Trinect Project Improves STEM Teacher Training for the Elementary School Learning Level

Achievement date: 

Through funding from the National Science Foundation’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Computing (STEM-C) Partnerships: MSP (Math and Science Partnerships) program, the Trinect project is designing a new model of teacher preparation at Iowa State University (ISU). Emerging engineering design concepts are infused into the elementary teacher preparation program, together with an emphasis on the knowledge and skills associated with scientific concepts that are appropriate for elementary school students to learn. The Trinect project is a collaborative partnership among Des Moines Public Schools, the largest school district in the State of Iowa; ISU’s School of Education and College of Engineering; and, the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC).


Innovation is a key feature of the Trinect project, which is the first program of its kind in the nation. By exposing elementary school students to accessible science and engineering concepts, the Trinect Project fosters greater appreciation of these disciplines in young learners. As these students begin training at an earlier age in the kinds of thinking associated with these fields, they are more likely to gain significant advantages in seeking STEM careers in the future.

Although this program is still only in its early stages, Trinect has already made a notable impact not just on teachers working in triads with graduate-level engineering fellows, but also on the students the teachers interact with every day. Student teachers involved in the project receive direct support and advanced knowledge for teaching engineering and science in their future classrooms. Improved attitudes towards science and engineering are also observable in the types of questions the students ask and in the ways they think.


The Trinect Project operates through triad partnerships consisting of pre-service teachers, in-service teachers and engineering graduate students as an essential feature of its innovations in teacher preparation. Most literature involving co-teaching focuses on teaching in pairs, posing some challenges for this new structure of teaching groups of three.At the same time, the recent adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards has added engineering content to K-12 science education. Providing elementary school teachers with professional support, directly from engineers and pedagogy experts, addresses the critical needs for teachers to have confidence in and a commitment to engaging their students in experiential learning of essential scientific and engineering concepts in the early grades.

This preparation is one of the key aspects of the program; and, with an overwhelming number of student teachers having applied for the spring 2018 semester, undergraduates in ISU’s School of Education seem to agree about Trinect’s importance. Engineering fellows selected to participate in this program spend one full day throughout the semester working in their assigned classrooms and collaborating with their triad members. They also serve as a professional role model for the students while helping the teachers to enhance the STEM curriculum.