Classroom Enactment of Interdisciplinary STEM+CS Curricula: Elementary Teachers’ Verbal Supports in Implementation of an NGSS-Aligned Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Computer Science Project

Author: ORCID icon
Lilly, Sarah, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Chiu, Jennifer, CU-Curr Instr & Sp Ed, University of Virginia

National frameworks for science education in the United States (e.g., American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), 2020; Framework for K-12 Science Education; National Research Council, 2012) have worked to bring science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science (STEM+CS) disciplines together through curricula in K-12 classrooms (ASEE, 2020; Computer Science Framework, 2016; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Yet little research has investigated the ways that elementary teachers support students to engage in science and engineering practices (SEPs) within integrated science, engineering, and computational thinking curricula. This three manuscript dissertation aims to describe how teachers integrate STEM+CS disciplines during classroom practice to help students engage in and make connections across disciplines (Duschl et al., 2016), to explore teachers’ perceptions of classroom enactment of an NGSS-aligned interdisciplinary STEM+CS project, and to provide insight into the kinds of available knowledge, learning experiences, and supporting resources that elementary teachers feel they need in order to support enactment of interdisciplinary STEM+CS activities.

The first manuscript explores how teachers provide verbal support of SEPs to a general classroom context of upper elementary students during a four-week NGSS-aligned curricular unit that challenged students to redesign their school to reduce water runoff. Students conducted hands-on investigations of water runoff and created computational models to test their designs. Teacher audio data during the classroom implementation was collected and qualitatively coded for different purposes of verbal support, such as to understand how (pragmatic), when, and why (epistemic) to use SEPs, in three focal lessons. Results show that teachers provided a range of pragmatic and epistemic supports for many different SEPs in science-focused and engineering-focused lessons, but support for a more limited variety of SEPs in the lesson focused on computational thinking. Across the lessons, the majority of teacher support aimed to help students engage pragmatically with the SEPs through sensemaking and engaging prior knowledge. Additionally, teachers provided epistemic support more frequently in the science-focused lesson than in the engineering- or computational thinking-focused lessons. Results also demonstrate differences within the quality of the verbal support across lessons.

The second manuscript compares how teachers provide pragmatic and epistemic verbal support to students in the general classroom from the first manuscript to how teachers verbally support students in an inclusive class with a larger proportion of students with individualized educational plans through the same four-week NGSS-aligned curricular unit. Daily teacher surveys and weekly teacher interviews were conducted to provide insight into the teachers’ perceptions of students in each class section, classroom activities, and curriculum. Teachers reported ways in which they addressed the difficulties that they noticed students having through instructional decisions to modify their enactment of the interdisciplinary curricular materials for the inclusive class and discussed their rationales for these modifications. Results suggest that instructional decisions that teachers made in how to verbally support students may depend upon their own knowledge of the different disciplines being integrated, their prior beliefs of students in different classroom contexts, and their in-the-moment perceptions of student needs. These factors may have led to different learning experiences for the students in each class section.

The third manuscript describes how these same two fifth-grade teachers verbally supported elementary students in both of the classroom contexts to engage in instances of STEM+CS interdisciplinary integration within two of the disciplinary-focused lessons (i.e., science lesson and computer science lesson) and considers teachers’ perceptions through survey and interview data. Transcripts of whole-class discussion were analyzed for instances of interdisciplinary integration in which teachers verbally supported the integration of disciplines to help students to engage in STEM+CS activities. Results indicated that, across lessons, teachers most commonly added verbal support for the integration of mathematics. In the science lesson, the majority of the instances were added and explicit; there were no instances of planned support that were made explicit. In the computer science lesson, most instances were added and implicit; planned instances were evenly split between being made explicit or implicit. Teachers also reported several challenges within less familiar disciplines, including struggling to identify and support foundational skills and enact pedagogical strategies.

This dissertation provides insight into how teachers may differentially support SEPs and interdisciplinary integration in elementary classrooms and includes recommendations for the kinds of learning experiences and educative materials that teachers may need to engage in the important, but challenging, work of enacting STEM+CS curricula within elementary science classrooms. Particularly, findings underscore the need for more research to better understand what kinds of support teachers need to be able to integrate science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science content and practices within their elementary classrooms and provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
elementary, interdisciplinary, verbal support, epistemic, science and engineering practices, computational thinking
Sponsoring Agency:
National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1742195
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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