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Developing a cross-disciplinary curriculum for the integration of engineering and design in elementary education

Emily Ann Marasco, Laleh Behjat

Abstract: Developing a cross-disciplinary curriculum for the integration of engineering and design in elementary education Studies have shown that by upper elementary or junior high school grades, students,especially female students, have already decided that the domains of science, mathematics,engineering and technology (STEM) do not interest them [1] [2]. Additional literature showsthat children believe engineers are responsible for repairing and installing technical items, butnot as involved in innovation and design [3] [4]. However, our research indicates that over 90%of post-secondary students entering engineering agree or strongly agree that engineers “designcool things” and “make interesting stuff.” In this paper, we propose to include engineering and design concepts in the studymaterial of elementary schools, to increase the level of interest of students in STEM areas anddecrease the disconnect between children’s perceptions of engineering and reality. We havedeveloped a series of cross-disciplinary modules that are designed to teach STEM concepts aspart of the regular curriculum activities. These modules allow elementary teachers to educatetheir students about engineering principles in the context of English, social studies, fine arts andphysical education curricula. By combining STEM material with other subjects areas, wepropose to (A) increase the appeal of STEM to children who have expressed interest in othersubjects, and (B) provide new methods of learning for children who may struggle with thetechnicality and lack of creativity found in more traditional STEM education. Our modules are specifically designed to improve the learning outcomes found inelementary introduction to electricity. We first identified the primary scientific objectives for therelevant grade and have combined these objectives with content from the rest of the curricula inthree cross-curricular modules:1. Concept learning: In this module, the students will learn the basic concepts of electricity,electrons movement, basic switches, storage of electricity, electric potential, and transfer ofenergy. Students will demonstrate their learning using physical activity, experimentation withwater, and expression through written art, such as the creation of a poem, short story or essay.2. Applications: Students will learn about the historical and social applications of electricity,including the national history of communication and computers. This module includes a hands-on design project that will allow them to create their own communication device. Students willalso learn about the mathematical binary patterns necessary for “speaking computer language.”3. Creative design: Students will express their new knowledge through an artistic exhibition.Students will demonstrate their understanding of electricity concepts through the creation of“circuit art” using a variety of conductive materials. This activity allows the children toreinforce their knowledge in the context of open-ended design, and encourages engineeringdesign and experimentation. By embedding engineering into other areas of education, both students and teachers areable to approach STEM from a creative, sociological and historical angle. These projects areintended to provide elementary school teachers with the means to deliver technical content in acreative and interesting manner. It is our hope that this cross-disciplinary work will help toimprove elementary students’ attitudes towards STEM subjects and the engineering profession.References:[1] Arnot, M., Gray, J., James, M., Rudduck, J., & Duveen, G. (1998). Recent research ongender and educational performance. London: OFSTED.[2] Bussière, P., Cartwright, F., & Knighton, T. (2004). The performance of Canada’s youth inMathematics, Reading, Science and problem solving: 2003 first findings for Canadians aged 15.Ottawa: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Council of Ministers of Education,Canada and Statistics Canada.[3] Capobianco, B. M., Diefes-Dux, H. A., Mena, I., & Weller, J. (2011). What is an engineer?Implications of elementary school student conceptions for engineering education. Journal ofEngineering Education, 100(2), 304-328.[4] Cunningham, C. M., Lachapelle, C. P., & Lindgren-Streicher, A. (2005). Assessingelementary school students’ conceptions of engineering and technology. ASEE AnnualConference and Exposition. Portland, OR.
Keywords: Children / Engineering and technology / teachers / mathematics / elementary school / science / interest / Grade / Technical

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