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Development and Teacher Perceptions of an Avatar-based Performance Task for Elementary Teachers to Practice Post-testing Argumentation Discussions in Engineering Design

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Towson University

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Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., is Professor of Science and Engineering Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences at Towson University. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, worked briefly as a process engineer, and taught high school physics and pre-engineering. She has taught engineering and science to children in multiple formal and informal settings. As a K-8 pre-service teacher educator, she includes engineering in her elementary and early childhood science methods courses and developed and taught an engineering methods course for middle school teachers. She also developed a graduate-level engineering education course for PreK-6 teachers. Dr. Lottero has provided professional learning experiences in multiple schools and school systems in Maryland. She has co-authored numerous engineering-focused articles for the teacher practitioner journal, Science and Children, and presents her research regularly through the American Society for Engineering Education. Her current research includes investigating how K-5 students plan, fail, and productively persist, and how simulated classroom environments can be used to help inservice and preservice elementary teachers learn to lead argumentation discussions in science and engineering.

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Jamie Mikeska Educational Testing Service

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Jamie Mikeska is a Research Scientist in the Student and Teacher Research Center at Educational Testing Service (ETS). Jamie completed her Ph.D. in the Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy graduate program at Michigan State University in 2010. Her current research focuses on three key areas: (1) designing, developing, and conducting validation studies on assessments of content knowledge for teaching (CKT) science; (2) examining and understanding validity issues associated with measures designed to assess science teachers’ instructional quality, including observational measures, value-added measures, student surveys, and performance-based tasks; and (3) extending and studying the use of these knowledge and instructional practices measures of science teaching quality as summative assessment tools for licensure purposes and as formative assessment tools integrated within teacher education and professional development contexts. She currently serves as principal investigator on three National Science Foundation (NSF) research projects. One study (NSF #1621344) is designed to develop, pilot, and validate a set of performance-based tasks delivered within a simulated classroom environment in order to improve pre-service elementary teachers’ ability to facilitate goal-oriented discussions in science and mathematics. The purpose of the second study (NSF #1813254) is to examine and gather initial validity evidence for assessments designed to measure and build K-5th grade science teachers’ CKT about matter and its interactions in teacher education settings. The third grant (NSF #1813476) is focused on faciliating a working conference on the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. Prior to graduate school, she taught elementary school for five years in Montgomery County, MD and earned her National Board certification during her tenure as a public school teacher.

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Elizabeth Orlandi Science Education Consultant

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There is a growing body of literature within the engineering education community about how to help teachers learn to teach engineering at the elementary level. Much of what we know comes in the form of what has worked for particular programs, the use of well-tested curricula, and an emphasis on engineering habits of mind and an engineering design process. Our work aims to help elementary teachers practice one very important discussion within engineering design: post-testing argumentation discussions. These discussions occur after each design team has created and tested their designs and considered how their designs performed and could be improved. The discussion goal is for each team to re-consider their design performance and improvement ideas in light of their peers’ designs, critiques, and suggestions. By the end of the discussion, each team should ideally have more informed ideas. We have identified this as an “argumentation” discussion because it provides an opportunity for teams to: encounter additional evidence and ideas from other teams and revise their initial claims about design performance and improvement.

We used an online simulated classroom environment composed of five upper elementary student avatars to pilot a performance task that we designed to help teachers practice a post-testing engineering argumentation discussion. We received feedback from a panel of engineering education experts during the selection and refinement of a discussion task, which included materials to prepare teachers to lead the argumentation discussion and corresponding materials to train the “interactor” (who acts the parts of all five student avatars) to respond as the student avatars in the discussion. The challenge related to the task, “Design a Shoreline,” involved the avatar students applying knowledge of erosion, wetlands, riprap, and terrapin habitat to re-design a piece of shoreline so that it reduces erosion into a bay and provides habitat for terrapins.

We invited inservice elementary teachers from two regions to facilitate a post-testing engineering argumentation discussion with the avatars using this engineering performance task. For the present study, we utilized survey and interview data that we collected from all participants. Our research questions inquired about teacher perceptions of: (1) the clarity and helpfulness of the task; (2) the authenticity of the task as compared to what they would teach to elementary students; and (3) the authenticity of the student avatars as compared to real elementary students.

A convenience sample of 19 teachers participated. The majority of participants found the task components to be understandable and helpful in preparing them for the discussion. Although they perceived the student avatars to be somewhat like real elementary students—in general, better behaved and more compliant, but less familiar and able to follow teachers’ classroom norms—they perceived the task to be authentic. Our future work includes further revision and improvement of our task, analysis of the quality of teachers' performances facilitating the discussion (via video analysis), and studying how the teachers respond to formal feedback about their teaching performance and try again to lead the same discussion.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S., & Mikeska, J., & Orlandi, E. (2020, June), Development and Teacher Perceptions of an Avatar-based Performance Task for Elementary Teachers to Practice Post-testing Argumentation Discussions in Engineering Design Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34444

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