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Abstract

The incorporation of engineering practices and core ideas into the Next Generation Science Standards at the elementary school level provides exciting opportunities but also raises important questions about the preparation of new elementary teachers. Both the teacher education and engineering education communities have a limited literature base on the resources that novice elementary teachers bring to learning and teaching engineering. The purpose of this descriptive exploratory research study was to characterize the design practices used by preservice elementary teachers during an integrated engineering and literature experience. Using a modification of the Design Activity Coding Scheme (Atman et al., 2007), we examined the discourse of a team of preservice teachers as they worked on an engineering design challenge based on children’s literature. The modified coding scheme included indicators for the teachers’ design practices and conversational moves. We analyzed the coded data for patterns of design practices across group members and over time, and for evidence of the group’s perceptions of the goals of their activity – their epistemological framing. The preservice teachers’ utterances were almost evenly divided between design practices and conversational moves, and most design practices were distributed evenly across all members of the group. Conversational moves were concentrated within a subset of members. The teachers’ discourse gave evidence of stable framing of their activity as a design task rather than as an exercise in satisfying the instructor’s directions. However, within the design task framing, the teachers emphasized the design practices of generating possible solutions and feasibility analysis at the expense of information gathering, design solution modeling, and detailed evaluation of proposed solutions. The teachers’ design practice profile differs substantially from that of both novice and expert professional engineers. The findings of this research suggest that novice elementary teachers may need opportunities to see the fruitfulness of problem definition and detailed analysis for engineering design success.

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