The engineering design approach for teaching science concepts has led to middle school student knowledge gains in core science concepts when compared with a scripted inquiry approach. By blending math and science disciplines, engineering design provides a strong mechanism to facilitate integrated instruction and connections among concepts and to the real world, building student understanding and appreciation for both content areas. While empirical research validates the use of engineering design at the secondary level, such efforts are almost nonexistent in the elementary classroom, particularly in rural schools that often lack any type of curriculum integration. The Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED) vision is to increase grade 3–6 student learning of science by developing Indiana’s first integrated, engineering design-based approach to elementary/intermediate school science education. Engineering, science, technology, and education faculty for Purdue University work directly with 90 elementary/intermediate inservice teachers, 70 preservice elementary teachers, and 2,500 students in the four partnering Indiana school districts: Taylor Community School Corporation, Plymouth School Corporation, Lafayette School Corporation, and Tippecanoe School Corporation.
Project goals are to (1) create a partnership of university engineers and scientists, teacher educators, school teachers and administrators, and community partners to improve science education in grades 3–6 through the integration of engineering design; (2) enhance the quality, quantity, and diversity of inservice and preservice teachers prepared to utilize engineering design to teach science through authentic, inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary design projects; (3) adapt, refine, and test existing project- and design-based curriculum materials/tasks, and where necessary, develop new ones to support the teaching of elementary science through authentic, inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary design projects; and (4) generate evidence-based outcomes for understanding how teachers teach science through engineering design and how young students learn science concepts through design-based activities.
The partnership uses summer institutes, linkages with Purdue preservice teachers, cyberinfrastructure, action research, and graduate coursework to equip teachers with design-based pedagogical skills and science content.
SLED addresses a newly introduced Indiana Academic Science Standards core standard entitled “the design process,” which requires Indiana K–12 teachers to have the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to teach science through engineering design. SLED is creating an effective model for high-quality science teacher professional development in Indiana and a more systematic trajectory for merging design and inquiry curriculum in Indiana schools.
Sustainable impacts include:
- inservice and preservice professional development to teach science through authentic, inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary design projects;
- a cyber-enabled community of engineering design educators accessing a library of tested, design-based curriculum materials to support teaching science in grades 3–6;
- formal integration of engineering design-based curricula in grades 3–6 of partner schools; and
- tested resources for addressing unique challenges of supporting integrative engineering design curriculum in rural schools.
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