Explore-Create-Share study: an evaluation of teachers as curriculum innovators in engineering education
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a curriculum design-based (CDB) professional development model on K–12 teachers’ capacity to integrate engineering education in the classroom. This teacher professional development approach differs from other training programs where teachers learn how to use a standard curriculum and adopt it in their classrooms. In a CDB professional development model teachers actively design lessons, student resources, and assessments for their classroom instruction. In other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, CDB professional development has been reported to (a) position teachers as architects of change, (b) provide a professional learning vehicle for educators to reflect on instructional practices and develop content knowledge, (c) inspire a sense of ownership in curriculum decision-making among teachers, and (d) use an instructional approach that is coherent with teachers’ interests and professional goals. The CDB professional development program in this study used the Explore-Create-Share (ECS) framework as an instructional model to support teacher-led curriculum design and implementation. To evaluate the impact of the CDB professional development and associated ECS instructional model, three research studies were conducted. In each study, the participants completed a six-month CDB professional development program, the PTC STEM Certificate Program, that included sixty-two instructional contact hours. Participants learned about industry and education engineering concepts, tested engineering curricula, collaborated with K–12 educators and industry professionals, and developed project-based engineering curricula using the ECS framework. The first study evaluated the impact of the CDB professional development program on teachers’ engineering knowledge, self-efficacy in designing engineering curriculum, and instructional practice in developing project-based engineering units. The study included twenty-six teachers and data was collected pre-, mid-, and post-program using teacher surveys and a curriculum analysis instrument. The second study evaluated teachers’ perceptions of the ECS model as a curriculum authoring tool and the quality of the curriculum units they developed. The study included sixty-two participants and data was collected post-program using teacher surveys and a curriculum analysis instrument. The third study evaluated teachers’ experiences implementing ECS units in the classroom with a focus on identifying the benefits, challenges and solutions associated with project-based engineering in the classroom. The study included thirty-one participants and data was collected using an open-ended survey instrument after teachers completed implementation of the ECS curriculum unit. Results of these three studies indicate that teachers can be prepared to integrate engineering in the classroom using a CDB professional development model. Teachers reported an increase in engineering content knowledge, improved their self-efficacy in curriculum planning, and developed high quality instructional units that were aligned to engineering design practices and STEM educational standards. The ECS instructional model was acknowledged as a valuable tool for developing and implementing engineering education in the classroom. Teachers reported that ECS curriculum design aligned with their teaching goals, provided a framework to integrate engineering with other subject-area concepts, and incorporated innovative teaching strategies. After implementing ECS units in the classroom, teachers reported that the ECS model engaged students in engineering design challenges that were situated in a real world context and required the application of interdisciplinary content knowledge and skills. Teachers also reported a number of challenges related to scheduling, content alignment, and access to resources. In the face of these obstacles, teachers presented a number of solutions that included optimization of one’s teaching practice, being resource savvy, and adopting a growth mindset.