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Saving Pelicans: A STEM Integration Unit

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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

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Use of Technology and Tools for K-12 Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Siddika Selcen Guzey Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Guzey is an assistant professor of science education at Purdue University. Her research and teaching focus on integrated STEM Education.

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Tamara J. Moore Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Tamara J. Moore, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education and Director of STEM Integration in the INSPIRE Institute at Purdue University. Dr. Moore’s research is centered on the integration of STEM concepts in K-12 and postsecondary classrooms in order to help students make connections among the STEM disciplines and achieve deep understanding. Her work focuses on defining STEM integration and investigating its power for student learning. Tamara Moore received an NSF Early CAREER award in 2010 and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2012.

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Saving Pelicans: A STEM Integration Unit (Curriculum Exchange)

The Saving Pelicans STEM unit uses the context of American white pelicans. The unit includes six lessons and each lesson leads students through a series of activities that introduce them to several science concepts and scientific and engineering practices. The unit was designed to address the NGSS standards MS- ETS1: Engineering Design and MS-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy and the crosscutting concept Stability and Change (NGSS Lead States 2013). The following disciplinary core ideas can be taught to extend the unit or after the unit: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience (MS-LS2.C) or Biodiversity and Humans (MS-LS4.D).

This unit was created as part of a large-scale NSF project that is an engineering, design-based approach to teacher professional development. The project has 50 teachers per year designing curricular units for science topic areas related to the Next Generation Science Standards. The project includes summer professional development and curriculum writing workshops, paired with coaching, to allow teams of teachers to design engineering curricular units focused on science concepts, meaningful data analysis, and measurement. Each unit goes through an extensive design research cycle to ensure its quality and is published in an online format.

The STEM unit can be implemented in middle school life-sciences classes. The first lesson introduces students to American white pelicans and helps to build the context for the engineering challenge. Students read an actual newspaper article about a farmer who destroyed a pelican colony by smashing thousands of pelican chicks and eggs on a farm that pelicans use as a nesting site. Lesson 2 integrates data analysis and measurement for scientific purposes. Students use two aerial pictures of pelican nesting sites to develop and test their procedures to estimate the number of nests in the areas shown on these aerial pictures. Lesson 3 introduces ecosystem dynamics. Lesson 4 requires students to solve an engineering challenge of designing pelican nests in order to transfer abandoned pelican eggs to a research lab at the DNR for a successful hatching process. Design criteria and constrains are introduced to students. In Lesson 5, students use GIS to make predictions about appropriate places to locate pelican chicks around a chosen lake. The last lesson of the unit was designed to increase students’ socio-scientific reasoning skills. Students participate in a classroom debate playing different roles related to American white pelicans, such as wildlife specialists, farmers, fishermen, and ornithologists. Students obtain different perspectives and assume different positions about the same controversial environmental issue in order to fully understand its complexity.

Guzey, S. S., & Moore, T. J. (2016, June), Saving Pelicans: A STEM Integration Unit Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26133

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