Project Lead The Way conference emphasizes the ‘E’ in STEM

Pam Lottero-Perdue worked briefly as a process engineer after earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Delaware in 1995, but she couldn’t silence the voice in her head that said she should be a teacher.

Now an associate professor at Towson University, Lottero-Perdue shared her approach to science education in a keynote address at a conference, “Emphasizing the E in STEM,” at UD’s Clayton Hall on Friday, Jan. 22.

Sponsored by Project Lead The Way — a national provider of project-based curricula and teacher professional development in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — the conference focused on bringing an integrated approach to K-12 engineering education.

Lottero-Perdue, who prepares education majors at Towson and K-12 educators in Maryland to teach engineering to children, believes that you have to “engineer an engineering education.”

To this end, she applies engineering principles — including identifying the problem, working within existing constraints, and reducing those constraints to make things work — to curriculum development and instructional design in this area.

“You have to design with what you have and then redesign in response to changes in standards,” she said. “Iteration is an inherent part of the process.”

Lottero-Perdue turned to Project Lead The Way materials when she was first challenged with creating an engineering program out of traditional shop programs at Delaware’s Hodgson Vocational-Technical High School in 1998. She also has been integral to the development and evaluation of Engineering is Elementary, curricula that engage K-5 students in engineering design.

“Pam is the embodiment of masterful STEM teaching,” said Amy Trauth-Nare, associate director at UD’s Professional Development Center for Educators.

“She is a model for experienced and novice teachers alike because she educates teachers in how to balance educational policy with evidence-based teaching that advances student learning in STEM disciplines. Now, more than ever, we need K-12 teachers who are able to comply with education standards while also integrating knowledge and skills in STEM disciplines to make learning relevant and connected.”

Keynote speaker Vince Bertram, president and CEO of Project Lead The Way, emphasized the importance of building “connections from kindergarten to careers, making sure our students are ready for those opportunities that arise.”

“It has never been more urgent,” he said. “We create opportunities or we create obstacles.”

Lynn Okagaki, deputy provost for academic affairs at UD, said that interactive lessons can give students insight into what engineering degrees can mean, especially for women.

“You as teachers have the knowledge and skills to convey academic content and the ability to motivate, inspire and encourage students,” she said. “Today, we hope that this conference helps to encourage you in your lessons and your careers.”

Conference workshops addressed topics ranging from preparing students for an engineering education and supporting teacher learning in STEM to attracting diverse and engaged students to engineering. In addition, a panel discussed strategies for partnering with industry in K-12 education.

Some 150 students, teachers, administrators, and education researchers attended the conference, which was co-hosted by the University of Delaware College of Education and Human DevelopmentDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, and Office of Admissions.

The event was co-organized by Trauth-Nare; Jenni Buckley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Glynis O’Leary, director of school engagement for Project Lead the Way’s East Region.

“This conference was an important first step in building a community for pre-college engineering educators in the state,” Buckley said. “The partnership between our colleges of education and engineering really positions UD to provide the necessary resources and support to K-12 teachers who are incorporating engineering practices in their classrooms.”

EducationEngineering an Engineering Education