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Elementary Teachers’ Verbal Support of Engineering Integration in an Interdisciplinary Project (Fundamental, Diversity)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Technical Session 12

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Sarah Catherine Lilly University of Virginia

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Sarah Lilly is a PhD student in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the University of Virginia. She holds a B.S. in Mathematics and English and an M.A.Ed. in Secondary Education from The College of William and Mary. Her research centers on STEM education, particularly using qualitative methods to understand the integration of math and science concepts with computational modeling and engineering design practices in technology-enhanced learning environments. Prior to beginning doctoral work, she taught secondary mathematics for four years as well as created and implemented an interdisciplinary, project-based mathematics, science, and principles-of-technology curriculum for freshmen and sophomore high school students in Albemarle County, Virginia.

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Anne Marguerite McAlister University of Virginia

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Anne M. McAlister is a PhD student and graduate research assistant in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education at the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on identity development in higher education, and how STEM graduate students balance and prioritize multiple identities. Before beginning doctoral work, she earned her BS in Chemical Engineering from The Ohio State University.

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Jennifer L. Chiu University of Virginia

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Jennifer Chiu is an Associate Professor of STEM Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. She holds a B.S. in Engineering (Product Design) from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Science Education from UC Berkeley. She researches how to support K-12 students, teachers, and preservice teachers across science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science disciplines as well as how to support STEM in informal learning contexts. Before becoming a professor, she worked as an engineer at Hewlett Packard and taught high school mathematics and science in California and Oklahoma.

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This study investigates how teachers verbally support students to engage in integrated engineering, science, and computer science activities across the implementation of an engineering project. This is important as recent research has focused on understanding how precollege students’ engagement in engineering practices is supported by teachers (Watkins et al., 2018) and the benefits of integrating engineering in precollege classes, including improved achievement in science, ability to engage in science and engineering practices inherent to engineering (i.e., engineering design), and increased awareness of engineering (National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council; Katehi et al., 2009). Further, there is a national emphasis on integrating engineering, science, and computer science practices and concepts in science classrooms (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Yet little research has considered how teachers implement these disciplines together within one classroom, particularly elementary teachers who often have little prior experience in teaching engineering and may need support to integrate engineering design into elementary science classroom settings.

In particular, this study explores how elementary teachers verbally support science and computer science concepts and practices to be implicitly and explicitly integrated into an engineering project by implementing support intended by curricular materials and/or adding their own verbal support. Implicit use of integration included students engaging in integrated practices without support to know that they were doing so; explicit use of integration included teachers providing support for students to know how and why they were integrating disciplines. Our research questions include: (1) To what extent did teachers provide implicit and explicit verbal support of integration in implementation versus how it was intended in curricular materials? (2) Does this look different between two differently-tracked class sections?

Participants include two fifth-grade teachers who co-led two fifth-grade classes through a four-week engineering project. The project focused on redesigning school surfaces to mitigate water runoff. Teachers integrated disciplines by supporting students to create computational models of underlying scientific concepts to develop engineering solutions. One class had a larger proportion of students who were tracked into accelerated mathematics; the other class had a larger proportion of students with individualized educational plans (IEPs).

Transcripts of whole class discussion were analyzed for instances that addressed the integration of disciplines or supported students to engage in integrated activities. Results show that all instances of integration were implicit for the class with students in advanced mathematics while most were explicit for the class with students with IEPs. Additionally, support was mainly added by the teachers rather than suggested by curricular materials. Most commonly, teachers added integration between computer science and engineering.

Implications of this study are an important consideration for the support that teachers need to engage in the important, but challenging, work of integrating science and computer science practices through engineering lessons within elementary science classrooms. Particularly, we consider how to assist teachers with their verbal supports of integrated curricula through engineering lessons in elementary classrooms. This study then has the potential to significantly impact the state of knowledge in interdisciplinary learning through engineering for elementary students.

Lilly, S. C., & McAlister, A. M., & Chiu, J. L. (2021, July), Elementary Teachers’ Verbal Support of Engineering Integration in an Interdisciplinary Project (Fundamental, Diversity) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37020

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