Three Questions with Washington STEM

November 7, 2016

Moving the needle on science, technology, engineering and math education takes all of us. Over the past six months, partners participating in our Networked Improvement Community have pooled resources and strategies for advancing K-12 engineering, completing an experiment across contexts. In this post we learn more about a measure particpants Washington STEM and collaborator Washington MESA implemented to address issues of access and equity in K-12 engineering.

1. What did you set out to do?

We aimed to ensure that teachers participating in our Engineering Fellows Program were aware of equitable engineering instructional practices, and demonstrate growth and confidence in those practices as we move through the pilot year of the program. In addition to changes in teacher practice, we also hoped to see growth in students’ interest and awareness of engineering in their everyday lives—including potential career opportunities.

As background, the Engineering Fellows Program is a year-long opportunity for 5th grade teachers, college and graduate engineering students, and professional engineers to develop engaging engineering design challenges, and associated teaching plans, for students in two regions of Washington State. We held an intensive Engineering Design Institute in July and are in the midst of monthly Saturday sessions. During the Saturday Sessions, the design teams share student work, refine teaching plans, and learn about strategies and resources to better support all students in engineering.

2. Tell us about the measure you implemented.

We believe that supporting equity in, and access to, relevant engineering education for our students should be an ongoing and reflective practice. For our experiment, we started by designing a tool that looked very much like a rubric, with a clear end point.

But we didn’t want to suggest that a teacher could “arrive” at a static state in which equity is suddenly achieved, so we re-worked the tool so that teachers could indicate whether or not they considered various practices targeted at access and equity, and if they did, how the practices played out.

This allowed us to gather quantitative and qualitative data on teacher practice, and the tool has evolved into a reflective survey that we hope in and of itself supports growth in teachers’ practices.

3. How do you hope to use this survey in your program?

Results from our survey have informed the design of our overall program. Our teachers first took the survey during the Engineering Design Institute to assess what engineering or design work they had previously done in their classrooms, and they will take it again after their first Design Challenge. In both cases, we use the results to inform our Saturday Sessions. Teachers then take the survey a final time at the end of the year based on their final design challenge, serving as a valuable reflection tool for our hardworking teachers and a guide for further program development.