Engineering in Early Elementary Classrooms Through the Integration of High-Quality Literature, Design, and STEM+C Content

  • Kristina M. TankEmail author
  • Tamara J. Moore
  • Brianna L. Dorie
  • Elizabeth Gajdzik
  • M. Terri Sanger
  • Anastasia M. Rynearson
  • Emma F. Mann
Part of the Early Mathematics Learning and Development book series (EMLD)


The PictureSTEM project consists of instructional units for grades K-2 that employ engineering and literacy contexts to integrate science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computational thinking (STEM+C) content instruction in meaningful and significant ways. The PictureSTEM project utilizes picture books and an engineering design challenge to provide students with authentic, contextual activities that engage learners in specific STEM content. Four components differentiate the PictureSTEM units from what teachers are currently implementing in their classrooms: (1) engineering design as the interdisciplinary glue, (2) realistic engineering contexts to promote student engagement, (3) high-quality literature to facilitate meaningful connections, and (4) instruction of specific STEM+C content within an integrated approach. Examples from research data on the PictureSTEM unit, Designing Paper Baskets, conducted in kindergarten classrooms, will illustrate how the four foundational components of this integrated STEM curricula play an important role in designing meaningful and contextual learning for younger students.



We would like to thank the teachers, students, and researchers that helped make this chapter possible. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC—1442416, IIP—1519387, and DRL—1543175. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  1. Baillargeon, R. (2004). Infants’ physical world. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(3), 89–94. Scholar
  2. Banilower, E. R., Smith, P. S., Weiss, I. R., Malzahn, K. A., Campbell, K. M., & Weis, A. M. (2013). Report of the 2012 national survey of science and mathematics education. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc. Available via Horizon Research.
  3. Bers, M. U., Ponte, I., Juelich, K., & Schenker, J. (2002). Teachers as designers : Integrating robotics in early childhood education. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 2002, 123–145. Retrieved from
  4. Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth to eight (National Association for the Education of Young Children Position Statement). Washington, DC: NAYEC.Google Scholar
  5. Carlson, L., & Sullivan, J. (2004). Exploiting design to inspire interest in engineering across the K-16 engineering curriculum. International Journal of Engineering Education, 20(30), 372–380.Google Scholar
  6. Cervetti, G., & Barber, J. (2009). Bringing back books. Science and Children, 47(3), 36–39.Google Scholar
  7. Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Bravo, M. A., & Barber, J. (2005). Reading and writing in the service of inquiry-based science. Regents of the University of California. Retrieved from
  8. Christian, P. (2008). If you find a rock. San Diego, CA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  9. Cobb, V. (2002). I get wet. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, L. B., & Chashon, C. H. (2006). Infant cognition. In W. Damon & R.M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Set, 6th ed. (Chapter 5, vol. 2). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Crismond, D. (2001). Learning and using science ideas when doing investigate and redesign tasks: A student of naive, novice and expert designers doing constrained and scaffolded design work. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(7), 791–820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. English, L. D., & Lesh, R. A. (2003). Ends-in-view problems. In R. A. Lesh & H. Doerr (Eds.), Beyond constructivism: A models and modelling perspective on mathematics problem solving, learning, and teaching (pp. 297–316). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Ford, D. J. (2004). Highly recommended trade books: Can they be used in inquiry science? In E. W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 277–290). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.Google Scholar
  14. Fortus, D., Dershimer, C., Krajcik, J., Marx, R., & Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2004). Design-based science and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 1081–1110. Scholar
  15. Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., Barbosa, P., Perencevich, K. C., Taboada, A., David, M. H., et al. (2004). Increasing reading comprehension and engagement through Concept-oriented Reading Instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(3), 403–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris, T. (2000). Pattern fish. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hjalmarson, M., & Lesh, R. (2008). Engineering and design research: Intersections for education research and design. In A. E. Kelly, R. A. Lesh, & J. Y. Baek (Eds.), Handbook of design research methods in education: Innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning and teaching (pp. 96–110). London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Hynes, M., & Swenson, J. (2013). The humanistic side of engineering: Considering social science and humanities dimensions of engineering in education and research. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 3(2), 31–42. Scholar
  19. Jonassen, D., Strobel, J., & Lee, C. B. (2006). Everyday problem solving in engineering: Lessons for engineering educators. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 139–151. Scholar
  20. Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B. B., Gray, J. T., Holbrook, J., et al. (2003). Problem-based learning meets case-based reasoning in the middle-school science classroom: Putting a learning-by-design curriculum into practice. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 495–548. Scholar
  21. Lauber, P. (1994). Be a friend to trees. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  22. Lesh, R., Yoon, C., & Zawojewski, J. (2007). John Dewey revisited—Making mathematics practical versus making practice mathematical. In R. Lesh, E. Hamilton, & J. Kaput (Eds.), Foundations for the future in mathematics education (pp. 315–348). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  23. Marx, R. W., & Harris, C. J. (2006). No child left behind and science education: Opportunities, challenges, and risks. The Elementary School Journal, 106(5), 467–477. Scholar
  24. McCormick, M., & Hynes, M. M. (2012). Engineering in a fictional world: Early findings from integrating engineering and literacy. Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas.
  25. Mehalik, M. M., Doppelt, Y., & Schunn, C. D. (2008). Middle-school science through design-based learning versus scripted inquiry: Better overall science concept learning and equity gap reduction. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1), 71–85. Scholar
  26. Moore, T. J., Guzey, S. S., & Brown, A. (2014a). Greenhouse design to increase habitable land: An engineering unit. Science Scope, 37(7), 51–57. Scholar
  27. Moore, T. J., Stohlmann, M. S., Wang, H.-H., Tank, K. M., Glancy, A. W., & Roehrig, G. H. (2014b). Implementation and integration of engineering in K-12 STEM education. In Ş. Purzer, J. Strobel, & M. Cardella (Eds.), Engineering in precollege settings: Research into practice (pp. 35–60). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moore, T. J., Tank, K. M., Glancy, A. W., & Kersten, J. A. (2015). NGSS and the landscape of engineering in K-12 state science standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(3), 296–318. Scholar
  29. Morrow, L. M., Pressley, M., & Smith, J. K. (1997). The effect of a literature-based program integrated into literacy and science instruction with children from diverse backgrounds. Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 54–76. Scholar
  30. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards for English language arts and mathematics. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  31. National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the national reading panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.Google Scholar
  32. National Research Council. (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understanding the status and improving the prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies.Google Scholar
  33. National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  34. National Research Council. (2014). STEM integration in K-12 education: Status, prospects, and an agenda for research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  35. NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  36. Palincsar, A. S., & Duke, N. K. (2004). The role of text and text-reader interactions in young children’s reading development and achievement. The Elementary School Journal, 105(2), 183–197. Scholar
  37. Palincsar, A. S., & Magnusson, S. J. (2001). The interplay of first-hand and text-based investigations to model and support the development of scientific knowledge and reasoning. In S. Carver & D. Klahr (Eds.), Cognition and instruction: Twenty-five years of progress (pp. 151–194). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Pappas, C. C., Varelas, M., Barry, A., & Rife, A. (2003). Dialogic inquiry around informational texts: The role of intertextuality in constructing scientific understandings in urban primary classrooms. Linguistics and Education, 13(4), 435–482. Scholar
  39. Rivera, A., & Rivera, R. (2010). Rocks, jeans, and busy machines: An engineering kids storybook. San Antonio, TX: Rivera Engineering.Google Scholar
  40. Rogoff, B. (1984). Introduction: Thinking and learning in a social context. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition: Its development in social context (pp. 1–8). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Romance, N. R., & Vitale, M. R. (2001). Implementing an in-depth expanded science model in elementary schools: Multi-year findings, research issues, and policy implications. International Journal of Science Education, 23(4), 373–404. Scholar
  42. Smolkin, L. B., McTigue, E. M., Donovan, C. A., & Coleman, J. M. (2009). Explanation in science trade books recommended for use with elementary students. Science Education, 93(4), 587–610. Scholar
  43. Tank, K. M., Moore, T. J., & Pettis, C. (2013). The PictureSTEM project: A curricular approach using picture books to transform STEM learning in elementary classrooms. Scientific paper presented at the 2013 American Society of Engineering Education annual conference, Atlanta, GA. Retreived from
  44. Taylor, B. M., Pearson, P. D., Clark, K., & Walpole, S. (2000). Effective schools and accomplished teachers: Lessons about primary grade reading instruction in low-income schools. The Elementary School Journal, 101, 121–165. Scholar
  45. Thiessen, D. (Ed.). (2004). Exploring mathematics through literature: Articles and lesson for prekindergarten through grade 8. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers for Mathematics.Google Scholar
  46. Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  47. Watkins, J., Spencer, K., & Hammer, D. (2014). Examining young students’ problem scoping in engineering design. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 4(1), 43–53. Scholar
  48. Yore, L. D. (2004). Why do future scientists need to study the language arts? In W. E. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 71–94). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristina M. Tank
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tamara J. Moore
    • 2
  • Brianna L. Dorie
    • 3
  • Elizabeth Gajdzik
    • 2
  • M. Terri Sanger
    • 2
  • Anastasia M. Rynearson
    • 4
  • Emma F. Mann
    • 2
  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Gonzaga UniversitySpokaneUSA
  4. 4.Campbell UniversityBuies CreekUSA

Personalised recommendations