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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
which recruits students majoring in math, science, and engineering to become K–12 teachers. The goal of Cal Teach is to have 1,000 teachers in place by 2010. A similar effort, UTeach (http://uteach.utexas.edu/), was launched in 1997 at the University of Texas at Austin. As of 2007, the program had graduated a total of 480 STEM students, 41 of whom had degrees in engineering in addition to teaching certificates (376 had degrees in the natural sciences) (University of Texas at Austin, 2007). Under the auspices of the National Math and Science Initiative, UTeach has been expanded to 13 additional colleges and universities across the United States.
OBSTACLES FACING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
Based on information provided during the two preliminary workshops and in the research literature, several barriers to professional development programs must be overcome in preparing educators to teach engineering in K–12 classrooms. For instance, teachers who are not familiar with engineering may feel anxious and apprehensive, which can inhibit the effectiveness of professional development programs. Christine Cunningham, the director of professional development for “Engineering is Elementary,” described the problem (Cunningham, 2007):
If most elementary teachers are afraid of teaching science, the notion of teaching engineering is often accompanied by terror. Much of the point of our professional development is to defuse their feelings of ineptitude through engagement.
Similarly, teachers who do not have adequate knowledge of science and, especially, mathematics sometimes have difficulty understanding the material. In addition, some have little, if any, desire to take part in training activities (Diefes-Dux and Duncan, 2007). Reportedly, some teachers also are uncomfortable with the open-endedness of engineering design. “A major challenge in PD for K–12 engineering is to undo the mindset that sees answers as right or wrong, and as complete or incomplete,” note Benenson and Neujahr (2007). In a survey of 44 technology teacher-education programs, only 17 percent had completed the mathematics and science courses that would qualify them to teach PLTW courses (McAlister, 2005). McAlister also found that, when a group of 43 technology teachers was presented with two fairly simple problems involving structural load, half of them indicated that they would require additional training before they could teach those