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 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.
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