This proposal describes a research and development project that focuses on the design and development of one integrated primary school STEAM unit - science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (i-STEAM). This research will use a mixed methods case comparison research design to determine the i-STEAM unit’s efficacy towards promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) content knowledge and reasoning skills and improved student attitudes (interest, engagement, motivation and self-efficacy) towards STEM, , and improved engineering identity.
What will make the unit unique is that it will include an arts component (the A in STEAM), in the form of integration of dramatic inquiry into STEM that will be developed using a Kazakhstani engineering design challenge contextual theme. Dramatic inquiry (DI) is a dialogic inquiry and dramatic play-based pedagogy (Edmiston, 1998; Edmiston, 2014) that has the potential to help to develop budding engineers by supporting their emerging identity as young engineers through the integration of the arts. In a preliminary case study, the incorporation of DI determined that the use of a project designed STEAM unit in primary schools in the U.S. increased student knowledge of engineering and technology by 55% and 36%, respectively (Malone et al., 2018b). The use of control or comparison groups will allow for further research concerning the potential benefits of integrated STEAM units over those of strictly STEM classroom units.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that only 15% of students are awarded engineering degrees in OECD countries whereas 32% are awarded degrees in social science programs (OECD, 2014a). These statistics suggest that there may be a shortfall in the number of engineers available for highly technical jobs in the coming years worldwide and in Kazakhstan specifically. The OECD (2014a) also reported that there is a large gender gap with less than 25% of engineering degrees being earned by females. In his recent 2018 address, President Nazarbayev stressed the importance of STEM education at all levels in Kazakhstan for future economic development (Nazarbayev, 2018). For example, currently Kazakhstani PISA results have demonstrated that students at the 4th and 8th grades have difficulty using basic science knowledge to interpret scientific data and draw valid conclusions (OECD, 2014b). Thus, there is need to implement innovative programs that stress authentic practice in STEM courses, (i.e., engineering design) at all grade levels to enable increased development of these crucial skills and an increase in numbers of students seeking STEM degrees.