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Board 123: Engaging Teachers in Authentic Engineering Design Tasks to Refine their Disciplinary Understandings (Work In Progress)

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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

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Dr. Merredith Portsmore is the Director for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach ( Merredith received all four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, PhD in Engineering Education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in designing and constructing solutions to engineering design problems and evaluating students’ design artifacts. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, (, and the online Teacher Engineering Education Program (

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Jessica Watkins Vanderbilt University


Rebecca Deborah Swanson Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Dr. Swanson is a postdoctoral research associate studying teacher learning in an online graduate-level engineering education program at Tufts University. Prior to joining the CEEO at Tufts, Dr. Swanson worked on research projects studying professional development of formal and informal science educators, learning through citizen science for adults and youth, and pre-service elementary teaching in informal science learning environments. Dr. Swanson received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education from the University of Colorado Boulder, and a BA in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz. Prior to graduate school, she was an elementary science educator for a small children's science center in California.

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As K-12 engineering education becomes more ubiquitous in the U.S, increased attention is being paid to how teachers are prepared to lead engineering learning experiences in their classrooms. Most teacher education initiatives emphasize familiarizing teachers with engineering concepts and helping them implement given curriculum. In addition, many engineering education initiatives are limited in duration to short workshops or programs. Recent calls from the National Academies and others have emphasized that teachers should be involved in professional development over sustained time period to allow for content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and communities of practice to develop.

To address these issues the Teacher Engineering Education Program (TEEP) at Tufts University’s Center for Engineering Education and Outreach was developed in Fall 2015. Offered completely online and asynchronously, TEEP engages teachers in four graduate-level courses over 18 months. TEEP looked to address existing standards in the development of its core curricula. A common standard in these types of guidelines is to engage teachers in authentic engineering practices. While this is an explicit standard, to date, it is only loosely defined what it means to engaged educators in authentic engineering. TEEP designed engineering content courses which present educators with engineering challenges that are meant to challenge them as adult learners. To do this, they are tasked with learning technologies and engaging in engineering challenges, like a automated fish feeder, that are beyond what their own students would do. To study the impact of these experiences on teachers, we tasked teachers with creating representations, descriptions, and reflections on the engineering design process and practices at a mid-point in the course and at the end of their first content courses.

This paper will share the results of the qualitative analysis of the way in which eleven elementary teachers’ understanding and stance toward engineering design changed as a result of engaging in adult-level engineering design projects. Identified themes showed that many teachers had more expansive conceptions of the engineering design process models and steps and that these understanding had connections to their pedagogical thinking about engineering with children. Implications of these findings and themes for teacher professional development standards, professional development design, and interactions between content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge will be discussed.

Portsmore, M. D., & Watkins, J., & Swanson, R. D. (2019, June), Board 123: Engaging Teachers in Authentic Engineering Design Tasks to Refine their Disciplinary Understandings (Work In Progress) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32216

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