From Lab to Lesson Plan: A Study of Secondary Math/Science Teachers Learning to Implement Engineering Design

Principal Investigator: Tesha Sengupta-Irving

InvestigatorsTesha Sengupta-Irving, Rossella Santagata, Gregory Washington (Dean, UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering)

Funding: Nicholas Endowment

Graduate Student Researcher: Janet Garcia Mercado

The newly released Common Core Standards of Mathematics and Next Generation Standards for Science make evident the growing importance of engineering design in secondary education. Despite this clear direction, there remain relatively few empirical studies on engineering design in schools (versus after-school or summer programs), or on the professional development of teachers in this domain. This project advances an understanding of teacher learning in light of these new standards, and provides empirical insight on the ways teachers translate engineering lab work into "appropriate" classroom practice. Typical professional development in this area involves teachers learning "kit-based" engineering projects; in contrast, this study engages teachers in dialogue with engineers, and then has them translate such dialogues into educative experiences for youth, particularly students from non-dominant communities.

This qualitative case study involves 13 middle/high school math/science teachers who will participate in a professional development (PD) workshop focused on principles of engineering and design. During the 10-day PD, mornings will be spent in consultation with Engineering faculty across the disciplines, with teachers participating in hands-on labwork. In the afternoons, teachers will reflect, deliberate, and plan for ways to make the morning sessions "classroom appropriate" project-based lessons (PBLs). Based on prior research, we suspect such decision making involves the balance of several factors - feasibility, cultural relevance, cognitive demand, and standards-alignment, to name a few. 

The PD, designed by the PIs, takes place in the summer of 2013. Participants will be videotaped during lab work and lesson planning; they will also participate in focus group interviews and complete written surveys (Phase I). During the following school year (2013-2014), researchers will videotape planning sessions between the research team and the research participants, and also lesson plan delivery in classrooms; interview teachers; and collect student work (Phase II). The ultimate goal is to better articulate a framework by which teachers evaluate and select what is "appropriate" project-based learning that meets the new engineering standards, while also attending to the possibilities of making science education more authentic and culturally relevant to all students. Throughout the study researchers will be evaluating this unique approach to teachers' professional development.