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Affordances of Engineering for Elementary-aged English Learners (Fundamental, Diversity)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Communication in Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Christine M. Cunningham Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Christine Cunningham is an educational researcher who works to make engineering and science more relevant, accessible, and understandable, especially for underserved and underrepresented populations. She is currently a Professor of Education and Engineering at Penn State University where she focuses on developing research-based, field-tested curricula, professional development, and research. For sixteen years, she worked as a vice president at the Museum of Science where she was the Founding Director of Engineering is Elementary, a groundbreaking program that integrates engineering concepts into preschool, elementary, and middle school curriculum and teacher professional development. Her recent book, Engineering in Elementary STEM Education, describes what she learned. Cunningham has previously served as director of engineering education research at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, where her work focused on integrating engineering with science, technology, and math in professional development for K-12 teachers. She also directed the Women’s Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) project, the first national, longitudinal, large-scale study of the factors that support young women pursuing engineering degrees. At Cornell University, where she began her career, she created environmental science curricula and professional development. Cunningham has received a number of awards; in 2017 her work was recognized with the prestigious Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education. Cunningham holds joint B.A. and M.A. degrees in biology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Science Education from Cornell University.

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Gregory John Kelly Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

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Gregory Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Science Education and Senior Associate Dean for Research, Outreach, and Technology in the College of Education at Penn State University. His research investigates classroom discourse, epistemology, and science science learning.

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Natacha Meyer

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English learners are a rapidly growing population in elementary schools—currently over 16% of children entering kindergarten are English learners. All students develop proficiency with knowledge and practices through meaningful engagement and authentic discourse. Our previous work with teachers of English learners surfaced that the opportunity to read, write, speak, listen, draw, and represent ideas as they engage in engineering activities can help English learners in a number of ways. This paper more systematically investigates these possibilities asking: What are the affordances of engineering for English learners at the elementary level? We identify ten affordances of engineering for English learners. Data from focus groups and surveys of teachers indicate that these are valid benefits. The study shows that engineering can provide important avenues for developing language and science and engineering knowledge while offering important possibilities for English learners to demonstrate their ideas, develop their identities, and connect with their classroom community.

Cunningham, C. M., & Kelly, G. J., & Meyer, N. (2019, June), Affordances of Engineering for Elementary-aged English Learners (Fundamental, Diversity) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32048

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