U.Va.’s Chiu Receives $500K NSF Early Career Award to Integrate STEM into K-12 Curricula

Jennifer Chiu, assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program for her project on “Scaffolding Engineering Design to Develop Integrated STEM Understanding with WISEngineering.”

Jennifer ChiuThe five-year Early Career Award, NSF’s most prestigious for young faculty?, will allow Chiu to conduct research on pre-college STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and develop curricular technologies using the free online tool, WISEngineering.

“Recent national emphasis has been placed on STEM education to increase global competitiveness” in academia and the marketplace?, Chiu said. “However, engineering is foreign to many pre-college teachers and little research exists on effective ways to integrate engineering into K-12 settings.”

STEM education calls for the integration of science content with engineering design, yet many schools currently lack a curriculum that teaches STEM content simultaneously.

“Most efforts in STEM education promote learning in a specific domain, and even fewer focus on integration of domains,” Chiu said.

She explained that while some existing programs do have the potential of using design activities to teach STEM content in an integrated fashion, almost no research has been done to study how students connect engineering, science and mathematical ideas or monitor their understanding in these integrated approaches. Therefore, Chiu intends to focus her research on how students learn STEM content and develop design-thinking practices.

“I will investigate how students build integrated understandings of STEM concepts and processes by developing an assessment framework to measure how students link and refine ideas about engineering, science, mathematics and technology,” Chiu said. “I will also explore how students monitor their understanding during these technology-enhanced engineering design projects and investigate how to motivate and engage students to learn STEM content.” 

Chiu intends to build upon her research in learning sciences and STEM education to scaffold engineering experiences for diverse middle school students. She plans to develop and refine curricular projects that connect Common Core Math Standards with Next Generation Science Standards through engineering.

She will also develop and test new Web-based “WISEngineering” curriculum. WISEngineering is a free online learning environment that guides students through engineering design projects, while allowing them to engage in rich design-based projects that provide real-world applications and relevance to STEM courses. Chiu plans to design specific WISEngineering curriculum to provide support for students and teachers conducting engineering design projects in middle and high school settings.

Chiu will first pilot, refine and test curriculum units and assessment materials in local schools, as well as in public schools in New Jersey. She will then focus her research on learning how students engage in engineering processes and how they develop lifelong learning skills and motivation in STEM.

Chiu ultimately hopes to create a framework for teachers, administrators and researchers for integrated STEM curricula.

“By developing WISEngineering technologies and curricular projects, I hope to show how we can transform pre-college experiences to help students design, create and innovate through engineering design,” Chiu said.