Academic journal article Science and Children

Teaching Educators about Engineering: Preservice Elementary Teachers Learn Engineering Principles from Engineers

Academic journal article Science and Children

Teaching Educators about Engineering: Preservice Elementary Teachers Learn Engineering Principles from Engineers

Article excerpt

Few elementary teachers have experience with implementing engineering into the classroom. While engineering professional development opportunities for inservice teachers are becoming more numerous, engineering education is rarely required or even offered in elementary teacher-preparation programs (O'Brien et al. 2014). To prepare future elementary teachers to teach engineering, a collaborative partnership was formed between professors in Iowa State University's College of Engineering (CoE) and School of Education (SoE). The partnership included teacher education faculty in science and mathematics education and three engineering faculty who provided perspectives on content, knowledge, and skills foundational to engineering. Members of the partnership worked together to co-plan and co-implement engineering experiences across a teacher education program. These experiences included building engineering content knowledge through a Saturday short course, inclusion of engineering in methods courses, and a summer workshop that preceded a partnership with an engineering graduate student. This article describes the Saturday short course provided to prospective elementary teachers by three members of the engineering faculty and two from the teacher education faculty.

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Overview

The short course sought to educate prospective teachers about several fundamental aspects of engineering highlighted in the NGSS, including defining a problem, synthesizing and evaluating solutions, and performing tests and analyzing results. We wished to build upon prior research recommending that teachers understand engineering design and be able to explain what engineering is, what engineers do (Diefes-Dux 2014), and similarities and differences between science and engineering. Furthermore, we linked engineering concepts to real-world examples to emphasize the importance of iteration and failure and provide reflection time around incorporating this content into the elementary classroom. The course was delivered as half-day sessions on three consecutive Saturdays due to constraints within the four-year teacher preparation structure, limited prospective teacher flexibility, and instructor availability.

Day 1: Engineers and Engineering Design

To set the context for the course, we discussed the recent NGSS adoption within our state, highlighting connections of course goals with the engineering practices and engineering design components of the standards. The next piece was to develop an understanding of the field and "What Do Engineers Do?" with a discussion around multiple definitions of engineering (see Internet Resources). For instance, Albert Einstein once said: "Scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been." As a group, we continued this idea through a discussion around the scope of engineering, which is often not appreciated outside of the discipline (e.g., research and development and design [Eide et al. 2012]).

To illustrate the many facets of engineering, we discussed how the accidental discovery of microwaves (research) led to the initial commercialization of microwave technology in the 1940s (development and design). Initially, these devices were too expensive for the general public; however, after 70 years of iterations through the engineering design process, the cost dropped exponentially, and it became a household staple. The discussion also delved into how fundamental scientific inquiry regarding the nature of matter was a key first step in the development of the microwave oven and how science and engineering complement one another.

Following an introduction to the field, prospective teachers engaged with an engineering design task that included multiple stages of engineering: problem formulation and needs assessment, idea generation, analysis, building and testing, and evaluating and iterating. They did this through a small-group bridge design competition asking them to create a bridge that met the following constraints: one piece of copier paper, one mailing label, limited time, and must support 200 g weight for 10 seconds. …

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