Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Collaborations in a Community of Practice Working to Integrate Engineering Design in Elementary Science Education

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Collaborations in a Community of Practice Working to Integrate Engineering Design in Elementary Science Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

The new standards for K-12 science education in the United States call for science teachers to integrate engineering concepts and practices within their science teaching in order to improve student learning. To accomplish this, teachers need appropriate instructional materials as well as the knowledge and skills to effectively use them. This mixed methods study examined participants' perceptions of a STEM education partnership project in which university faculty members and elementary school teachers collaborated to develop and implement engineering design-based materials in elementary science education. Quantitative survey results suggested that both university faculty members and participating school teachers demonstrated elements of collaboration characteristic of an effective community of practice, and qualitative data from open-ended survey responses and interviews identified the factors that participants viewed as important. Results suggest that collaborations among community of practice participants are important to the success of school-based STEM education reform initiatives like the one described here.

Keywords: K-12 engineering education, engineering design, faculty, teachers, community of practice

Introduction

In response to major national reports that have focused on the need to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education In the United States (National Academy of Sciences, 2007; National Science Board, 2007), a variety of reform Initiatives have been launched to better integrate engineering and technology into traditional science and mathematics education In K-12 schools. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), which are based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012), indicate that K-12 science education should be built around three dimensions: (1) scientific and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts that unify science and engineering, and (3) core Ideas from the disciplinary areas of physical science, life science, earth/space science, and englneerlng/technology. To achieve this vision for K-12 science education, teachers must be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to integrate engineering concepts and practices within their teaching, and they must have appropriate classroom curricular materials to introduce engineering concepts and practices to their students.

This paper describes a school-university partnership project designed to prepare elementary school teachers to integrate engineering design Into their science Instruction. As part of the project, university faculty members from the STEM disciplines worked together to create engineering-based Instructional products, which, in turn, were used by participating school teachers to introduce engineering design to their students within the context of science teaching and learning. The collaborations of university faculty members and classroom teachers to produce and implement engineering-based Instructional materials in the project draw on the notion of situated learning (Lave &Wenger, 1991) in which Individuals become part of a community of practice, a group of people who share an area of expertise and learn from each otherthrough interactions among group members. In the context of the project described in this paper, the Idea of a community of practice can be applied both to the university faculty members, who worked togetherto develop engineering design-based instructional products, and to the broader community of teachers and faculty, which worked to implement design-based instructional products In the teachers' classrooms. This paper describes a mixed methods research study that examined faculty and teacher perceptions of the STEM education partnership project and the extent to which It demonstrated elements of collaboration consistent with an effective community of practice.

Research Questions

The research questions guiding this study were as follows: a) To what extent did university faculty members and teachers working on a STEM education partnership project perceive that the project demonstrated collaborative elements of a community of practice, and b) What elements of the partnership did faculty members and teachers identify as most important to the success of their efforts? …

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