This research paper presents preliminary results of an NSF-supported interdisciplinary collaboration between undergraduate engineering students and preservice teachers. The fields of engineering and elementary education share similar challenges when it comes to preparing undergraduate students for the new demands they will encounter in their profession. Engineering students need interprofessional skills that will help them value and negotiate the contributions of various disciplines while working on problems that require a multidisciplinary approach. Increasingly, the solutions to today's complex problems must integrate knowledge and practices from multiple disciplines and engineers must be able to recognize when expertise from outside their field can enhance their perspective and ability to develop innovative solutions. However, research suggests that it is challenging even for professional engineers to understand the roles, responsibilities, and integration of various disciplines, and engineering curricula have traditionally left little room for development of non-technical skills such as effective communication with a range of audiences and an ability to collaborate in multidisciplinary teams. Meanwhile, preservice teachers need new technical knowledge and skills that go beyond traditional core content knowledge, as they are now expected to embed engineering into science and coding concepts into traditional subject areas. There are nationwide calls to integrate engineering and coding into PreK-6 education as part of a larger campaign to attract more students to STEM disciplines and to increase exposure for girls and minority students who remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer science. Accordingly, schools need teachers who have not only the knowledge and skills to integrate these topics into mainstream subjects, but also the intention to do so. However, research suggests that preservice teachers do not feel academically prepared and confident enough to teach engineering-related topics.
This interdisciplinary project provided engineering students with an opportunity to develop interprofessional skills as well as to reinforce their technical knowledge, while preservice teachers had the opportunity to be exposed to engineering content, more specifically coding, and develop competence for their future teaching careers. Undergraduate engineering students enrolled in a computational methods course and preservice teachers enrolled in an educational technology course partnered to plan and deliver robotics lessons to fifth and sixth graders. This paper reports on the effects of this collaboration on twenty engineering students and eight preservice teachers. T-tests were used to compare participants’ pre-/post- scores on a coding quiz. A post-lesson written reflection asked the undergraduate students to describe their robotics lessons and what they learned from interacting with their cross disciplinary peers and the fifth/sixth graders. Content analysis was used to identify emergent themes. Engineering students’ perceptions were generally positive, recounting enjoyment interacting with elementary students and gaining communication skills from collaborating with non-technical partners. Preservice teachers demonstrated gains in their technical knowledge as measured by the coding quiz, but reported lacking the confidence to teach coding and robotics independently of their partner engineering students. Both groups reported gaining new perspectives from working in interdisciplinary teams and seeing benefits for the fifth and sixth grade participants, including exposing girls and students of color to engineering and computing.
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