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Elementary Teachers' Use of Engineering Curriculum Materials (Fundamental)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Fundamental & Research-to-Practice: K-12 Engineering Resources: Best Practices in Curriculum Design (Part 2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Mandy Biggers Penn State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Mandy Biggers is an assistant professor of science education at Penn State University. Her research and teaching interests involve engineering education with elementary students and also preservice teachers. Her particular interests are engineering practices and engineering design thinking. Before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and her Masters degree from Texas A&M University, she was a middle and high school science teacher in Texas.

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Leigh Ann Haefner Penn State University

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Leigh Ann Haefner is an associate professor of science education at Penn State Altoona and co-director of the Childhood and Early Education program at Penn State University. She is a former junior and senior high school science teacher and her current research includes a focus on inservice teacher’s integration of the practices of science and engineering in STEM education.

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Jonathan Bell Penn State University

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Jonathan Bell is a graduate research assistant at Penn State pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, focusing on science and engineering education. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Hampshire college, Jonathan spent 13 years in California designing science exhibitions, teaching middle school STEM and supporting teacher professional development related to engineering education. His research interests include engineering education, design thinking and teaching failure.

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Engineering practices are included as an explicit focus in the Next Generation Science Standards. Science and engineering compliment each other in many ways, and each teaches students a different skill set. Elementary teachers have had little to no training on incorporating engineering and science. Elementary teachers also rely heavily on their curriculum materials, which stems from a combination of factors: (1) low self-efficacy for teaching science, (2) lack of deep content knowledge in science, and (3) de-emphasis of science in elementary schools in favor of math and reading. This reliance also lends the elementary curriculum to be taught with high levels of fidelity (“as-is”). However, teachers should be able to adapt curriculum materials to meet the needs of their learners and incorporate engineering practices into existing science curriculum materials. It stands to reason that if elementary teachers rely heavily on science curriculum materials, then with even less training in engineering than in science, they would rely on engineering curriculum materials as well. No such research exists on elementary teachers’ use of engineering curriculum materials.

With the release of the NGSS, curriculum developers are scrambling to develop and publish curricula that incorporate all aspects of STEM literacy and (specifically) incorporate science and engineering practices. Even if such materials were available tomorrow, it would still take years for districts to pilot, adopt, and implement them. In the meantime, teachers are expected to incorporate engineering practices into existing science curriculum materials with little to no training on how to do so. Although elementary engineering curricula exist, they are (1) relatively new to the market, and (2) typically not integrated with science or other curriculum materials. The disciplines are still taught as independent ‘silos’ which defeats the purpose of integrated STEM education.

This research explored the ways in which elementary teachers integrated science and engineering in their classrooms while piloting new curriculum units. Findings associated with the implementation aspects of a larger study that examined how elementary teachers incorporate engineering into their science classes, and how they integrate engineering into their science lessons will be presented. Specifically the questions that guided this study were: In what ways do elementary teachers integrate engineering and science? What science content do they integrate into engineering units? What adaptations do they make to engineering curriculum? What factors influence teachers’ choices for making these adaptations?

This study occurred in a large, urban school district in their first year piloting Engineering is Elementary curriculum in grades 1-6. Six teachers volunteered as case-study subjects, videorecorded their EiE lessons, and were interviewed over the course of the EiE unit. Videos (n=31) averaged 34 minutes in length. Analysis revealed (1) very little science content integrated into the engineering lessons and (2) a continuum of fidelity to the engineering curriculum by the six teachers. Some of the factors affecting incorporation of science into engineering included (1) alignment of chosen science and engineering curriculum units, and (2) instructional goals and preparation of the teachers.

Biggers, M., & Haefner, L. A., & Bell, J. (2016, June), Elementary Teachers' Use of Engineering Curriculum Materials (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26925

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