• Engineering Uncertainty: Exploring the Way Elementary Teachers Impact Opportunities for Students to Face Uncertainty

      Gunckel, Kristin L.; Vezino, Beau; Carter, Katherine J.; Kersting, Nicole B. (The University of Arizona., 2019)
      While uncertainty is a pervasive part of life, schools rarely provide learning opportunities that allow students to face and overcome the ambiguity they will eventually encounter outside of school. A promising solution for cultivating students’ ability to navigate uncertainty is teaching engineering to K-12 students, which has recently been integrated into the Next Generation Science Standards. This study examined, (a) how three elementary teachers acted to increase, maintain, reduce, or minimize opportunities for students to face uncertainty during an engineering lesson and (b) what factors influenced the teacher actions related to student uncertainty. In this study, I observed and video-recorded one engineering lesson from three elementary teachers in the second, fourths and sixth grades. I conducted a pre-teaching interview to find out about the teacher's experience and goals for teaching engineering. I also conducted post-teaching, stimulated recall interviews, where teachers were asked to discuss video clips from their lesson. To address the first research question, I utilized an academic task framework specifically focused on elements of an ill-structured engineering task as a lens for identifying and understanding how teacher actions affect opportunities for uncertainty. I examined teacher actions by observing and video recording the teachers while teaching an engineering lesson. By analyzing these observations through the lens of my framework, I was able to identify and map the teachers’ actions to their specific impact on the different aspects of the ill-structured engineering problem space. For the second research question, I utilized a framework that combines information-processing and teacher beliefs to examine the factors that influence an elementary teacher’s decision with regard to students’ opportunities to face uncertainty. To examine teachers’ decision-making process, I conducted pre-, post-teaching and stimulated recall interviews. Using my framework, I then analyzed the teachers’ comments; and, with the use of a force diagram, was able to categorize and interpret of the factors that influenced teacher decisions to decrease or eliminate student uncertainty (as downward forces), or maintain or increase student uncertainty (as upward forces). The findings from the study indicated that a powerful downward force in the teachers’ decision to reduce opportunities for uncertainty was a deficit belief about students and a dominant view of teaching. The findings also indicated that the goal for teaching engineering, while a powerful upward force in itself, may not be a strong enough force alone for teachers to enact a lesson that maintains opportunities to face uncertainty. However, the findings indicated that some teachers, through a combination of upward forces, were able to counter their downward forces and maintain a task with many opportunities for students to deal with uncertainty. Overall, this study provides a new way to represent and interpret the factors that influence a teacher’s decision-making process - as a balance of upward and downward forces. The findings indicate that teacher in-the-moment decisions are influenced by and situated in the broader narratives about students and teaching, as well as providing a counterexample to the narrative that schools and teachers tend to minimize or avoid uncertainty.