Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The engineering design process has evolved over time to be the central and effective framework that engineers use to conduct their work. Logically, K-12 STEM professional development efforts have then attempted to incorporate the design process into their work. There has been little in the STEM literature, though, of the explicit measurement of the growth in design process knowledge. Our study presents findings of significant improvements in knowledge of the design process that resulted over the course of a recent summer STEM institute and professional development program among K-5 teachers.

As more emphasis is placed on integrating STEM into the curriculum 1 there is a need to enhance the capacity for K-12 teachers. Responding to this call the Colleges of Engineering and Education at Boise State University collaborated to offer an intensive three-day summer institute to address the preparation of elementary school teachers (grades K-5) to teach STEM curriculum. The focus of our institute was on the use of both inquiry and design as approaches for integrating STEM content. In particular we explicitly stressed the link between science and inquiry and engineering and design, how these processes differ, how they can complement each other and how they can be used instructionally to teach a wide range of STEM content. The instructional materials used in the workshop included Lego®-like bricks called PCS BrickLab® (supplied by PCS Edventures! an educational products company) and other common classroom items such as paper, tape, string, and cardboard.. Each participant received a classroom set of the materials at the close of the workshop. The BrickLab® kit contains over 5,000 bricks which is sufficient to simultaneously engage up to about 30 students in hands-on activities, which makes these instructional materials particularly suitable to facilitate classroom instruction using inquiry and design. We engaged the participants in a series of hands-on activities focused on the inquiry process of manipulating variables to gather data to explain phenomena or design processes that focus on creating and refining the best solution given constraints.

To determine the effectiveness of our workshop we gathered pre and post data to assess our 58 participants' comfort for teaching STEM, their STEM pedagogical discontentment, their implementation of inquiry curriculum, and their knowledge of the design process. Our initial results indicate significant increases in comfort teaching STEM (t = 12.761, p < .01), decreases in STEM pedagogical discontentment (t = 7.281, p < .01), and increases in design process knowledge (t = 6.072, p < .01). Delayed post data collection for the implementation of inquiry took place in Fall 2010, which allowed time for the participating teachers to apply their learned knowledge and develop a post conference context for their instructional practice with students. All instruments used for data collection were extant and had established reliability and validity.

Our results indicate that our three-day summer institute and follow-up support increased our participants' knowledge of design along with comfort for teaching STEM. Also, the institute decreased the teachers’ pedagogical discontentment for teaching STEM.

Copyright Statement

© 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.