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Examining and Characterizing Elementary School Teachers' Engineering Design-based Instructional Practices and Their Impact on Students’ Science Achievement

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Elementary Engineering

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Brenda M. Capobianco Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Brenda M. Capobianco is a Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and School of Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. She holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, M.S. in science education from Connecticut Central State University, and Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She teaches elementary science methods and graduate courses in teacher action research and gender and culture in science education. Her research interests include girls’ participation in science and engineering; teacher’s engagement in action research; and science teachers’ integration of the engineering design process to improve science learning.

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James Lehman Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. James D. Lehman is a Professor Emeritus of Learning Design and Technology and former Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Purdue University. He is member of the leadership teams of two current NSF-funded projects, Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED) and Professional Development for Computer Science (PD4CS). He holds a B.S. and M.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in science education, all from Purdue University. His research interests include integration of computers in education, particularly in STEM disciplines; e-learning; and interactive multimedia.

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Over the past ten years, there has been considerable attention to introducing K-12 students to engineering concepts and practices. This is most evident in the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and the recent introduction and adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. A signature component of these documents is the introduction of scientific and engineering practices. The use of “practices” signifies the importance of learning, applying and transferring knowledge and skill simultaneously in a manner reflective of the work of scientists and engineers. In this manner, knowledge and practice are interconnected in designing and implementing meaningful learning experiences in K-12 science education. Equally important are the instructional practices teachers employ to facilitate and support K-12 students’ learning of science through engineering practices. To date, however, little evidence has been produced about elementary teachers’ engineering instructional practices and their impact on student science achievement. Using the theoretical lens of situated learning, researchers in this study examine how learners (elementary teachers and students) become part of a community of practice focused on engineering design in elementary science in which they learn from others (university STEM faculty) through an apprenticeship approach and advance to become full-fledged participants of the community. The context of this study is a large, university-school science partnership aimed at improving elementary/intermediate school (defined here as grades 3-6) students’ learning of science through engineering design. In this study, we examine what instructional practices elementary school teachers engage in when they introduce students to selected engineering design tasks and the impact these practices have student science achievement. The participants included four grade four teachers and their 93 students from rural and suburban school settings. Researchers conducted over 27 hours of formal classroom observations of each teacher's enactment of two multi-day design tasks. Classroom observations were analyzed using the Engineering Design-Based Classroom Observational Rubric – an observation tool developed, validated, and published by the research team. Students’ development of scientific knowledge was assessed by identical pre- and post-instruction tests composed of multiple-choice items that probed for varying levels of comprehension of both science and engineering concepts addressed in each unit design task. Tests were analyzed for item validity, and an overall Cronbach alpha reliability was calculated based on the post-test administration of the test. Simple descriptive statistics were calculated, and paired samples t-tests were used to assess students’ pre-test to post-test learning gains. Pearson product moment correlations were calculated between teachers’ observational rubric scores and students’ scores on the corresponding post-test. Results indicated that the teachers’ rubric scores were positively related to students’ test scores, suggesting that specific teacher practices, at least in certain cases, are related to better student outcomes. Implications of this study may provide direction for professional development efforts to better prepare teachers to integrate engineering design-based science instruction in elementary school science.

Capobianco, B. M., & Lehman, J. (2018, June), Examining and Characterizing Elementary School Teachers' Engineering Design-based Instructional Practices and Their Impact on Students’ Science Achievement Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30465

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