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Teachers Navigating Educational Systems: Reflections on the Value of Funds of Knowledge (Fundamental)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Technical Session 4

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Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Joel Alejandro Mejia University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Joel Alejandro (Alex) Mejia is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. His research has contributed to the integration of critical theoretical frameworks and Chicano Cultural Studies to investigate and analyze existing deficit models in engineering education. Dr. Mejia’s work also examines how asset-based models impact the validation and recognition of students and communities of color as holders and creators of knowledge. His current work seeks to analyze and describe the tensions, contradictions, and cultural collisions many Latino/a/x students experience in engineering through testimonios. He is particularly interested in approaches that contribute to a more expansive understanding of engineering in sociocultural contexts, the impact of critical consciousness in engineering practice, and development and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogies in engineering education.

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Luis Ricardo Betancourt San Diego State University


Alberto Esquinca San Diego State University

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Alberto Esquinca is an Associate Professor in the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education at San Diego State University.

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Vitaliy Popov University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Vitaliy Popov is an Assistant Professor of Learning Health Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School. His research focuses on understanding, designing, and evaluating learning technologies and environments that foster collaborative problem solving, spatial reasoning, engineering design thinking and agency. He is currently serving as a co-principal investigator on three projects funded by the National Science Foundation ranging from studying visuospatial skills development through origami to applying multimodal learning analytics in teamwork and understanding the mechanisms of an A-ha! moment. Dr. Popov completed his Ph.D. on computer-supported collaborative learning at Wageningen University & Research Center, in the Netherlands. His background allows him to utilize evidence in education science, simulation-based training and learning analytics to understand how people become expert health professionals, how they can better work in teams and how we can support these processes to foster health care delivery and health outcomes.

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With the emergence of the Next Generation Science Standards, several middle school teachers have been called to integrate engineering into their classes. However, there has been little discussion on how middle school teachers can be supported to effectively adopt instructional practices that combine both asset-based approaches and engineering concepts. There are several challenges that emanate from this problem. For example, the nature of the materials available to teachers may impact their level of confidence when adopting new approaches to teaching engineering. There is also no instructional model to guide teachers when planning and implementing engineering lessons. Although some engineering activities for middle school students have been developed, these usually separate language and content, and do not acknowledge the lived realities of students; thus creating a cultural divide. If that cultural divide is to be closed, it is important to not just provide content knowledge, but approach teaching in a more holistic way that includes recognizing the students and communities as holders and creators of knowledge. It is by bringing these asset-based perspectives that we can work with teachers to create more culturally responsive engineering education.

To address this issue, we collaborated with 8 middle school teachers at a STEAM school (Title I) near the U.S. - Mexico border. For this study, teachers received 35 hours of professional development in a period of 2 years through intensive workshops looking at asset-based approaches to engineering education–primarily focusing on funds of knowledge. The goal was for teachers to learn about funds of knowledge as a framework for engaging students in engineering activities. Teachers were asked to design a unit that would include the principles of funds of knowledge and engineering design process. Throughout the project, we collected data from interviews, observations and field notes. The results showed that teachers acknowledged the significance of funds of knowledge as a tool for empowering and engaging students in STEAM related activities. Teachers noted that recognizing students’ backgrounds is important, and becomes the foundation, for the students to see themselves as leaders, engineers and scientists. We also noted that several teachers had been integrating funds of knowledge into their teaching without sometimes being aware of it. However, there were certain institutional barriers that prevented its full implementation in the educational curriculum. These results indicate that although teachers see the significance of funds of knowledge in engineering, the teachers and teaching practices are still embedded in a deficit-oriented educational structure that may prevent some of these changes to occur. This research contributes to the ongoing efforts to establish a more culturally responsive educational environment for students that have been negatively impacted by a discriminatory school system that has a history of neglecting underprivileged groups of society.

Mejia, J. A., & Betancourt, L. R., & Esquinca, A., & Popov, V. (2021, July), Teachers Navigating Educational Systems: Reflections on the Value of Funds of Knowledge (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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