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Integrated Engineering in Elementary Education: Tackling Challenges to Rural Teacher Training

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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

Faculty Development II: Building Community Among STEM Educators

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Toni Ivey Oklahoma State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Toni Ivey is an Associate Professor of Science Education in the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership at Oklahoma State University. She serves as the co-director for the Center for Research on STEM Teaching and Learning and the program coordinator for the Science and Mathematics Education program. Her research interests include science teacher professional development, science teacher preparation, engineering education, and geoscience education.

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Nicole M. Colston Oklahoma State University Orcid 16x16

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Nicole M. Colston is currently an NSF Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Fellow. Her interests in K-12 engineering education include engineer role models and early-aged career awareness. Her current work focuses on blending informal and formal engineering education in the context of climate adaptation and resiliency in rural communities.

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Julie Thomas University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Julie Thomas is a Research Professor of science education in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Thomas’ research has focused on children’s science learning and teacher professional development. Proud accomplishments include collaborative efforts – such as No Duck Left Behind, a partnership with waterfowl biologists to promote wetland education efforts, and Engineering is Everywhere (E2), a partnership with a materials engineer to develop a an efficient model for STEM career education. Thomas has been active in professional associations such as the School Science and Mathematics Association (SSMA-Past Executive Director and the Council for Elementary Children International (CESI-Retiring President).

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Juliana Utley Oklahoma State University Orcid 16x16

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Juliana Utley is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Director for the Center for Research on STEM Teaching and Learning (CRSTL) at Oklahoma State University. Her research interests include affective issues in mathematics education, professional development of preservice and in-service teachers, and engineering education.

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This research paper addresses the important question of how to introduce engineering education in rural elementary contexts. Elementary STEM education and early-aged engineering career awareness have been identified as important components to meeting the demand for pre-college preparedness and increased engineering workforce diversity. However, research indicates that most rural schools have limited access to quality STEM teachers and teaching resources.

Rural Readiness for Engineering Education (RREE) involved collaboration between math and science educators and a regional cooperative that included 15 school districts with high Native American student populations. The RREE project engaged 39 elementary teachers in engineering education PD using the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum kits. To maximize shared resources, the EiE kits stored at the regional cooperative and made available for participating teachers to implement with their 2nd-5th grade students.

The main objective of this study was to increase elementary teachers’ engineering education self-efficacy, awareness of engineers’ work, and knowledge of engineering. Additionally, the project aimed to increase students’ understanding about and interest in engineering processes and careers.

Researchers used multiple repeated measures to gauge changes in both teachers’ and students’ knowledge and perceptions regarding engineering, as well as to measure changes in teachers’ self-efficacy of teaching engineering. Specifically, the “What is an Engineer?” and “What is Technology?” tests measured changes in teachers’ and student’s understandings of the work of engineers and the human-designed world. Additionally, elementary students completed an "Engineering Attitudes" questionnaire to measure attitudes about and interest in engineering careers. Finally, researchers employed the “Teaching Engineer Self-efficacy Scale” (TESS) to assess changes in teachers’ self-efficacy to teach engineering concepts. Teachers also completed science content exams associated with the EiE kits.

Overall, the RREE was successful in exposing teachers and students in rural schools to engineering practices, the design process, and types of engineering careers. Our results indicated that teachers and students made significant gains in their understanding about engineering across most measures. In-service teachers made significant gains in the self-efficacy of teaching engineering. Importantly, researcher participants noted challenges to content knowledge translations, as well as statistically significant differences in student outcomes by gender.

With new state and national science standards that incorporate engineering practices throughout the grades, it is imperative that teachers receive PD on engineering education. For teachers, the EiE curriculum training and kits facilitated meaningful engineering education interactions within the context of traditional science instruction. Findings from this study indicate that exposure to the EiE curriculum significantly increased the students’ understanding and awareness about the work of engineers.

The RREE project suggests one model for countering the rural island effect and lack of STEM-related professional development opportunities for elementary teachers. Further, the EiE curriculum and kits can be used effectively by education cooperatives involved in shared resources and coordinated professional development and curriculum mapping services.

Ivey, T., & Colston, N. M., & Thomas, J., & Utley, J. (2016, June), Integrated Engineering in Elementary Education: Tackling Challenges to Rural Teacher Training Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25772

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