The current project focuses on one module of the INSPIRES Curriculum - Engineering in Healthcare: Hemodialysis Case Study. This 4-6 week, student-centered unit includes hands-on minds-on activities, digital resources and a real-world open-ended engineering design experience. P21 skills (critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration; and creativity and innovation) are central to the INSPIRES approach. The curriculum is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, MSDE standards, the Maryland Technology Education State Curriculum, Maryland STEM standards of practice.
The project takes a comprehensive, systematic approach to professional development for teachers: 5-day intensive training programs in Summer 2015 and 2016 followed by implementation of the INSPIRES hemodialysis unit; participation in monthly meetings to support teacher learning, provide support and build collaborative teams; and optional attendance at a third summer institute for leadership development and expanded learning. Our PD strategy aligns to the Danielson Framework and supports the data-driven research program to identify factors that help improve faculty and student outcomes, particularly for underrepresented groups.
Teachers participating in this research study will be members of a professional learning community that promotes student-centered learning in their schools. Teacher team members will provide critical knowledge to the field about the integration of engineering into biology and technology courses and will enhance their ability to improve student retention, persistence, and performance. Team members will earn a stipend, receive classroom supplies, have opportunities to attend and present at conferences, and receive professional development credit through MSDE to support career advancement.
INSPIRES as Educative Curriculum Materials
In our current research, we have developed, tested, and revised five design-based curriculum units and an accompanying PD model that specifically address the challenges associated with teaching open-ended engineering design. This research has resulted in the articulation and refinement of a clear set of curriculum design principles for engineering design-based curricula as well as the corresponding PD model. As the research efforts from this grant come to conclusion, several outcomes are particularly noteworthy. Our research findings demonstrate both learning gains for high school students using the INSPIRES curriculum units as well as significant changes in teacher reform-based pedagogical practices during unit enactment. Taken together, the INSPIRES curriculum modules demonstrated an educative effect for the use of design-base pedagogy.
The INSPIRES units have been carefully constructed to be "educative" for teachers. A key component of our system is the integrated use of the educative curriculum materials to provide support for teachers by including features that stimulate reflection and promote connections among specific content, pedagogy and pedagogical-content knowledge. In alignment with best practices, the educative curriculum is a key component within a larger professional development framework. Providing teachers the guided experience of interacting with the educative materials from a student perspective, followed by reflective discussions focused on the pedagogical design of the lessons, provides opportunities for teachers to experience the benefits and limitations of a particular activity from the student’s perspective, as well as the "space" to discuss the rationale for how the activity was constructed and how it may be adapted in the future. Under these conditions the curricular materials serve as a scaffold by providing the teachers concrete examples for how to translate the abstract into a tangible useful product. Employing such a strategy has been reported as promoting significant changes in the content knowledge and pedagogical beliefs of high school STEM teachers.
The INSPIRES Curriculum and Impact on Student Learning
The INSPIRES Curriculum is comprised of five standards-based modular units for grades 9-12 that focus on integrating all areas of STEM. Our approach uses real-world engineering design challenges and inquiry-based learning strategies to engage students, increase technological literacy, and develop key practices foundational for success in STEM disciplines. The curriculum was designed to be flexible and low cost to maximize potential usage. The modules are independent of one another, so they can be implemented individually in an existing science or technology education course or together in a cluster to comprise a full course. Each unit is approximately six weeks in length, assuming a 45 minute class period. These characteristics make INSPIRES unique compared to other currently available engineering-based curriculum materials.
Each curriculum unit was developed from a common set of design principles (Table 1), follows a common structure, and focuses on integrating engineering design with STEM learning. The curriculum is well-aligned to the ideas and practices of engineering articulated in the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. As a result, each INSPIRES Curriculum module targets all four NGSS Engineering Design performance expectations (HS-ETS1) and all eight Science and Engineering Practices.
Impact on Student Learning
To assess student learning, pre/post measures were developed to form an achievement test aligned with the INSPIRES Hemodialysis module. The achievement test consists of 26 items, eight to measure engineering design concepts and 18 to measure science concepts. As part of the development process, each test item was reviewed, classified by concept, and "mapped" to specific lessons to ensure learning opportunities. Student achievement data collected from the INSPIRES Hemodialysis module enacted during the 2012-13 academic school year indicate that students made statistically significant gains in their understanding of both the science and engineering content (p<.001). The standardized mean difference effect sizes for these gains were 0.35 for engineering design and 0.64 for science concepts (n = 296). Similar studies in previous years have demonstrated effect sizes ranging from 0.64 to 0.81 for science concepts and 0.34 to 0.85 for engineering design with significant variability from teacher to teacher (n = 1320).
The INSPIRES Professional Development Model and Impact on Teacher Practice
In order to successfully implement an integrated engineering design-based curriculum, our research has shown that teachers must be proficient in five key areas: 1) science and engineering content knowledge; 2) engineering design process knowledge; 3) pedagogical content knowledge; 4) comfort/skill with equipment/tools; 5) classroom management. Our current DRK-12 project focuses heavily on the development, testing, and refinement of a PD model to accompany the INSPIRES Curriculum and targets all the above listed areas. In designing the INSPIRES PD model, we drew upon the latest professional development literature. Key components of the PD model are described below.
Component 1: STEM Practices. This component is team-taught by STEM faculty members and a pedagogical facilitator (Education faculty). It uses an inquiry/design-based, phenomena first approach based on the activities and learning technologies from the INSPIRES Curriculum. Teacher teams participate in the curriculum as students and perform all design/build/test engineering activities. The key focus of this component is on building content knowledge, an understanding of the engineering design process, and skill with the equipment/tools needed for the design challenge.
Component 2: Pedagogical Practice. Core elements of this component focus on providing the teacher opportunities to implement various pedagogical strategies, STEM practices, and curriculum materials with high school students. Example practices emphasized include phenomena first, inquiry, and design-based learning (e.g., Predict, Observe, Explain; integration of an engineering design loop and integrating process skills), collaboration (e.g., jigsaws and Think-Pair-Share), context (e.g., driving questions, KWL charts), technology integration (e.g., simulations, data collection, visualization) and sense making and assessment (e.g., wait time, probing questions, multiple representations, prior knowledge). The key focus of this segment is on building pedagogical content knowledge.
Component 3: Reflective Critiques. Critical reflection focuses on pedagogical practice. The general structure of the reflective critiques involves the use of short video clips (15–75 sec) recorded from previous pedagogical practice sessions Critiques focus on positive exemplars as well as "missed opportunities" regarding specific pedagogical strategies. This segment targets both pedagogical content knowledge as well as classroom management issues.
Component 4: Pre-Selected Educative Curriculum Materials. The purpose of the materials is to provide coherence among the three components. During the STEM practices segment of PD, specific activities from the pre-selected materials are used by the instructors to illustrate key ideas or as "jumping off" points for deeper discussion. Following the completion of each lesson, the PD facilitators engage the teacher-participants in discussions regarding the structure and strategies employed in the lessons. Finally, the same lesson (or specific instructional strategy) is revisited (and critiqued) at a later point through the use of short video clip samples of the teacher participants conducting the lesson/strategy. INSPIRES Curriculum units are the primary materials used for this purpose throughout PD.
Various lengths of PD have been tested including 3-week, 3-day, and 4-day Summer Institutes. Each Institute was developed using the design principles outlined above and followed a common structure. However, depth of coverage varied significantly between the 3-week and 3- or 4-day Institutes. Results indicate that the 3-week PD Institute increases teachers’ self-reported use of effective instructional techniques as well as their knowledge and use of the engineering design cycle. 3- or 4-day PD provides teachers with the minimum background needed to implement the INSPIRES units. Videotape analysis of technology teacher practice was conducted using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) and confirms these results. Descriptive statistics were generated for total RTOP as well as the five RTOP subscale scores. Differences in total RTOP scores were statistically significant among the three time periods tested (p<.05) and illustrate a significant increase in the use of reform-based practices before and after the PD Institute. Similar analyses utilizing scores from each of the five RTOP subscales also demonstrate statistically significant growth (p<.05) for 3 of the 5 sub-scales: Propositional Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge, and Classroom Culture. The findings support the Institute’s design and theoretical framework and demonstrate that the instructional practices of the teacher-participants were significantly impacted as a result of the PD program.
Teaching engineering design-based curricula in a way that integrates STEM content is challenging for science and technology teachers. Our current work has shown that short 3- or 4-day PD followed by curriculum implementation can result in student learning gains in both science and technology education classrooms. However, extended PD is clearly better and can lead to growth in teacher pedagogical skills. Independent of PD length, we have observed that science and technology teachers routinely struggle when implementing engineering design challenges consistent with the difficulties articulated above. Teachers struggle with the "open-endedness" of engineering design as well as making explicit connections between design and underpinning mathematics and science concepts. Three examples are outlined below and need explicit and ongoing focus during professional development.
Example 1. Make explicit connections to the overarching design challenge. Student learning is maximized when students are pressed to provide rationale for their design decisions that are grounded in foundational STEM concepts and practices. These foundational concepts are learned throughout the units using an inquiry-based format. Most science and some technology teachers are comfortable with inquiry-based strategies that provide hands-on experiences prior to introducing formal definitions. However, in the case of the INSPIRES units, taking an additional step to facilitate connections between the newly introduced idea and how the concept may be applied in the design challenge is key. Failing to make such connections on a routine basis leads to loss of student focus on overarching learning goals.
Example 2. Use simulation results to inform design decisions. Each INSPIRES unit includes computer-based lessons just prior to the final system design, build and test activities. The computer-based lessons include a tutorial program that reviews key concepts followed by a set of questions that must be answered correctly before continuing to the next idea. A mathematical simulation is also included and allows learners to systematically manipulate one design variable (e.g. flow rate in the Hemodialysis unit) while holding other design variables constant in order to quantitatively predict system performance. A data chart is generated showing the results of the simulation and can be used to make informed design decisions. Teacher survey data have indicated that when teachers run short on time it is these two lessons that tend to be skipped. As a result, the design, build and test phase often takes longer because students do not know what combination of design parameters are likely to lead to a successful design.
Example 3. Emphasize planning and rationale for decision-making. When enacting lessons requiring students to plan, build and test an apparatus, teachers tend to place too much emphasis on the "build" and insufficient emphasis on "plan" and "test." When given a design task, students will enthusiastically start putting pieces and parts together to build something. This "rush to build" may be inadvertently supported by the teacher in response to time pressures or the teacher’s own enthusiasm for students’ eagerness. As a result many teachers focus on the building process and lose sight of the larger educational goals. This over-emphasis on the building phase can also cause groups to become fixated on construction issues and lose sight of the larger purpose of the design challenge.