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Transformations in Elementary Teachers' Pedagogical Reasoning: Studying Teacher Learning in an Online Graduate Program in Engineering Education

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 6: Technology-enhanced Instruction and Assessment

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Jessica Watkins Vanderbilt University

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Jessica Watkins is Assistant Professor of Science Education at Vanderbilt University.

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Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Dr. Merredith Portsmore is the Director for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach as well as a Research Assistant Professor at the Center. Merredith received all four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, PhD in Engineering Education) and has been a member of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach for 18 years, previously serving as the Director of Outreach and a program manager. Her research interests focus on how children engage in designing and constructing solutions to engineering design problems and evaluating students’ design artifacts. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, (, and the new Online Teacher Engineering Education Program (

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Rebecca D. Swanson Tufts University

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Dr. Swanson is a post-doc scholar with the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University, where she studies teacher learning in an online professional development course on teaching and learning engineering. She earned her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction in Science Education from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as a Bachelor's Degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UC Santa Cruz. Prior to graduate school, Dr. Swanson was an elementary STEM educator for a children's science center, teaching STEM courses in both formal and informal learning environments.

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This research paper describes a study of elementary teacher learning in an online graduate program in engineering education for in-service teachers. While the existing research on teachers in engineering focuses on their disciplinary understandings and beliefs (Hsu, Cardella, & Purzer, 2011; Martin, et al., 2015; Nadelson, et al., 2015; Van Haneghan, et al., 2015), there is increasing attention to teachers' pedagogy in engineering (Capobianco, Delisi, & Radloff, 2018). In our work, we study teachers' pedagogical sense-making and reflection, which, we argue, is critical for teaching engineering design.

This study takes place in [blinded] program, in which teachers take four graduate courses over fifteen months. The program was designed to help teachers not only learn engineering content, but also shift their thinking and practice to be more responsive to their students. Two courses focus on pedagogy, including what it means to learn engineering and instructional approaches to support this learning. These courses consist of four main elements, in which teachers:

1) Read data-rich engineering education articles to reflect on learning engineering; 2) Participate in online video clubs, looking at classroom videos of students’ engineering and commenting on what they notice; 3) Conduct interviews with learners about the mechanism of a pull-back car; and 4) Plan and teach engineering lessons, collecting and analyzing video from their classrooms.

In the context of this program, we ask: what stances do teachers take toward learning and teaching engineering design? What shifts do we observe in their stances?

We interviewed teachers at the start of the program and after each course. In addition to reflecting on their learning and teaching, teachers watched videos of students’ engineering and discussed what they saw as relevant for teaching engineering. We informally compared summaries from previous interviews to get a sense of changes in how participants talked about engineering, how they approached teaching engineering, and what they noticed in classroom videos. Through this process, we identified one teacher to focus on for this paper: Alma is a veteran 3rd-5th grade science teacher in a rural, racially-diverse public school in the southeastern region of the US. We then developed content logs of Alma's interviews and identified emergent themes. To refine these themes, we looked for confirming and disconfirming evidence in the interviews and in her coursework in the program. We coded each interview for these themes and developed analytic memos, highlighting where we saw variability and stability in her stances and comparing across interviews to describe shifts in Alma's reasoning. It was at this stage that we narrowed our focus to her stances toward the engineering design process (EDP).

In this paper, we describe and illustrate shifts we observed in Alma's reasoning, arguing that she exhibited dramatic shifts in her stances toward teaching and learning the EDP. At the start of the program, she was stable in treating the EDP as a series of linear steps that students and engineers progress through. After engaging and reflecting on her own engineering in the first course, she started to express a more fluid stance when talking more abstractly about the EDP but continued to take it up as a linear process in her classroom teaching. By the end of the program, Alma exhibited a growing stability across contexts in her stance toward the EDP as a fluid set of overlapping practices that students and engineers could engage in.

Capobianco, B. M., Delisi, J., & Radloff, J. (2018). Characterizing elementary teachers’ enactment of high-leverage practices through engineering design-based science instruction. Science Education, 102(2), 342–376. Hsu, M.-C., Cardella, M. E., & Purzer, S. (2011). Elementary teachers’ perceptions of engineering and familiarity with design, engineering, and technology. In Proceedings of the 118th American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. Vancouver, CA. Martin, T., Peacock, S. B., Ko, P., & Rudolph, J. J. (2015). Changes in teachers’ adaptive expertise in an engineering professional development course. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 5(2). Nadelson, L. S., Pfeister, J., Callahan, J., & Pyke, P. (2015). Who is doing the engineering, the student or the teacher? The development and use of a rubric to categorize level of design for the elementary classroom. Journal of Technology Education, 26(2). Van Haneghan, J. P., Pruet, S. A., Neal-Waltman, R., & Harlan, J. M. (2015). Teacher beliefs about motivating and teaching students to carry out engineering design challenges: Some initial data. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 5(2).

Watkins, J., & Portsmore, M. D., & Swanson, R. D. (2019, June), Transformations in Elementary Teachers' Pedagogical Reasoning: Studying Teacher Learning in an Online Graduate Program in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33458

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