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Middle School Teachers' Evolution of TPACK Understanding through Professional Development

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Evaluation: Exploring the Impact of Programs & Professional Development for K-12 Teachers

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Anthony Steven Brill New York University

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Anthony Brill received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2014. He is currently a M.S. student at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, studying Mechanical Engineering. He is also a fellow in their GK-12 program, promoting STEM education. He conducts research in the Mechatronics and Controls Laboratory, where his interests include using smart mobile devices in closed loop feedback control.

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Colin Hennessy Elliott New York University

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Colin received his B.S. in Physics in 2010 and M.S. in Science and Technology Studies in 2011, both from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After that, he taught high school Physics in Newark NJ. He is currently a Ph.D student at NYU in Science Education, working on multiple projects which focus on urban science education. Colin's interested in studying urban science education around issues of equity, learning in and out of school, teacher preparation and students from multiple lenses.

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Jennifer B. Listman New York University

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Dr. Jennifer Listman is the Assistant Director, Program Development and Evaluation, Center for K12 STEM Education, New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering. As the Center’s resident research scientist, she conducts and publishes assessments and outcomes evaluations of Center programs for stewardship, research, and development purposes. Dr. Listman received her B.A. in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and her PhD in Anthropological Genetics from New York University in 2009. She conducted research on human evolutionary and migratory history in South East Asian populations and Jewish populations using genomic data and carried out collection of saliva samples as a DNA source from over 500 individuals in rural Thailand, to create a DNA resource of six ethnic populations. In addition, while Associate Research Scientist at Yale University School of Medicine, she conducted research on the evolutionary history of genes involved in alcohol metabolism and substance abuse. She has been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

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Catherine E Milne New York University

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Catherine Milne is professor in science education at New York University. Her research interests include urban science education, socio-cultural nature of learning, the role of the history of science in learning science, the development and use of multimedia for teaching and learning science, and the nature and role of technology in STEM learning. She is co-Editor-in-Chief for the journal, Cultural Studies of Science Education and co-editor of two book series for Springer Publishers and Sense Publishers.

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Vikram Kapila New York University Orcid 16x16

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Vikram Kapila is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering (NYU Tandon), where he directs a Mechatronics and Control Laboratory, a Research Experience for Teachers Site in Mechatronics and Entrepreneurship, a GK-12 Fellows project, and a DR K-12 research project, all funded by NSF. He has held visiting positions with the Air Force Research Laboratories in Dayton, OH. His research interests include K-12 STEM education, mechatronics, robotics, and control system technology. Under Research Experience for Teachers Site and GK-12 Fellows programs, funded by NSF, and the Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), funded by six philanthropic foundations, he has conducted significant K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach activities to integrate engineering concepts in science classrooms and labs of dozens of New York City public schools. He received NYU Tandon’s 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2014 Jacobs Excellence in Education Award, 2002 Jacobs Innovation Grant, 2003 Distinguished Teacher Award, and 2012 Inaugural Distinguished Award for Excellence in the category Inspiration through Leadership. Moreover, he is a recipient of 2014-2015 University Distinguished Teaching Award at NYU. In 2004, he was selected for a three-year term as a Senior Faculty Fellow of NYU Tandon’s Othmer Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. His scholarly activities have included 3 edited books, 8 chapters in edited books, 1 book review, 55 journal articles, and 126 conference papers. He has mentored 1 B.S., 17 M.S., and 4 Ph.D. thesis students; 31 undergraduate research students and 11 undergraduate senior design project teams; over 300 K-12 teachers and 100 high school student researchers; and 18 undergraduate GK-12 Fellows and 60 graduate GK-12 Fellows. Moreover, he directs K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach programs that enrich the STEM education of over 1,500 students annually.

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In recent years, educators have come to appreciate that teaching and learning of difficult science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content can benefit from visually stimulating and versatile uses of a myriad of technological tools, e.g., the LEGO robotics kit. Teachers who are inexperienced in constructing authentic learning activities around the robotics platform need acquisition of necessary skills to meaningfully address issues of disciplinary content through seamless integration of technology to enhance pedagogy. The increasing adoption of technology in education has led to the development of a conceptual framework for teacher knowledge of technology integration termed as technological-pedagogical-content knowledge (TPACK). This study examines middle school teachers’ growth in their TPACK understanding through a summer professional development (PD) workshop focused on exploring the design and testing of robotics-focused lessons as well as their alignment with science and math learning standards.

The PD workshop centered on collaboration between engineers, education researchers, and four middle school science and math teachers. Prior to the workshop, the engineers and education researchers collaboratively created a standards-aligned curriculum consisting of five math and five science lessons aimed at mitigating content-specific pedagogical struggles through the integration of robotics. Unlike the technocentric approach to technology integration, where lesson contents are planned around a technological application, in this study, the development of each of the 10 lessons was driven by content-specific needs. Throughout the PD, a TPACK perspective was employed to introduce each lesson to the teachers, allowing them to examine and understand the teaching and learning benefits derived from the robot-based lesson.

It is important that technology integration in the classroom aim to improve students’ ability to learn. During the three-week PD, teachers gained the ability to recognize classroom applications of robots that could be useful versus unnecessary. The gains in teachers’ knowledge became apparent during the third week of PD when investigating a geometry-focused robotics lesson. This lesson was intended to explore how 3D objects consist of 2D layers. A robot was used to draw 2D shapes on a cardboard surface following which students cut out the drawings to construct a 3D object, similar to a 3D printer. We explored teachers’ negative reactions to the robot’s role in this lesson and the justifications behind their reasoning. Having determined that the originally designed lesson lacked relevance to classroom, participating teachers and researchers discussed other math content that middle school students struggle to understand. Following this discussion, teachers created a mobile robot-based lesson to transform one of their existing lessons, on addition and subtraction with positive and negative integers, for creating an exciting and effective classroom activity with a visual representation of the solution process.

As a final assessment of teachers’ TPACK, on the last day of the PD, the teachers were asked to answer a set of questions designed to identify the role of the robot in each of the 10 lessons. Teachers were able to identify the pedagogical constraints of each lesson and the benefits of incorporating the robot as a teaching tool. Major benefits that were identified include: creating visual representations of abstract concepts, introducing manipulatives that encourage student participation, and incorporating embedded storylines to produce real-world connections.

Through this PD, the teachers gained a solid understanding of TPACK and learned ways to construct lessons that engage students while addressing content-specific pedagogical challenges. The full version of this paper will elaborate on the format of the PD, the geometry lesson case-study, and the teacher responses to the final reflection of each lesson.

Brill, A. S., & Elliott, C. H., & Listman, J. B., & Milne, C. E., & Kapila, V. (2016, June), Middle School Teachers' Evolution of TPACK Understanding through Professional Development Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25720

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