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Development of a multidisciplinary engineering research program for middle/high school teachers
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in K-12 schools is critical to inspire young students and prepare them for future college coursework and careers in science and engineering. An effective mechanism for creating and sustaining successfully STEM education is to train well-qualified K-12 teachers with a positive attitude and deep knowledge skills in STEM fields. Supported by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Teachers program (NSF RET), the RET Site at Michigan State University (MSU) aims to build a multidisciplinary engineering research program for middle and high teachers and their students, within a coherent theme of “Smart Sensors and Sensing Systems”. This paper presents an introduction to the MSU’s Site program and highlights the learning outcomes and achievements of three RET teachers. The MSU Site has four main components including authentic research experience for teachers during an intensive summer program; curriculum development by integrating engineering design units into teachers’ courses; professional skill development through seminars, facility tours, and field trips; and finally classroom implementation of the developed curricula. Throughout the 6-week summer program, teacher participants were given the opportunity to work closely with graduate students and engineering professors on current research projects in university laboratories. The teachers' research activities culminated with a final poster report and oral presentation during a symposium at the end of the summer program. Follow-up classroom visits helped to build a strong connection between local middle/high schools and MSU to smooth students’ transitions to college. Since 2016, the Site has graduated 24 middle and high school teachers from the greater Lansing-Detroit area that serve large populations of minority and female students. These RET teachers have produced over 24 sets of curriculum plans and classroom activities, in which 5 sets have been published by an online digital library, TeachEngineering.org (TE), and 8 sets have been accepted by TE. Three examples of the RET curricula published by RET teachers are presented in this paper. The topics cover multidisciplinary engineering fields including computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and biology. Finally, from the findings of the RET Site, the paper discusses best practices and recommendations for incorporating teachers into a university laboratory setting.