Research: Practices of Engineers in Rural Schools Involving Students and Teachers (PERSIST) in Engineering

Project: Research project

Project Details


A more diverse group of engineers must be recruited and retained in order to address complex global challenges in the future. Students from rural areas often acquire STEM skills as they play, work on farms, or design solutions to day-to-day problems, but the current educational system often fails to help these students make connections between the engineering they do and engineering as a potential career. Rural students, therefore make up a significant population that can add to the diversity and numbers of engineers able to address these problems, but teachers in these schools rarely have experience with engineering, and struggle to teach engineering to students. In response to recent reforms in STEM education, including mandates for elementary classrooms to teach engineering, curriculum and professional development opportunities are being developed to help schools in these reforms. But the ways teachers learn about, and subsequently teach, engineering has been understudied. The findings of this project will be used to make specific and generalizable recommendations to teacher educators about facilitating engineering professional development workshops for rural, middle-level teachers and to teachers about how to use locally relevant problems and classroom projects to help students learn about engineering and view engineering as a viable and fulfilling career option.

Engineering studies suggest that content and practices are learned through social interactions among students and teachers participating in engineering projects situated within a complex classroom culture. Faculty from the Center for Science and the Schools and a STEM-education graduate student will systematically follow three case study teachers from one small, rural school district in situ as they learn and do engineering projects in two teacher workshops and then in their classrooms as they implement these projects in their classrooms, using local funds of knowledge and focusing on engaging students in the epistemic practices of engineers to increase student learning, interest and excitement. A mixed-methods approach is being used to synthesize the findings of both qualitative and quantitative data. Quantitative methods are employed to better understand science and engineering learning and student interest using psychometric instruments developed through other funded projects. However, the sociocultural perspective requires qualitative methods of interactional ethnography to study these processes in situ. Between and within case qualitative analyses of classroom and workshop video, interviews, reflective journals, and work artifacts will be used to drive dissemination to precollege engineering educators, practitioners, state government officials, and participants in a STEM ecosystem for rural areas in Pennsylvania. In addition to the three case study teachers, 42 teacher from rural, underserved schools will be invited to participate in the workshops and will form an online community of practice aimed to support their ongoing implementation of engineering projects in their middle level classrooms, potentially impacting thousands of students over the next several years.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $402,164.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.