Project promotes design-focused STEM instruction

UPDATE, a $2 million effort funded by NSF, links elementary science teachers to engineering concepts

By adopting fresh approaches to learning, elementary educators will introduce children to the exciting worlds of science and engineering. A Purdue initiative — Using Principles of Design to Advance Teacher Education (UPDATE) — helps make this possible.

Funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, UPDATE creates design-based learning experiences that equip pre-service science teachers to incorporate engineering standards into classroom instruction. Through this initiative, faculty from the colleges of Education, Engineering and Science work directly with 240 undergraduates studying elementary education at Purdue.

UPDATE will broaden the learning landscape for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) by integrating engineering design principles across five required undergraduate science courses. This involves applying qualitative and quantitative measures to examine preservice teachers’ understanding of engineering and science practices across science and methods courses.

“Little is known about how STEM faculty bridge their ideas and instructional expertise to create a new model for elementary science teacher preparation. That’s what makes this project important,” says Brenda Capobianco, professor of science education and the grant’s primary investigator. “Our findings will help science and education faculty understand how preservice elementary teachers learn STEM concepts and devise creative new ways to integrate these principles and practices into their teaching.”

Faculty involved with UPDATE found inspiration in another NSF-funded project at Purdue — Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED).

“The SLED partnership involves the development of engineering design-based instructional materials by science, technology, engineering and education faculty who work directly with over 100 elementary schools, 700 pre-service and in-service teachers, and 10,000 students,” Capobianco said.

Early results indicate Purdue student participants already demonstrate growth in science content knowledge by completing course-based engineering design experiences.

Additional findings suggest they also gain new understandings of what science and engineering practices entail, how to engage productively in them, and how to develop and implement lessons that effectively involve elementary-age children in learning science through engineering design.

Co-primary investigators from the College of Education are faculty members David Eichinger, Selcen Guzey, Sanjay Rebelloand Minjung Ryu.