Purdue, school districts get $6.7 million grant to improve science education through engineering design

September 22, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University and four Indiana school districts have received the first three years of a five-year, $6.7 million National Science Foundation grant to improve science learning in third through sixth grades.

The work will focus on the use of engineering design-based teaching. The concept teaches problem solving in math and science through design projects.

Partnering in the effort are Purdue's colleges of Education, Engineering, Science and Technology; the Discovery Learning Research Center; regional industries; and the Lafayette, Tippecanoe, Taylor Community and Plymouth school corporations.

Over the five years, engineering, science, technology and education faculty will interact with 200 elementary and intermediate school teachers, 100 student-teachers and 5,000 students. In the final year, the project will be expanded to additional school districts.

"The use of engineering design principles to affect how science and math are taught has been demonstrated for higher grade levels," said Keith Bowman, head of the School of Materials Engineering and the project leader. "But it is almost nonexistent in elementary classrooms. With the support of our school corporation partners, we seek to develop a program that will prepare teachers to impact students earlier in their academic development."

Goals of the project are to improve science learning in grades 3-6 through implementation of engineering design, prepare practicing and prospective teachers to use a design-based curriculum, adapt existing materials and tasks and develop new ones where necessary, and provide an understanding of how engineering design is used by teachers to teach science and students to learn science.

"Engineering design-based standards are being adopted across the nation. Within the next year, elementary school science teachers, including those in Indiana, will be required to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and practices needed to teach science through engineering design," said Brenda Capobianco, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education and project co-leader. "Our work will create Indiana's first engineering design-based model for science teacher professional development at both the pre-service and in-service levels and an innovative, research-based program for using engineering design-based strategies."

The funding comes through NSF’s Math and Science Partnership program, a research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science.

Writer: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432, jbaustin@purdue.edu  

Sources:   Keith Bowman, 765-494-4100, kbowman@purdue.edu
                    Brenda Capobianco, 765-494-9635, bcapo@purdue.edu