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Building Middle School Teacher Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge through Engineering Design (Fundamental)

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-College: Fundamental Research in Engineering Education (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Reagan Curtis West Virginia University

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Reagan Curtis, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Psychology and chair of the Department of Learning Sciences and Human Development at West Virginia University. He pursues a diverse research agenda including areas of interest in (a) the development of mathematical and scientific knowledge across the lifespan, (b) online delivery methods and pedagogical approaches to university instruction, and (c) research methodology, program evaluation, and data analysis (qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methodological) for studies in developmental, educational, and counseling contexts. E-mail:

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Johnna Bolyard West Virginia University

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Johnna Bolyard is an Associate Professor of elementary and middle grades mathematics education in the College of Education and Human Services at West Virginia University. Her research interests focus on the development of mathematics teachers, particularly how K-8 teachers develop into mathematics teacher leaders.

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Darran Cairns West Virginia University

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Darran is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at West Virginia University. He is also the Project Director for Project TESAL at RESA 3.

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David Luke Loomis West Virginia University

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Sera Mathew


Kelly Leigh Watts

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Kelly Watts
Kelly has been the Executive Director for RESA 3 since July 2012. Previously, she was the Assistant Ex. Director and Program Development Director of RESA 2 for 7 years. She attained both her B.A. and M.A. from Marshall University and in 2001 she became a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent Mathematics and re-certified in 2011. Prior to RESA 2 she was the math facilitator and taught mathematics at both the middle and High School level. She has a monograph authored in the book entitled “A Decade of Middle School Mathematics Curriculum Implementations” published by Information Age as well as several Research Papers and Presentations that have been refereed. She presents at both the state and national level and has been awarded over $7 million in a variety of grant awards. In her spare time she visits with her 2 children and 2 grandsons.

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We present a model for professional development that emerged from our work with 24 middle school mathematics and science teachers in rural Appalachia. The model utilizes iterative design/redesign to address “the engineering problem” of building teacher content knowledge. Teachers Engaged in STEM and Literacy (TESAL) is a three year Math Science Partnership providing proximal context for developing this model. TESAL involved two weeks professional development each summer, two days each semester, and classroom observations/support. Teachers participated all three years and created then implemented and refined two lesson plans per year. TESAL involved 24 participating teachers from four counties with 41% to 67% low-income students, less than 80% highly qualified mathematics or science teachers, and below average mathematics and science test scores in a state well below the national average.

Our model includes the following steps, which we will explain in detail in the full paper should this abstract be accepted.

Step 1: Identify mathematics and science knowledge gaps utilizing established standardized assessments (e.g., Diagnostic Teacher Assessments in Mathematics and Science [DTAMS], Force Concept Inventory [FCI]).

Step 2: Engage teachers as learners in design tasks requiring that knowledge and including mathematical modeling for prediction prior to building and testing designs.

Step 3: Evaluated productive struggle and teacher learning through observations, focus group interviews, and pre-post testing with standardized assessments.

Step 4: Redesigned design tasks to further support teacher learning, and require participating teachers to implement design lessons addressing related knowledge gaps with their students.

As an example, we focus here on Real World Newtonian Physics (Next Generation Science Standard MS-PS2-2) where 12 of 24 teachers incorrectly identified relative motion of a dropped object and how to consider friction forces in initial DTAMS testing. Teachers experienced a roller coaster design project lesson as learners with the task to build a paper roller coaster so a marble took 45 seconds to traverse the track. Conversations during the coaster project and later classroom observations highlighted content knowledge gaps where teachers had misconceptions about how mass of a marble influences travel on the track; confusing how potential energy, kinetic energy, force, and speed differentiate. We developed new design modules for teachers requiring them to build and test ramps at various heights to launch small and large marbles first to hit a target and later to hit target with enough force to break a napkin. Measurements from designs with small marbles were used to build mathematical models predicting mechanics with large marbles.

We will provide in the full paper detailed supporting evidence for the model from classroom observations, focus groups, and content knowledge tests. Briefly, teachers improved targeted FCI items and overall DTAMS scores. In focus groups, teachers talked about productive struggle with critical mathematical and science content, understanding the process deeply enough to guide their students effectively, the importance of redesign, and how this professional development experience was dramatically different and more valuable than others they had experienced.

Curtis, R., & Bolyard, J., & Cairns, D., & Loomis, D. L., & Mathew, S., & Watts, K. L. (2017, June), Building Middle School Teacher Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge through Engineering Design (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27989

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