Beliefs and Expectations about Engineering Preparation Exhibited by High School STEM Teachers

By Nathan, Mitchell J.; Tran, Natalie A. et al. | Journal of Engineering Education, October 2010 | Go to article overview
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Beliefs and Expectations about Engineering Preparation Exhibited by High School STEM Teachers


Nathan, Mitchell J., Tran, Natalie A., Atwood, Amy K., Prevost, Amy, Phelps, L. Allen, Journal of Engineering Education


BACKGROUND

If we are to effect change in teacher practices and decision making regarding instruction, college preparation, and career success in engineering, then knowledge of teachers' beliefs and expectations about engineering needs to be understood.

PURPOSE (HYPOTHESIS)

The primary purpose was to develop a statistically reliable survey instrument to document teachers' beliefs and expectations about pre-college engineering instruction, college preparation, and career success in engineering, called the Engineering Education Beliefs and Expectations Instrument (EEBEI), and to compare teachers' views.

DESIGN/METHOD

Using two samples of teachers, EEBEI was established as a statistically reliable survey and was used to examine the beliefs and expectations of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and non-PLTW teachers. The results were used to further examine teachers' decisions in advising fictional students (described in vignettes) with varying academic and socioeconomic profiles.

RESULTS

High school STEM teachers report their instruction was influenced by students' interests, family background, and prior academic achievement. Comparisons between PLTW and non-PLTW teachers revealed that non-PLTW teachers agreed more strongly that an engineer must demonstrate high scholastic achievement in math and science whereas PLTW teachers were more likely to report that science and math content was integrated into engineering activities. Although teachers report that students' socioeconomic status was not influential when asked explicitly, it did influence situated decision-making tasks using fictional student vignettes.

CONCLUSIONS

Findings address challenges of STEM integration and reveal conflicting purposes of K-12 engineering education as being for a select few or to promote technological literacy for all students, which affects recruitment, instruction, and assessment practices.

KEYWORDS

K-12 engineering education, STEM, teacher beliefs

I. INTRODUCTION

Education research shows that instructional practice and teacher decision making are influenced by teachers' beliefs about learning and instruction (Brophy and Good, 1974; Deemer, 2004; Grossman, 1990; Nathan and Koedinger, 200Ob; Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968). Furthermore, the educational experience for students is dependent on the quality and effectiveness of teachers, more than perhaps any other single alterable factor (Leinhardt and Greeno, 1986; Nye, Konstantopoulos, and Hedges, 2004; Rowan, 2004). This study has three central goals. First, to develop a statistically reliable survey instrument that documents teachers' beliefs and expectations about pre-college engineering instruction and preparation for students' access to college engineering programs and future career success in engineering. We call this general survey the Engineering Education Beliefs and Expectations Instrument (EEBEI, pronounced "eebee"). Second, to measure and interpret teachers' views using EEBEI, as well as to identify differences that may exist among teachers with different training and program objectives. Third, to examine teachers' decisions in advising fictional students (described in vignettes) with varying achievement, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic profiles.

To frame this work, we first review some of the prior research on teacher beliefs more broadly and then we review research specifically related to engineering education. We next lay out our research goals and describe the analytic methods used to address them. We report results from our initial administration of the EEBEI showing it to be a statistically reliable instrument for assessing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teachers' beliefs about engineering education and preparation, and confirm these findings with a second sample of teachers. We also show that the EEBEI can detect differences in the beliefs and expectations exhibited by high school teachers of college preparatory mathematics and science courses when compared to technical education teachers using the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) pre-college engineering curriculum.

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