The ‘Children as Engineers’ project brought together 10 primary Initial Teacher Training students and 10 Under-Graduate Engineering students to teach one of ten design challenges to 300 children in classrooms using the European ‘Engineer’ materials. The aim of the research was to create ‘Communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and to assess the impact that participation in the project had on pre-service teacher confidence in science subject knowledge and science teaching self-efficacy, the public engagement skills of the Engineering students as well attitudes towards science of the children.
This project builds on the Framework 7 ‘Engineer’ project which developed curriculum materials and teacher training across Europe to teach science through an engineering context. The project, sponsored by the UK Engineering Professor’s Council, intends to trial and develop a sustainable model that can used in Higher Education institutions across Europe.
The project used an empirical, mixed-methods, interpretive approach to establish the children’s response to the students, activities and the university students’ own attitudes through questionnaires, self- efficacy scales, surveys, observation, reflective diaries, interviews and collected comments.
Initial quantitative analysis indicates an increase in confidence of the pre-service teacher’s science subject knowledge confidence and science teaching self-efficacy. Qualitative data reveal some interesting dynamics and ways of working between the two experts in their own fields and the children’s reaction to the pairing. This raises interesting issues about the transition of knowledge and skills between the university students and to the children as well as issues surrounding personal identity and self-efficacy.
The paired peer partnership model was positively reviewed by the pre-service teachers and the Engineering students. Qualitative data indicated how the teachers had benefitted from the science subject knowledge of the engineers. Collaborating with an ‘expert engineer’ whilst working through the ‘ENGINEER’ materials appeared to open up dialogue for the teachers about not only the Engineering Design Process involved but also the science behind the project. Many teachers asserted that this ‘expert’ knowledge had also benefitted and influenced the pupils in their class.
Children who took part in the project had increased positive attitudes to science. The project improved children’s knowledge of what an engineer does and their attitudes towards the profession through greater information about engineering and the experience of real life role models. The data also indicated a slight positive shift in children’s attitudes to science career aspirations. Self-perception of children’s abilities in science has been identified as a contributing factor to both girls’ and boys’ choice of subjects later in their school career. Projects that raise interest, motivation and a feeling of achievement can only be a positive force in the drive to keep pupils in STEM subjects throughout education.