Engineers, elementary educators and future teachers partner to teach STEM

TrinectAt Iowa State, integrating engineering into K-12 classrooms is a collaborative effort that spans across campus and into surrounding school districts. Trinect, a program funded by the National Science Foundation STEM-C Partnerships, brings together three groups to introduce engineering concepts to young students: engineering graduate students, preservice teacher students and cooperating elementary teachers from Des Moines Public Schools.

“Trinect is about sharing knowledge and helping elementary teachers gain confidence in teaching STEM subjects,” says Adah Leshem, pre-college education program director at the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals located on Iowa State’s campus. Leshem is Trinect’s project co-director and was a driving factor in establishing the program.

“We know there’s a crucial timeframe for engaging young students in STEM fields and there’s often a lack of opportunity for students to experience these subjects. We think Trinect can help fill those gaps.”

Each semester, 10 Trinect Fellows, who are engineering graduate students, work with 3rd-5th grade students and their teachers. The fellows help teachers understand the concepts of the engineering  design process as well as reaffirm common subjects such as math, science and technology.

“Instead of having graduate fellows teach the concepts, they act as a resource for teachers and students. The approach engages teachers as they develop innovative activities focused on STEM subjects,” Leshem explains.

Iowa State’s School of Education’s preservice teachers represent the third partner of Trinect. These students are placed in cooperating teacher classrooms for 16 weeks and participate in teaching STEM concepts. At the end of the program, they are better prepared to independently integrate these types of lessons into their own classrooms once they are in the workforce.

Leshem says an external partner will measure the overall effectiveness of Trinect. The data will evaluate how the triad functions as a team and how the approach the program is using compares to traditional learning methods.

“We’ll be continually improving our program as we receive feedback and looking for additional opportunities to expand collaborations,” Leshem says.