Situational Factors for an Engineering for Educators Course

Weekly Writing 5 – Lori Sowa

My curriculum unit will be developed for a course titled “Engineering for Educators’ which will be delivered fully online. The audience will be in-service K-12 teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in STEM Education, but may also include pre-service teachers. I would expect that many of the teachers in the course would currently teach some level of math, science, or technology — but the backgrounds will likely be quite varied. The goal will be to provide an overview of engineering that will allow teachers to use authentic engineering problems in their classrooms, and to be able to adapt the methods to their particular age group and setting.

The course will be delivered via Blackboard through the Department of Education at UAS. The M.Ed. degree will be offered fully online, thus the course itself must be delivered fully online. Herein lies my greatest challenge — engineering is by nature a hands-on activity, and so this mode of delivery is an experiment in itself. Class size will likely be 10-20 students (teachers) from across Alaska. The teacher’s classroom settings will likely be widely varied – from rural villages to “urban’ centers, kindergarten through high school. Teachers will have a varied background in science and mathematics, which will also pose a challenge for developing course materials. Most of the participants will be working full time and taking courses at night, which can make extended synchronous sessions difficult. Based upon my experience taking courses while working full time and raising a family, my approach will be to use an asynchronous format with regularly scheduled synchronous sessions as needed. My background is in engineering, and while I’ve studied pedagogy and am pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education, I do not have teaching experience at the K-12 level. Therefore, I expect the learning experience in the classroom will be a two-way street (as always). It is also possible that I will co-teach the course with an Education faculty member.

The subject matter for the course will start with a general discussion of engineering — perceptions and misconceptions by the general population and students. Motivation for including engineering in the curriculum will be discussed, as well as a review of current literature on the topic. Then, I’d like the teachers to experience the engineering design cycle themselves, and be exposed to the variety of resources that exist for engineering in K-12. The course will include content background and practice for areas critical to solving real world problems, including methods of estimation, assumptions, units and critical thinking skills. Teachers will then be supported in the development of a number of engineering projects relevant to their own classrooms.

To be honest, I’m not sure what society’s expectation would be for an Engineering for Educators course. The engineering community would likely expect the course to contain rigorous applications of math and science in a real world context with design applications included. The Department of Education expects the course to provide the necessary background for teachers to use engineering in the classroom to meet national standards (although Alaska has not yet adopted the next Generation Science Standards).

I believe the most challenging aspect of the course will be the sheer variety of backgrounds, the inability to perform hands-on activities in a face-to-face format, and the lack of experience and comfort level of the teachers with engineering. Engineering is one of those fields that, unless you have a relative or close acquaintance in the field, you may not know much about. Unless you were an engineering major at one point, you’ve also not likely taken an engineering course before. However, seeing the results will (hopefully) be quite rewarding. I co-taught a STEM course for K-8 teachers last spring, and was really impressed with the engineering projects the teachers facilitated in their own classrooms. The subject matter can provide excitement — a new way to engage students not just in math and science, but in real world problems that face all of society.

5 thoughts on “Situational Factors for an Engineering for Educators Course

  1. Alda

    Sounds like a much-needed class. You identified a key challenge- how do you prepare teachers to lead hands-on experiences when the prep course is online? I’m wondering if there is a way you can provide “kits” for them that will allow them to try out some of the activities they’d eventually be leading. You note, “I’d like the teachers to experience the engineering design cycle themselves.” Same idea, perhaps there is some “homework” you can design where they reflect on an activity they worked through offline, and share their insights with others through a discussion board or videos?

  2. Owen

    Hi Lori,

    A few years ago I spent 3 months teaching in a local high school as a long term sub. It greatly changed how I think about teaching and cognition. I would say – if you can – get some experience in the K-12 classroom. Even just signing up for subbing and doing a handful of shifts could be very informative.

    I agree with Alda that modeling some kind of exercise and process would be valuable for your students. Some sort of experiential exercise seems appropriate. Even if it is a collaborative effort. Rather than you feeling like you need to present finished products, if you build a foundation, and then allow/assign the students to build and share products – might be a way to go?

    “To be honest, I’m not sure what society’s expectation would be for an Engineering for Educators course.” The good thing about this is it allows you to set your course for what you think appropriate….to some extent.

    I’m looking forward to seeing this develop!

  3. Jenny

    This sounds like an interesting course, I wish I could be in your classroom. Thinking of my own math and science departments, I would agree that you will probably find a wide variety of backgrounds in your students and that their comfort with engineering may be a challenge. It could however lead to some very creative projects. I think you will need to provide a good deal of scaffolding, perhaps in the form of providing your teachers with a series of smaller hands-on engineering projects, using readily available materials, and walking them through the engineering process to begin with via video.

  4. lsowa Post author

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Good ideas and advice. I like the idea of subbing in a K-12 classroom.

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