Understanding Preservice Teachers' Visual Conceptions of STEM Education



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Background: Current research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is heavily focused in two areas: students’ views and perceptions on STEM careers and the effectiveness of STEM professional development on practicing teachers. However, very few studies focus on the development of preservice teachers. Purpose: This study aimed to evaluate the understandings and perceptions of senior preservice elementary teachers in STEM education. These findings may be used to develop and restructure pedagogical approaches to elementary science education programs. Methods: This qualitative study examined the open-ended responses of 124 senior preservice elementary teachers. Each participant was tasked with creating a visual representation of S-T-E-M along with an explanatory narrative that communicated the interconnectedness among the different fields and their value in education. This was followed by a focus group interview of ten subjects to clarify findings based on participant drawings and explanations. To code participants’ drawings, the constant comparative method was performed to create categories. These were compared against Bybee’s perspectives of STEM education (2013). The focus group interview data analysis consisted of open and axial coding to identify recurring themes. Results: The analysis revealed mixed findings indicating that participants visualized STEM education at various levels of integration ranging from siloed to transdisciplinary. Explanations of their drawn representations were vague and did not yield sufficient evidence of understanding of STEM education. Results from the focus group interview indicated that participants believe that STEM is important in elementary education. However, preservice teacher knowledge of STEM education is underdeveloped. Conclusion: To address the goals of STEM education and foster real understanding of its value, preservice elementary teacher education programs should ensure teacher candidates are prepared to integrate STEM into the existing curriculum. This preparation should focus on STEM content, various methods of integration and pedagogy. This treatment must be underpinned by a coherent, comprehensive understanding of STEM education.



STEM, STEM education, Pre-service teachers, STEM integration, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics