Teachers as Designers: The Iterative Process of Curriculum Design Focused on STEM Integration

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Teachers as Designers: The Iterative Process of Curriculum Design Focused on STEM Integration

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Curricular resources play an important role when educational reform efforts are introduced (Powell & Anderson, 2002). Taking Science to School (NRC, 2007) and more recently the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] (NGSS Lead States, 2013) have advocated for changes related to standards, curriculum, and teacher learning. Previous science standards (NRC, 1996) have been set aside as two transformational documents have taken the forefront in U.S. science education. The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the succeeding NGSS are aimed at providing a new structural organization for science education that now includes engineering practices. The integration of science and engineering practices presents new opportunities and challenges for teachers as they must now design learning experiences that integrate science, mathematics, and engineering concepts. Teachers are not typically asked to be curriculum designers (Penuel, Roschelle, & Shechtman, 2007; Reiser et al., 2000) and when they are asked to be designers face unique challenges. There are limited studies (e.g. Boschman, McKenney, & Voogt, 2014) that directly investigate teachers during the curriculum design process and multiple calls to further explore teachers during the curriculum design process (Huizinga, 2014; Penuel & Gallagher, 2012; Voogt, et al., 2011). This study explores the actions and conversations of nine elementary science teachers during the curriculum design process while they design and develop a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] integrated curricular unit. Teachers in the study worked in small teams and were paired with a coach during the design process. The study was framed around the participatory relationship that exists between teachers and curriculum (Remillard, 2005; Brown, 2002) and the view that curriculum design is a design problem that requires uniquely human interpersonal responses (Jonassen, 2000; 2011). This applied case study (Merriam, 2009) employed an inductive analysis and creative synthesis that followed the analysis strategies of constructed grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & Straus, 1967). Data collected from a 12-day professional development opportunity included audio-recorded curriculum design conversations of three unique teams (~3000 minutes), 12 individual interviews, daily participant reflections, and curriculum design artifacts. The study's major theoretical assertion is that teachers need encouragement to be innovative during the curriculum design process due in part to their tendency to design and develop curriculum resources similar to those they have used in the past. Teachers strongly considered their own classroom contexts during the design process and therefore primarily designed resources they could use in their own classroom. Secondly, curriculum design needs to be considered a design problem with no concrete solution that therefore warrants all participants be made aware of and prepared to discuss the complexities and propositions required of each designer (Remillard, 2005) during the curriculum design process.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Gillian Roehrig. 1 computer file (PDF); 297 pages.

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McFadden, Justin. (2015). Teachers as Designers: The Iterative Process of Curriculum Design Focused on STEM Integration. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/175257.

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