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Elementary Engineering Teacher Professional Development: Initiation to Integration


Heidi Diefes-Dux

Meeting Materials

The Institute for P–12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE) at Purdue University carries out basic research, applied research, and evaluation on teacher professional development and student learning with engineering in formal and informal settings. Through a National Science Foundation Discovery Research K–12 (DR K–12) project, we have sought to investigate the impact of elementary engineering teacher professional development (TPD) on teachers’ and students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors with regards to engineering. Our TPD has been delivered in the form of a one-week-long summer academy (~30 hours), a year of supported classroom implementation, a second three-day summer academy, and a second year of classroom implementation. The learning objectives for the academies are such that teachers will be able to:

  • convey a broad perspective of the nature and practice of engineering,
  • develop a level of comfort in discussing what engineers do and how engineers solve problems with elementary students,
  • articulate the differences and similarities between engineering and science thinking, and
  • use problem-solving processes (i.e., science inquiry, model development, and design processes) to engage their students in complex open-ended problem solving.

This work has resulted in the identification of three stages of teacher development that are evident as teachers launch into elementary engineering. In the first stage, there is always some level of fear of engineering that needs to be overcome in order to even “see” engineering as a fit for the elementary classroom. In the second stage, teachers need to work within their school systems to get through the first implementation of one or more engineering activities. At the third stage, teachers are ready to think about what makes these activities “engineering” and how these engineering activities integrate with the rest of the grade-level curriculum. This project has resulted in the TPD materials and practices as well as teacher and student assessments that are available through INSPIRE.

Documented Results
INSPIRE’s research team is using the data collected through the DR K–12 project to investigate a number of questions around the impact of elementary engineering TPD and classroom implementation of engineering. The student data consists of pre-post academic year assessments (i.e., Draw-an-Engineer Test (DAET), Science and Engineering Knowledge Test (SKT), and Engineering Identity Scale (EIDS)) and student interviews, including the prompts for the Design Process Knowledge Task (DPKT). The teacher data has been collected through various instruments that assess teacher knowledge of engineering, teacher beliefs about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and STEM education, and teacher practices with engineering education. A large part of the research effort has focused on instrument development and assessment strategies. We are in the midst of significant data analysis.

A sampling of findings can be found at:

Carr, R. L., Diefes-Dux, H., & Horstman, B. (2012). Change in elementary student conceptions of engineering following an intervention as seen from the Draw-an-Engineer Test. Proceedings of the 119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

Douglas, A., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2013). Elementary teachers’ two-year implementation of engineering: A case of success. Proceedings of the 120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Atlanta, GA.

Dyehouse, M, Diefes-Dux, H. A. & Capobianco, B. (2011). Measuring the effects of integrating engineering into the elementary school curriculum on students’ science and engineering design content knowledge. Proceedings of the 118th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition,Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Hong, T., Purzer, S., & Monica C. (2011). A psychometric re-evaluation of the Design, Engineering and Technology (DET) survey. Journal of Engineering Education, 100 (4), 800-818.

Hsu, M.-C., Cardella, M. E., & Purzer, S. (2012). Elementary students’ engineering design process knowledge: Instrument development and pilot test. Proceedings of the 119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, San Antonio, TX.

Weber, N., Duncan, D., Dyehouse, M., Strobel, J., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2011). The development of a systematic coding system for elementary students’ drawings of engineers. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 1, 1, 49-62.

Yoon, S. Y., Kong, Y., Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Strobel, J. (2013). Elementary teachers’ evaluations of professional development in engineering. Proceedings of the 120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Atlanta, GA.

Potential Applications
Our elementary engineering TPD model, with minimal consultation, could be adapted to other educational contexts. In the formal setting, it has been implemented with as many as 65 teachers in one session. The TPD has been delivered to teachers whose student populations are diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and academic preparation. Beyond formal settings, the TPD model may be suitable, with some modification, for individuals working with engineering in informal settings.

For More Information
Visit the INSPIRE website: