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Problem Based Learning as a Framework for a Research Experience for Teachers

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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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Stephanie Philipp University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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Stephanie Philipp, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of science education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She serves as a the Interim Director of the STEM Education Program and is a liaison between STEM departments and education for professional development and educational research.

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Bradley Harris University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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This paper will share findings from the first year of a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) site, funded through the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, supporting five community college science instructors from our region in seven-week research experiences focusing on cyber physical systems (CPS) used for energy production and management. Objectives of the RET included increasing participants’ knowledge of cyber-physical systems, research skills, and efficacy in creating and implementing problem-based learning (PBL) instruction using advanced technology to address threshold engineering concepts. We chose energy production as a focus because of its importance to the region that is home to our university and the community colleges, whose students transfer to our university to complete their baccalaureate degrees in STEM. Participants were trained to program and use Arduino open source electronics as a microcontroller for hands-on lab activities related to their summer research experiences. Each participant worked on a CPS project in the laboratory of their research mentor and interacted daily with graduate research assistants over the seven weeks. Because we asked participants to create a PBL unit for a community college course, we designed the RET to be a PBL experience for participants. The driving question was “What kinds of energy production and controls would we need to travel to Mars?” The entry event on the first day of the RET PBL was a luncheon featuring videos of the research groups’ on-going projects and a guest speaker, aligned with the driving question. Weekly guest speakers and field trips on alternative energy production, NASA projects on Mars, and innovative engineering design as well as a space mission experience at the Challenger STEM Learning Center on our campus continued to support the “Mission to Mars” PBL experience. A three-day bootcamp during the first week introduced the participants to the design elements, research, and rationale of PBL instruction. Weekly PBL workshops with a STEM education faculty member guided participants to create, critique, and revise a PBL unit of their choice that they would implement in a course during the academic year. The public products for the RET were a seminar presentation on their energy CPS research and PBL unit which was attended by university faculty and students, and a grant proposal submitted to the RET leadership for materials they would need to implement their PBL unit. Preliminary findings indicated the RET effectively met the stated objectives. In comparing focus responses from June to those from August, participants reported that they increased their efficacy in PBL planning and knowledge about their research topics overall. Specifically, they successfully adopted an effective template to design PBL instruction and felt able to garner support for PBL at their institution. They were able to connect their research experience with concepts they teach, which gave them updated perspectives for teaching. Finally, the participants saw opportunities for working with their summer mentors on new research ideas.

Philipp, S., & Harris, B. (2022, August), Problem Based Learning as a Framework for a Research Experience for Teachers Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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