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An Examination Of Early Elementary Student’s Approach To Engineering

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

K-8 Engineering & Access

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.168.1 - 10.168.10



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Paper Authors

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Jason Kahn

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Marina Bers

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Examination of Early Elementary Students’ Approaches to Engineering

Jason Michal Kahn, Marina Umaschi Bers Tufts University

A five-week interactive workshop gave us the opportunity to study the engineering learning processes of early elementary children, allowing us to gain a sense of their innate engineering abilities and the processes they could be taught in the context of the Project Inter-actions study at Tufts University Department of Child Development. Forty children participated in the research, split into four groups of 10 each, each group participating in 5 workshop sessions of 2 hours each. In two of the groups, the children worked on self-generated engineering projects by themselves, while the other half worked with their parents to generate and complete the project. The children used a robotic construction kit composed of Lego pieces, an RCX computerized Lego brick, and the ROBOLAB computer software to bring their projects to life. Children also kept a design journal, allowing an understanding of their thought process. Children were videotaped during the workshop and completed questionnaires before and after the experience. All of this data allows us to examine areas in the design process where children are innately strong, and areas in which structured instruction aided in the children’s conception of engineering. Instruction could come in the form of the short teacher lessons that occurred in the beginning of each workshop, individualized teacher interaction, or interaction between parent and child. Understanding the role of the adults in the workshops, either parents or instructors, would allow for greater generalization to other learning environments where young children are practicing engineering and demonstrate that five year olds are capable of gaining a greater appreciation and understanding of the engineering process.


Recently, there has been an increasing effort to bring engineering teaching into the lives of young children. The Massachusetts State Frameworks introduce children to engineering in the first grade, and as such, it is important to understand the teaching methods that lead to successful understanding of engineering and the design process. Project Inter-Actions at Tufts University provided the opportunity to explore engineering teaching and explorations in a contained environment. It is our belief that young students can engage in thoughtful engineering pursuits by exploring personal powerful ideas, and benefit the most from the opportunity to think through various problems with one on one interaction. The Massachusetts State Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework1 is to allow children to draw upon the specific skills that these disciplines require as they conduct lives in their society. Interestingly, the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework defines engineering and technology as the design of “useful devices or materials,” however, in this research we note that the utility of the appliances the children design goes little beyond their own highly individualized imaginative worlds. That is not to say that the children are not acquiring useful skills in the process, we note that children learn about simple machines, the design process, and computer programming as they go about their explorations. Our beliefs here are in the tradition of Papert2 who put forth the notion of powerful ideas. Simply put, powerful ideas are those that come from within the learner, ideas of personal meaning that one explores simply to fuel his own curiosity. We also note that in this workshop, a

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education.

Kahn, J., & Bers, M. (2005, June), An Examination Of Early Elementary Student’s Approach To Engineering Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15610

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