Mapping Engineering Practices to Undergraduate Science Courses for Preservice Elementary Teachers

Kendra Erk
Associate Professor
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Need: The role of engineering in science education continues to emerge as a contributing factor to improving elementary STEM education. This is largely due to the inclusion of engineering practices as the hallmark of our national science education standards. These practices combined with disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts collectively shift science teachers’ focus from simply teaching science ideas to helping students figure out phenomena and design solutions to problems, resulting in what is called three-dimensional (3D) learning. Efforts to address 3D learning include the integration of engineering in K-12 curriculum, after school programs, and inservice teacher professional development. While such efforts have had strong impact on students and teachers across various elementary school settings, a significant gap remains in developing a nationally scalable and sustainable solution. As a nation, we lack a strategic, research-based process for elementary science teacher preparation programs to answer the call for implementing engineering and promoting 3D learning. To address this gap, the NSF-funded Using Principles of Design to Advance Teacher Education (UPDATE) project has created an innovative, scalable, and sustainable model for elementary science teacher preparation that can address the unprecedented need to prepare elementary science teachers to teach engineering practices nationwide. As a Development and Implementation Level II for Track 1: Engaged Student Learning initiative, we developed, implemented, and refined a series of discipline-specific engineering design-based curricular tasks that engage and improve learning of engineering practices among elementary preservice teachers. Guiding Question: How do STEM faculty incorporate and map engineering practices in their undergraduate science courses for preservice elementary teachers to facilitate three-dimensional learning of science?Outcomes: To date, three cohorts of elementary preservice teachers (total = 240 students) have participated in the project. A total of ten standards- and engineering design-based curricular tasks and correlating curriculum maps have been developed and fully implemented across four content-specific undergraduate science courses and one elementary science methods course. Cohorts 1-3 students reported significant increases in their self-efficacy in both planning and solving engineering design problems after completing three or four content courses with engineering design components, compared to before they participated in the UPDATE program. Statistical analysis of students’ performance on pre/post course-related content assessments indicated significant differences (p < 0.05) in biology, chemistry, and physics, suggesting that engineering design-based curricula can support students’ development of content knowledge and retention. Methods students demonstrated significant shifts in their orientations as learners of engineering design to teachers of ambitious engineering design-based science instruction. This poster presentation will profile how science faculty incorporated and mapped their design tasks to 3D learning.Broader Impacts: To address the demand for high quality STEM teachers, attention must be given to the instructional practices, curriculum, and learning experiences that promote higher order science learning among preservice elementary teachers. Project findings will help science and education faculty to better understand issues of learning among preservice elementary teachers and devise creative ways to facilitate enhanced normal practice among all STEM teacher candidates and ultimately advance STEM learning among K-6 students.


Jenna Gist, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN; Brenda Capobianco, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN