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Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice, Museum of Science

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1034.1 - 22.1034.9



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Paper Authors


Christine M. Cunningham Museum of Science Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Christine Cunningham is a Vice President at the Museum of Science, Boston where she oversees curriculum development, teacher professional development, and research and evaluation efforts related to K-16 engineering and science learning and teaching. She is the founder and director of the Engineering is Elementary project. Her work focuses on making engineering and science more relevant, understandable, and accessible to everyone, especially marginalized populations such as women, underrepresented minorities, and people with disabilities. Christine received a joint B.A. and M.A. in Biology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Science Education from Cornell University.

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Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice—Museum of ScienceIncreasingly, elementary schools and teachers are beginning to introduce engineering conceptsand skills to their pupils. Engineering challenges can tap into children’s natural curiosity andcreativity and help to foster their problem-solving abilities. However, incorporating a newdiscipline—one that few elementary educators are knowledgeable about or comfortableteaching—into an already-packed elementary curriculum can present challenges. This paper willdraw upon the experiences of educators at the Museum of Science, Boston who have beensupporting the implementation elementary engineering for over seven years. Specifically it willaddresses: (a) some types of partnerships that have fostered engineering inclusion, (b) theintegration of engineering and science as one approach to enabling implementation, and (c) someof the challenges unique to elementary level engineering.The Museum of Science, Boston began the development of the Engineering is Elementarycurriculum seven years ago. As age-appropriate curricular materials became available, the teamcommenced work to get them used in schools both in our state and nationally. Doing thisrequired working closely with a number of partners. At the state level, we partnered with stateeducation departments, preservice programs, inservice professional development programs,individual teachers, schools, and entire districts to introduce teachers to engineering. To date, weestimate that approximately 19,000 teachers have used the materials. This paper will explore thepartnership models, examine a few in-depth, and distill some principles that underlie effectivepartnerships.To encourage and support elementary engineering at a national level, we have been developinganother set of partners, the Hub Sites, that assume leadership in their region for advocating forand supporting the inclusion of engineering activities in elementary classrooms. The paper willpresent this train-the-trainer model and offer an overview of the types of ongoing supportresources and networks that provide continued support to the Hub Sites.One of the challenges of including engineering at the elementary level is how to fit it into theday. Our curricular materials have been designed to reinforce the teaching of elementary science(and mathematics) concepts by integrating these with engineering. The paper will present somemodels of how classroom teachers knit engineering together with science. It will briefly explorehow the engineering design process and the inquiry processes used in science can be articulatedto become mutually reinforcing endeavors. And it will present statistical data from students thatsuggest that children learn the science concepts better when they are reinforce with engineeringchallenges then when they just study them alone.Working engineering content into the day is not the only challenge for elementary teachers. Thefinal section of the paper will examine some of the challenges that are prevalent, particularly atthe elementary level, for the introduction of engineering. It will also review some of the uniqueopportunities it can resent.Our work to bring engineering to into hundreds of schools, classrooms, and teachers has helpedus to understand what types of partnerships and implementation designs can fosterimplementation and sustained use of elementary engineering. It has also illuminated what typesof challenges need to be recognized and addressed. This session and paper will share some ofthese principles and models.

Cunningham, C. M. (2011, June), Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice, Museum of Science Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18315

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