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Elementary Teacher as Teacher of Engineering: Identities in Concert and Conflict

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

K-5 Teacher Transformation

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.473.1 - 23.473.31

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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Ph.D. Towson University

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Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy & 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 elementary children in multiple informal settings, and is a collaborator with the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program. As a pre-service teacher educator, she has added engineering to her elementary and early childhood science methods courses, and developed a Teaching Engineering Design course for middle school pre-service teachers in a science track. Since 2008, she has partnered with Harford County Public Schools in Maryland on the SySTEmic Project, a district-wide project to implement elementary engineering instruction using EiE units of instruction. More recently, she has provided science and engineering professional development to Tunbridge Public Charter School, Baltimore City, and to Cecil County Public Schools, Maryland. Her research largely examines factors that support and those that hinder elementary teachers as they learn to teach engineering.

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Elementary Teacher as Teacher of Engineering: Identities in Concert and ConflictThis paper shares the results of completed mixed-methods research on the ways in which 36elementary teachers described their identities as “teachers of engineering” before and afterteaching Engineering is Elementary (EiE) units of instruction for the first time. The construct ofidentity used here assumes that learning and identity formation are bound: “Learning … is amatter of deciding what kind of person you are and want to be …” (Brickhouse, 2001, p. 286).Identity considers not only self-concept, but also who we want to be within communities ofpractice and in response to others (Lave & Wenger, 1991). As people encounter new learningdemands, the new identity (e.g., teacher of engineering) must be negotiated in light of existingidentities (e.g., teacher of traditional elementary subjects) (Leuhmann, 2007).Many factors impact the negotiation of new teacher-of-engineering identities, including: mostelementary teachers’ lack of exposure to engineering (Cunningham, 2008), and the contrastinglygendered natures of elementary education and engineering. Similar challenges exist forelementary science teacher identity formation (e.g., Settledge et al., 2011).Research Questions. Before and after teaching the EiE units: 1. How did participants view themselves – or perceive of how others (e.g., family members, administrators) viewed them – as teachers of engineering? 2. In what ways did participants suggest identity congruence or conflict? Note: Null hypotheses will be provided in the full paper.Methodology. Pre- and post-teaching surveys were developed after analysis of interviews from apilot study. Likert scale survey questions addressed the first research question; open-responsequestions addressed the second. Participants received five hours of professional development forthe EiE unit prior to taking the pre-teaching survey. The survey response rate before teachingwas 97% and after teaching was 94%. Twenty-one participants were interviewed to elaboratepost-teaching survey responses. Analytical methods included descriptive and inferentialstatistics, and an iterative search of interview data for themes.Findings. Before teaching, participants agreed that they saw themselves – and others saw them –as teachers of engineering. They viewed themselves in this way more strongly than theysupposed others would view them. Participants agreed more strongly that they and others sawthemselves as teachers of children, reading, mathematics and science than as teachers ofengineering. There was no difference between before and after teaching survey results for thesemeasures of identity.On pre-surveys, participants provided a list of words to describe the engineering and elementaryeducation professions. Common terms for the engineering list: intelligent, problem solvers, math,and science. Common for education: caring/kind, knowledge, flexible, and generalist. Interviewselaborated survey responses, and included discussions of the gendered nature of engineering.Impact. While the elementary engineering education literature has importantly addressed teacherself-efficacy (i.e., how we judge our capability to act), little in this literature has explicitlyexplored teachers’ identity formation (Yoon et al., 2012). For those interested in elementaryengineering implementation, this study provides insights into the important identity work thatteachers must do to see themselves (and for others to see them) as teachers of engineering.ReferencesBrickhouse, N.W. (2001). “Embodying science: A feminist perspective on learning.” Journal of Research on Science Teaching, 38(3), 282-295.Cunningham, C. (2008). Elementary teacher professional development in engineering: Lessons learned from Engineering is Elementary. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Pittsburgh, PA.Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Leuhmann, A.L. (2007). Identity development as a lens to science teacher preparation. Science Education, 91, 822-839.Settledge, J., Southerland, S.A., Smith, L.K., & Ceglie, R. (2009). Constructing a doubt-free teaching self: Self-efficacy, teacher identity, and science instruction within diverse settings. Journal of Research on Science Teaching, 46(1), 102-125.Yoon, S.Y., Evans, M.G., & Strobel, J. (2012). Development of the teaching engineering self- efficacy scale (TESS) for K-12 teachers. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S. (2013, June), Elementary Teacher as Teacher of Engineering: Identities in Concert and Conflict Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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