southeastern region of the US. We then developed content logs of Alma's interviews and identified emergent themes. To refine these themes, we looked for confirming and disconfirming evidence in the interviews and in her coursework in the program. We coded each interview for these themes and developed analytic memos, highlighting where we saw variability and stability in her stances and comparing across interviews to describe shifts in Alma's reasoning. It was at this stage that we narrowed our focus to her stances toward the engineering design process (EDP). In this paper, we describe and illustrate shifts we observed in Alma's reasoning, arguing that she exhibited dramatic shifts in her stances toward teaching and learning the EDP. At the start of the program, she was stable in treating the EDP as a series of linear steps that students and engineers progress through. After engaging and reflecting on her own engineering in the first course, she started to express a more fluid stance when talking more abstractly about the EDP but continued to take it up as a linear process in her classroom teaching. By the end of the program, Alma exhibited a growing stability across contexts in her stance toward the EDP as a fluid set of overlapping practices that students and engineers could engage in.« less
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