Workshop for Conversations Related to Motivating Interest in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering among Oklahoma K-12 Students
Building a Collaborative Literacy Strategy among Oklahoma’s K-12 Professionals
and the College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma
Principal Investigator (PI): Dr. Susan E. Walden, Associate Director of the Sooner Engineering Education (SEED) Center and Associate Research Professor in the College of Engineering
Dr. Mark A. Nanny, Director of the Sooner Engineering Education Center and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Science
Dr. P. Simin Pulat, Associate Dean of Engineering for Education and Professor of Industrial Engineering
Dr. Randa L. Shehab, Director of Industrial Engineering and Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering
Dr. Deborah A. Trytten, Associate Professor of Computer Science
It is obviously imperative that all students be nurtured and educated towards becoming scientifically and mathematically literate. Without such literacy skills, their career and life opportunities are greatly limited. Such limited opportunities translate into a society hindered in its economic development and standard of living. It should be the primary concern of every educational professional, from pre-kindergarten to post graduate education, to provide the optimal education for all students. Educational professionals need to actively coordinate and collaborate to establish a rigorous and engaging science and mathematics curriculum beginning in elementary school and reaching through to graduate studies. Without these partnering efforts, research and history shows that many students move through the educational sequence without developing requisite confidence leading to avoidance of or attrition from science and mathematics.
Rather than continue with the model of “if you build it, they will come” programs, SEED was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (EEC-0848335) to conduct a two-phase workshop to engage K-12 school administrators in conversations to enhance their awareness of engineering as a discipline and to establish how the OU College of Engineering can optimally utilize its resources and expertise to support and increase student participation and engagement with engineering. In addition to more extra-curricular engineering activities utilizing the resources of the new ExxonMobil Lawrence G. Rawl Engineering Practice Facility, SEED will be working with the workshop attendees to identify and develop plans for appropriate co-curricular activities to meet our goal of increasing interest in engineering and the school administrator’s goals of addressing their accountability measures for mathematical and scientific literacy.
Invited attendees will include 20 superintendents from rural Oklahoma schools, and 20 representatives of the upper administration from urban or suburban Oklahoma school (superintendents, principals, curriculum directors). Our goal is to insure representation from most or all demographic sectors in the state. We will strive to include representatives from both high- and low-achieving schools.
Among planned workshop activities are:
- A panel of prominent engineers, business and government leaders addressing the opportunities for individual students and the benefits to the state of promoting engineering;
- Tours of OU CoE facilities available for individual and groups of students for participating in engineering activities;
- Presentations of the research of CoE faculty who combine engineering expertise in non-traditional or compelling research areas;
- The product of this workshop will be a plan of action for program development using the ExxonMobil Lawrence G. Rawl Engineering Practice Facility to increase interest and participation of Oklahoma secondary students in engineering education activities. Additionally, we hope to identify potential long-term partners for increasing the scientific and mathematic literacy of students through the study of engineering.
All of the rural and small town superintendents in attendance reported that they learned a great deal about engineering and about its relevance to K-12 education and the state’s future. All were interested in continuing our relationship. The increased understanding of engineering was not as pronounced for the large school representatives, possibly because many of these participants had engaged with CoE through other programs prior to the workshops.
The goal of this project was to develop a comprehensive and strategic outreach plan to meet the needs of the school districts, students in OK, and the College of Engineering. From the results of the workshop conversations, we identified these elements as the starting pieces for the CoE and SEED Center strategic outreach plan.
- In-school visits of CoE faculty and students
To accomplish this charge, we are becoming more engaged with events at individual schools or districts, participating in more exposure opportunities than we were previously. We have started Family Engineering nights in area elementary schools. We are seeking sources of funding to provide transportation and stipends for student groups to go to disadvantaged schools to provide mentoring and engineering activities for students. Given the travel distances involved and their already packed schedules, we don’t think it is fair to ask our students to travel to schools on a regular basis without some form of compensation.
- Offer professional development for in-service or pre-service teachers
As a result of what we learned in these workshops, SEED Center entered into a partnership with central Oklahoma school districts to offer a sustained professional development program through the state’s Math Science Partnership initiative. Middle school mathematics and science teacher team pairs come to the OU campus for two weeks in June to participate in a research experience with a graduate student or faculty member. During these two weeks, the teachers also work with pedagogy specialists from the OU College of Education. During a teacher’s first year in the program, he or she will work with an engineering mentor for their research experience. Subsequent years are devoted to life science and geoscience research. The pedagogy instruction focuses on use of inquiry, appropriate assessment, and differentiated instruction. The teachers and university mentors also participate in four follow-up sessions during the following school year. Due to demand from teachers ‘graduating’ after their third year, we added a teacher leadership cohort for the fourth year returnees, with a research emphasis on action research in their schools and a pedagogical focus on teacher-peer mentoring. Over six years of the program, over 150 middle school teachers experienced engineering first-hand. Through the CoE development office, SEED Center also serves as a bridge between businesses and schools by securing some financial support from CoE business partners to facilitate the program.
- Host school visits in the CoE and Engineering Practice Facility
This priority category has been extremely successful. We host approximately 300 K-12 (mostly grades 5-10) students per month during 10-month academic calendar. These class groups come to campus to learn more about college life, applying to and funding college, and of course, engineering! With support of external donors, we offer hands-on engineering design experiences for the students led by undergraduate and graduate student SEED Scholars. Since we started offering this program six years ago, we have become the most sought after activity for schools scheduling visits through the campus Visitor’s Center, especially for elementary and middle school groups. We have hosted numerous schools from OK as well as from Kansas and Texas. We would like to expand participation in this program and are actively recruiting schools to participate.
- Use new media to market engineering to students
As a result of this priority category, the CoE has established a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. These media outlets reach both current and future engineering students. We anticipate expanding the offerings through these outlets with cross-category projects such as providing virtual field trips to CoE laboratories and CoE researchers as classroom “guests” through interactive multimedia. SEED Center is making a more concerted effort to promote our activities through both traditional and new media to reach more teachers, students, and citizens across the state.
- Provide curriculum aligned to OK state standards for teaching or exploring engineering in classrooms
Despite lots of engineers’ delusions to the contrary, quality curriculum is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to create. The K-12 engineering community has the benefit of excellent efforts already developed. Instead of taking this suggestion literally, SEED Center is working to sort through and provide pointers to available resources for OK teachers. An example of successful implementation of this strategy is with the STEM teacher at a local upper elementary. The school district (one of our large school participating districts) decided to include a STEM teacher for all 4th and 5th grade students (as has been done in the past for P.E. and music). The PI of this grant has worked with this teacher to identify appropriate curriculum for his students.
Partnerships are also emerging with three schools in the state that each serves a racial/ethnic group under-represented in engineering. Our anticipated involvement with these schools will be more intense than could be sustained with a broad representation of districts.