Where do We Go from Here?: Conversations with K-6 Principals Following Three Years of Engineering Education Professional Development for Their Faculty

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Conference Proceeding

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Preparing elementary level teachers to teach engineering as part of their curriculum is fundamental to meeting the goals of the Next Generation Science (and Engineering) Standards, and for addressing the professional engineering pipeline. To address the NGSS goals and pipeline we engaged teachers from six elementary schools in summer workshops over a three-year period with ongoing school year professional development and support to enhance their understanding and integration of engineering concepts and content in teaching and learning.

The results of our professional development efforts1, 2, 3, 4, 5 revealed substantial increases in the teachers’ knowledge and implementation of engineering lessons with their students. We documented increases in the scope and depth of lessons, and shifts in the level of design control from the teachers to the students indicating a shift in faculty role from deliverer of information to facilitator of learning.

At the conclusion of our three-year initiative, we embarked on a study to investigate the impact of the project on the culture of the school, the nature of interactions between teachers, and future directions for STEM related professional development particularly associated with engineering. To do this, we developed an interview protocol and contacted the principals in each of the six schools and scheduled time to talk with these school leaders.

The responses of principals revealed numerous effects associated with the whole-school approach to implementing inquiry-based learning of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects using BrickLabs™ as a teaching tool. Positive effects were noted concerning increased student engagement, enhanced parent interactions and the principals expressed appreciation for the project and a desire for its continuation. Overwhelmingly, the most notable and possibly legacy-level impact occurred in teachers, as a result of the professional development in combination with the ongoing support of mentors and the whole-school approach. Teachers benefited from increased common experiences, enhanced communication, the presence of mentors, acquisition of inquiry based learning techniques, increased camaraderie, increased collaboration, increased cross-curricular activities and more. Across the board, principals reported what amounted to there being in essence a school culture shift, with teachers being more open to new ideas and a significantly increased level of collaboration.

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