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Integrated Engineering and Empathy Activities in Pre-K and Kindergarten

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors

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Melissa Higgins Boston Children's Museum

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Michelle Cerrone

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Engineering and Empathy Pre-K/K is an NSF-funded design and development project in the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, intended to support pre-K and kindergarten educators in engaging their students in engineering experiences that support empathy development. Applying a design-based research approach, Boston Children’s Museum and EDC work in close collaboration with project stakeholders (e.g., teachers, curriculum directors, instructional coaches) to design and test integrated engineering and empathy activities and associated teacher professional development. Early education teachers have an opportunity to introduce and positively position engineering as an engaging discipline, but they can only do so when supported with high-quality curriculum and appropriate training. Explicitly integrating engineering and empathy at the pre-K/K level represents an innovative approach that leverages early childhood educators’ strengths in supporting social development, which could increase educator comfort and likelihood of implementation. This work contributes to understandings in two main areas: (1) design considerations for developing high-quality integrated engineering and empathy resources for pre-K/K and the educator and student supports needed, and (2) establishing the potential for these resources to impact pre-K/K educator understandings and perceptions of their ability to introduce engineering. Through the iterative and collaborative design process, the project team has developed: -a curriculum module comprised of classroom-tested integrated engineering and empathy activities; -teacher supports, including a professional development workshop highlighting how educators’ strengths supporting early learners’ social development can be applied to the teaching of engineering and providing them with foundational knowledge related to core early engineering content and practices; and -a set of Design Principles for the development of integrated engineering and empathy activities for the pre-K/K classroom to broadly guide the field in the design of integrated engineering and empathy instructional experiences for early learners. During the poster session, the project team will discuss findings from our first two years of work, related to the co-development process, teacher surveys, classroom testing, and teacher expert reviews. Specifically, the project team will present the following: Contextual factors (e.g., practices, perceptions, structures, norms) at the teacher and school levels that support and impede how pre-K/K teachers are able to incorporate integrated engineering and empathy into teaching and learning. Results from the teacher survey and guided discussions suggest three main contextual factors that support implementation of the E2K2 model: (1) the model builds on the skills pre-K/K teachers prioritize; (2) the model fits into typical pre-K/K classroom routines; and (3) the model follows the same hands-on and play-based approach that characterizes early childhood education (ECE) more broadly. Limiting factors include that while teachers may be offering engineering activities in their classrooms, they may not necessarily view these activities as engineering. Teachers also noted a need to better understand how parents and caregivers are supporting empathy development in the home. Key design considerations for developing high-quality integrated engineering and empathy resources for pre-K and K classrooms include: Meeting Children Where They Are; Creating Developmentally Appropriate Resources and Connecting to Context: Honoring Home, Community, and Classroom Norms; and Supporting Teacher Understanding and Practice Tools and supports that build on and enhance teachers’ existing knowledge and practices in order to help them successfully deliver integrated engineering and empathy activities in early childhood settings.

Higgins, M., & Cerrone, M. (2022, August), Integrated Engineering and Empathy Activities in Pre-K and Kindergarten Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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