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Learning and Teaching Science Through Engineering Design: Insights and Implications for Professional Development


"The release of the second and final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, 2013) is providing science teachers, teacher educators, and policy makers with a glimpse into what we will find in the new national science education standards. A central theme in this reform effort includes the integration of engineering practices in the K-12 classroom. This means that science educators - inservice and preservice - must be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to teach science using the engineering design process. This study examines whether elementary school science teachers' participation in an engineering design-based professional development program and the act of implementing engineering design in their classrooms influenced their understanding of design. The context of this study is a multiyear partnership focused on improving student and teacher learning of science through engineering design. The partnership encompasses the participation of 40 elementary school teachers (including 25 STEM teachers) and over 1,000 students. Data were gathered via interviews, implementation plans, teacher reflections, and classroom observations. Data analysis included open coding supplemented by triangulation of all data sources to construct significant cases of three teachers. Results indicated that participation in the summer institute enhanced teachers' abilities to develop engineering design-based activities and their understanding of engineering design in the context of classroom instruction; however, teachers' classroom implementation did not reflect higher levels of understanding. Evidence is also provided to suggest that professional development programs, such as the partnership profiled in this study, do provide experiences that help teachers develop their overall knowledge about engineering, in particular, the ability to develop a more acute vision of design-based applications in the classroom. Additional factors such as teachers' attitudes and beliefs of engineering design as well as factors including school support, high stakes testing, and availability of vital resources must be examined as potential drivers impeding teachers' implementation of engineering practices."