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New NSF Grant for Integration of Engineering Design and Life Science

Event Date: May 30, 2017
Muhsin Menekse and Selcen Guzey with colleagues Lynn Bryan (College of Education) and Kari Clase (Purdue Polytechnic, BIRS) were recently awarded an NSF DRK-12 Grant, "Integration of Engineering Design and Life Science: Investigating the Influence of an Intervention on Student Interest and Motivation in STEM Fields."
This project aims to investigate the integration of engineering design, practices, and thinking into middle school life science curriculum while providing opportunities for students to foster knowledge of biological sciences and increase interest in Life STEM fields. The proposal specifically responds to the need for projects “that create, implement, and evaluate models of intervention that will advance the knowledge base for establishing and retaining underrepresented minorities in STEM fields with particular attention to life science and the biosciences” (NSF Dear Colleague Letter, NSF 16-143). The project partnership involves: 1) middle school science teachers from two Indiana school corporations, 2) faculty from Purdue University’s Colleges of Engineering, Science, and Education, and 3) undergraduate engineering students and outreach coordinators from Minorities in Engineering Program, Office of Future Engineers, and the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University. Both partner school corporations serve under-served, culturally diverse, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students in rural communities. The project will engage 36 middle school science teachers and 3000 students over the life of the grant. The project partners will explore the overarching research questions: In what ways does integrating life science with engineering design and thinking impact student learning of life science concepts and interest in Life STEM fields? How does this integration approach reduce gaps in achievement among students of different gender, race/ethnicities, and economic status?
The project goals are to: 1) Develop and refine a model of middle school student learning of life science concepts through engaging in engineering design and practices; 2) implement and assess the impact and feasibility of the integrated Life STEM education approach and design units; and 3) conduct large scale longitudinal field study to develop research-based understandings of how to support student learning and interest development among middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds. To achieve the project goals, the project team will 1) develop four content rich, engineering-design based curriculum units that focus on core life science ideas and practices identified in the Next Generation Science Standards, 2) provide long-term professional development on project constructed teaching materials to support middle school science teachers to meaningfully integrate engineering into their life science classes; and 3) provide long-term support to teachers as they implement the project constructed teaching materials.

Intellectual Merit

This project advances evidence-based understanding of learning of life science concepts through engineering design and the impact of that on learning of middle grade students from culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged rural schools. It will enhance the theoretical models of student life science learning of and interest in Life STEM fields. This project will merge and extend the successes of previous NSF funded EngrTEAMS and state funded DesignSTEM project by using the faculty expertise in effective approaches in engineering integration in K-12 science classrooms. 

Broader Impact

The school partners, Tippecanoe School Corporation and Anderson Community School Corporation, serve a diverse student population. The project will advance the knowledge base for establishing and retaining underrepresented minorities in STEM fields with particular attention to life science. The life STEM focused design tasks will be submitted to an online peer-reviewed NSF-funded digital library TeachEngineering for use across the U.S. and beyond. The dissemination of the design-based tasks on the NSF website, findings of the research studies, and Life STEM learning model will inform researchers, educators, administrators, and policy makers who play critical roles in enhancing student learning of and interest in STEM. Furthermore, we are going to disseminate our research findings and resources via the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering newsletter and website, which have access to a significant number of science teachers across the U.S. that are interested in integrating engineering and science in their classrooms.