Living in a Materials World: Materials Science and Engineering Professional Development for K-12 Educators

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Conference Proceeding

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Advances in materials science are fundamental to technological developments and have broad societal impacts. For example, years of materials science research has gone into developing cellular phones which are composed of polymer cases, liquid crystal displays, LEDs, silicon chips, Ni-Cd batteries, resistors, capacitors, speakers, and microphones, and compacted into a space equivalent to that of a deck of cards. Like many technological developments, cellular phones have become a ubiquitous part of society, and yet most people know little about the materials science associated with their development. The rich context that materials science provides for learning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) content and the need to enhance K-12 educators' knowledge of materials science was the motivation for developing and offering a 20 hour four-day professional development course entitled "Living in a Materials World." In addition to exposing the participating K-12 educators to the fundamentals of materials science, the course provided a means for bridging our every day experiences and the work of scientists and engineers.

"Living in a Materials World" was one of the fifteen STEM content courses offered as part of the Idaho Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (i-STEM) summer institute for upper elementary and middle school teachers. The four-day institute included a 20 hour course and 12-16 hours of plenary sessions, planning, and collaborative sharing. The goal of the i-STEM institute was to enhance the participating educators' STEM content knowledge, capacity for teaching STEM, comfort and attitudes toward teaching STEM, knowledge of how people learn, and strategies for integrating STEM throughout the curriculum. In addition, the participants received STEM curriculum in materials science and a resource kit composed of STEM materials and equipment, valued at about $300, to support the implementation of curriculum and content learned at the institute with their students.

The i-STEM summer institute participants were pre/post tested on their comfort with STEM, perceptions of STEM education, pedagogical discontentment, implementations of inquiry, attitudes toward student learning of STEM, and content knowledge associated with the specific course they took during the institute. The results from our research indicate a significant increase in content knowledge for the Living in a Materials World strand participants (t = 11.36, p < .01) (results were similar in the other courses). As a whole the summer institute participants expressed significant increases in their comfort levels for teaching STEM (t = 10.94, p < .01), inquiry implementation (t = 5.72, p < .01) and efficacy for teaching STEM (t = 6.27, p < .01), and a significant decrease in pedagogical discontentment (t = -6.26, p < .01).

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