With the publication of the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) and adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), emphasis is now placed on the integration of engineering principles and practices into formal science education. Engineering design allows teachers to effectively blend disciplines and integrate math and science as a means of building student understanding of and skills for engaging in both content areas and appreciation for both content areas (Lehman & Capobianco, 2012). Integration of engineering design into school curricula, however, requires teachers to have content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and resources necessary to promote student learning in math and science through design (Lehman & Capobianco, 2012). Content-focused PD has been found key to improving teacher knowledge of STEM (Wilson, 2013).
Pre-college engineering education providers, such as Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and Engineering Is Elementary (EiE), offer comprehensive curricula and professional development opportunities in engineering education. These programs are high quality and provide an entry point into engineering education for K12 teachers; however, the engineering design exercises are prescriptive and vary in the degree to which they explicitly address the science standards inherent to the design problem. In addition, most K12 educators often struggle to adapt or to create from scratch design experiences for their classrooms. Therefore, there is a need for professional development that provides K12 educators with grade-band appropriate content knowledge in engineering design and makes explicit the process creating or adapting classroom-based engineering design experiences.
This study data presents a from a three-year effort to develop and implement a weeklong professional development institutes for K12 teachers focused on engineering design. The effort, funded through a state grant, was executed as a partnership between the colleges of education and engineering at a mid-sized state university. In Year 1 (Summer 2015), course learning objectives were finalized as: (1) developing a working knowledge of the engineering design process (EDP); (2) differentiating between engineering design and “making”; (3) understand how the EDP aligns with NGSS; (4) apply different modeling and prototyping techniques; (5) independently creating engineering problem statements applicable to particular grades in K-12; and (6) developing pedagogical techniques for successfully implementing classroom-based design challenges. Year 2 (Summer 2016) included refinement of teacher deliverables to include: (1) self-generated database of engineering design lesson plans, stratified by grade band and NAE Engineering Grand Challenge areas; (2) functional first-generation prototype from established design challenges; (3) lesson scaffolding and exemplar student work for design challenges; and (4) participation in peer-evaluated design critiques.
Summative program evaluation was performed in Year 3 with only minor changes in the course content from prior years. A total of 36 teachers participated in the five-day workshop and were clustered in working groups by grade band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). Summative evaluation included pre- and post-workshop surveys, observation and interviews, and in-classroom follow up during in Fall 2017. Short-term outcome measures include pre-post changes in teacher self-efficacy related to core content, hands-on prototyping, and the engineering design process. Longer term measures include teachers’ implementation of a novel or adapted engineering design lessons in their classrooms and evaluation of the alignment and quality of these exercises through student deliverables. Short-term measures showed gains in most measures of self-efficacy; in-classroom follow-up is presently underway and will be presented in this study.
Adoption of NGSS presents an opportunity for the engineering profession to expand and diversify its talent pipeline; however, this opportunity will only be realized if K12 teachers are well-prepared to deliver high quality, grade-band appropriate engineering experiences in their own classrooms. The professional development curriculum created in this study may be used as a model to empower teachers to develop and adapt NGSS-aligned curriculum.
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