03 SES 02 A, Curriculum Issues Related to STEM Education
The necessity for the integration of engineering to science education is highlighted in various current reports that guide educational practices and reforms (NRC, 2009; 2012). Science and mathematics both include solving authentic 21st century problems related with challenges of the society, underlining the critical importance of students’ math and science learning (Becker & Park, 2011; Bybee, 2010). There is an increased focus on educational standards and relevant other education documents and reports on K-12 engineering to facilitate change in classroom practices (Moore, Tank, Glancy, & Kersten, 2015). Engineering practices in K-12 classrooms can positively impact learning and achievement, recognition of engineering and engineers, interest in engineering careers, and in technological literacy (NRC, 2009).
Computational thinking and designing solutions to problems were adopted as the main focuses of the current study (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Designing solutions to problems can be defined as a systematic process composed of defining and clarifying the problem, and later developing and refining alternative solutions to reach improved solutions (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Engaging in engineering practices is the process of thinking for solutions to particular real life problems (NRC, 2012). Computational thinking, an applicable set of skills in computer science, children think like a computer scientist by using a set of cognitive and metacognitive strategies when faced with a problem. Realizing the relations, analyzing a problem, coding, reasoning, decision making and designing systems are significant thinking skills behind computational thinking used at different educational levels (Kong, 2016; Sun, Ahn & Black, 2017).
The study addressed two countries in particular: Ireland and Turkey. The reason behind this selection was mainly related to the scores in PISA examination (OECD, 2016). Ireland scored slightly better than the global average in PISA 2015 which was 503 points (493 in OECD average) for science literacy and 504 points (490 in OECD average) for mathematics. Turkey scored 425 points in science literacy and 420 points in mathematics. The underlying quest to understand how the two countries differentiate in their science and mathematics curricula preparing children with 21st century skills, and how integration of engineering practices can have a role in understanding this differentiation initiated the current study.
In total, four curricula were selected for examination; 5th grade math and science curricula in Ireland and 5th grade math and science curricula in Turkey (Government of Ireland, 1999; Ministry of National Education [MoNE], 2018a, 2018b). The selected curricula were compared on the key definitions of computational thinking and designing solutions to problems created in systematic view of the literature. The key definitions separate for computational thinking and designing solutions to problems were produced following a critical examination of existing research studies. Access to the studies and creation of the key definitions for the two engineering practices followed a systematic process that included search in databases, adoption of exclusion and inclusion criteria and careful analysis of the retrieved studies.
In order to better understand how the engineering practices are represented in science and mathematics curricula, this study focused on a comparative analysis of 5th grade curricula. The study aimed to present a comprehensive analysis of engineering practices in the four currently adopted curricula. The findings have the potential to address areas for improvement to better integrate engineering to K-12 science and mathematics education for both contexts. The research questions that guided the study were: 1) how are the engineering practices, computational thinking and designing solutions to problems defined in the literature? and 2) to what extent are these definitions represented in the 5th grade science and mathematics curriculum in Ireland and Turkey?
The study followed a comparative case study approach that helps to uncover how and why particular education policies or programs work or fail to work (Yin, 2009). The methodology was comprised of three complementary phases: 1) search and inclusion, 2) creation of key definitions, and finally 3) a cross-study comparison and analysis. For phase 1, a comprehensive search in the databases; EBSCO, Web of Science, ERIC and Science Direct was conducted. This search yielded 766 studies for computational thinking and 486 studies for designing solutions to problems. The exclusion criteria for computational thinking were school and undergraduate degree level studies, studies related with the fields of computational science and informatics, information and communication technologies, studies on testing an algorithm as being out of school context, and studies that fall out of mathematics education field and/or focus on-service or pre-service teachers. The three exclusion criteria for designing solutions were focus on higher level engineering, design of learning environments and educational products (e.g. units, lesson plans), and focus on early childhood, pre-service and in-service teachers. The researchers limited the search with studies that are full text and peer-reviewed. Next, two inclusion criteria were applied to the total number of 323 studies accessed; a) science and/or math education as a focus, and b) extending definitions of the engineering practices presented by NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Following the removal of duplicates, the first phase resulted in 23 articles for the analysis of generating key definitions; 11 for designing solutions and 12 for computational thinking. For phase 2, the identified articles were subsequently examined and summarized creating key definitions. In phase 3 the key definitions produced were investigated, for their representation in the 5th grade science and mathematics curricula selected. To what extent the key definitions of computational thinking and designing solutions to problems were captured was through cross-case comparison revealing areas for future improvement.
This preliminary analysis was only conducted on first two units of the selected four curricula. The full paper will include complete set of results on all units in four curricula examined. Following phase 2, for designing solutions, phase 3 revealed that science curricula in Ireland comprehensively considered the key definitions: a) "increasing culturally relevant instruction and advancing cultural competence", b) "exploring and applying underlying science and mathematics concepts", and c) "designing solutions in a global and societal context" compared to Turkish curricula. Science curricula in Turkey was revealed to include definitions addressed in NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) (e.g. following iterations, addressing constraints). All examined curricula were found to reflect the key definition; "exploring and communicating ideas with visual representations" with a large emphasis. Regarding computational thinking, phase 3 revealed that teaching "the relationship" of a concept with a real-life focus was evident in both mathematics curricula. "Information processing" existed more frequently in Turkish curriculum than Irish curriculum. The key definition, "decomposition and abstraction"; analyzing problem and creating new representation of problem through models and representations and another key definition "design-based learning activities" were addressed in both curricula. Irish curriculum addressed "problem-solving" examples more comprehensively than Turkish curriculum. Promoting students to use computer tools for problem-solving was addressed more often again in Irish curriculum. It was found out that Turkish curriculum promoted use of "information processing" more frequent whereas Irish curriculum put emphasis on basic computational tools. The study presented how the selected engineering practices can be further extended with the help of key definitions produced. The preliminary findings illustrated a comparative analysis of the key definitions, putting light on differentiations and revealing strengths and weaknesses.
Becker, K., & Park, K. (2011). Effects of integrative approaches among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects on students' learning: A preliminary meta-analysis. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, 12(5/6), 23-37. Bybee, R. (2010). What is STEM education? Science, 329 (5995), 996. Government of Ireland (1999). Primary school mathematics curriculum. Dublin: The Stationary Office. Kong, S. C. (2016). A framework of curriculum design for computational thinking development in K-12 education. Journal of Computers in Education, 3(4), 377-394. Ministry of National Education [MoNE] (2018a). Mathematics Curriculum. Ankara, Turkey: Ministry of National Education. Ministry of National Education [MoNE] (2018b). Science Curriculum. Ankara, Turkey: Ministry of National Education. Moore, T. J., Tank, K. M., Glancy, A. W., & Kersten, J. A. (2015). NGSS and the landscape of engineering in K-12 state science standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(3), 296-318. National Research Council. (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understanding the status and improving the prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016). PISA 2015: Results in focus. Retrieved from: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf Sun, W., Ahn, J., & Black, J. B. (2017). Introducing computational thinking to young learners: Practicing computational perspectives through embodiment in mathematics education. Technology Knowledge and Learning, 22(3), 443-463. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods. (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
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