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Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice, The SySTEmic Project, Maryland

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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

22.1035.1 - 22.1035.18



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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Towson University

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Dr. Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue is an Assistant Professor of Science Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences at Towson University. She began her career as process engineer, taught high school physics and pre-engineering, and has been involved in both Project Lead the Way and Project FIRST robotics. She was a Hub Site Partner for Engineering is Elementary (EiE) through their National Dissemination through Regional Partners program. As a pre-service teacher educator, she has added engineering to her elementary and early childhood science methods courses. She has taught engineering to children in informal settings, and is a partner with Harford County Public Schools (Maryland) on a district-wide project to implement elementary engineering instruction using EiE units of instruction. Her research includes examining the ways in which children and adults critically analyze technologies, and investigations of factors that support and those that hinder elementary teachers as they learn to teach engineering.

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Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice—The SySTEmic Project, Maryland
Increasingly, engineering concepts and skills are being introduced to elementary students.Incorporating this new discipline—one that few elementary educators are knowledgeable aboutor comfortable teaching—into an already-packed curriculum presents challenges. This paper willdraw upon the experiences of teachers and leaders within “The SySTEmic ElementaryEngineering Project: A Partnership among Harford County Public Schools (HCPS), Engineeringis Elementary (EiE), and Towson University (TU)” (hereafter, the SySTEmic Project).Specifically, the paper will address: (a) the three key project partners, (b) the project’s focus onscience-technology-engineering (STE) integrated units of instruction, and (c) challenges ofimplementing engineering instruction at the elementary level.Partnerships. The first author (at TU) and HCPS science leaders were awarded a $100,000 grantto initiate the SySTEmic Project in winter 2009. The project’s mission: to teach one STE-integrated unit per grade level in grades one through five to all children in HCPS, a 40,000-pupildistrict, by 2014. Later in 2009, EiE invited the first author to become a Hub Site Partner,creating a formal partnership between EiE and HCPS-TU and providing monetary and othersupport to the project. The paper will elaborate the initiation of this tripartite partnership, as wellas reasons for the partnership’s success, including that: EiE provided well-tested engineeringunits of instruction, monetary and other support; the project is co-steered by HCPS and the firstauthor; the first author is heavily involved with STE-integrated unit development and teacherprofessional development; and HCPS district leaders are fully invested in the project.Integration. The SySTEmic Project is unique in that the ‘unit of focus’ is not the EiE unit, butrather the STE-integrated unit. Once district leaders identified science/EiE unit pairs, the firstauthor integrated each pair. Integration was more complex than simply adding EiE units to theend of science instruction for multiple reasons shared in the paper, including that: teachers do nothave time to add an entire new unit, the order of the EiE lessons depended upon the largercoherent ‘true story’ of the STE-integrated unit, and science lessons were modified for their ownimprovement or added to support EiE lessons. Revisions of those units take place with teacherinput after the pilot year for each grade level.Challenges. Teachers still have difficulty “fitting in” the STE-integrated units. Pressures toperform on high-stakes language arts and mathematics assessments crowds what little time forscience there is. Strategies such as regrouping (for reading and/or mathematics) and pseudo-departmentalization (e.g., having one 3rd grade teacher teach the STE-integrated unit to all 3rdgraders in a school) create less opportunity for teachers to creatively borrow time from othersubjects. These and other issues discussed in the paper are significant, even in a district wheresupport for the SySTEmic Project is high.The work of this project to bring engineering into HCPS has helped us learn much aboutelementary engineering implementation. Together with other examples in the “MakingElementary Engineering Work” paper set, we can identify challenges and foster betterimplementation and sustained use of elementary engineering.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S. (2011, June), Making Elementary Engineering Work: Lessons from Partnerships and Practice, The SySTEmic Project, Maryland Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18316

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