Faculty from the University of Missouri-Rolla are working with elementary school teachers from the St. James, Salem and Dent-Phelps R-3 school districts in south-central Missouri to introduce more technology-related coursework into elementary school classrooms.
Aided by a $99,995 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Bridges for Engineering Education Program, UMR’s "How Things Work" project involves the development of a "prototype" science course for teachers of kindergarten through fourth grade. The course is designed to prepare elementary school teachers to teach science and technology-related topics to their pupils, says Dr. Steve E. Watkins, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR and the project leader.
"We want to build a foundation that connects engineering faculty, programs and resources to elementary teachers, schools and students," Watkins says.
Working with Watkins on "How Things Work" is Dr. Robert Mitchell, dean of the UMR School of Engineering; Dr. EvaLee Lasater, assistant professor of education and coordinator of UMR’s teacher education program; and Dr. Kristine Swenson, a UMR assistant professor of English.
The UMR group is working with teachers from the three area school districts to develop coursework that meets the goals of the state-mandated Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests. Students in UMR’s teacher education program will be involved in developing the curriculum as well.
"Our particular goal," Watkins says, "will be preparing teachers to teach technology-related science and mathematics as assessed through the MAP tests in science and mathematics. After completion of the proposed course, teachers should be able to directly incorporate new ideas and tools in their classrooms for teaching science topics."
The prototype course will cover science, technology, matter and energy, force, motion and mechanical energy — topics addressed in the Sciences I component of Missouri’s "Show Me Standards" for elementary school teachers. Teachers from the three school districts and in UMR’s teacher education program will take the course during the summer.
In addition to UMR faculty and teachers from the area schools, parent representatives from the three schools also will assist in the development of this curriculum.
The UMR project is part of NSF’s Bridges for Engineering Education Program, which is intended to strengthen partnerships between universities and public schools.
As part of the course, UMR is developing a website, "Engineering My Town," which is designed to show students how various engineering disciplines are involved in community development, construction, manufacturing, transportation and other activities.