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Analysis of Census Survey of Middle School Students’ Knowledge of Engineers and Engineering in a Large Suburban K-8 School District

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Middle School Engineering Programs, Curriculum, and Evaluation

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.204.1 - 22.204.20

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Paper Authors


Johnny Thieken Arizona State University

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John Thieken, M.Ed., is currently a high school mathematics teacher at the Paradise Valley School District and a doctoral student in the Ph.D. in mathematics education at Arizona State University. He has as Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Northern Arizona University and a Masters in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University. His experiences with the district include curriculum design (to include online coursework) and assessment design (district district assessment exams and Arizona Instrument of Measurement Standards practice). Johnny is currently involved in doctoral research (Learning through Engineering Design and Practice, NSF ITEST Award# 0737616, 2007-11) under the guidance of PI Dr. Tirupalavanam Ganesh, Dr. James A Middleton and Dr. Finbarr Sloane, where he engages in measurement and analysis methodology design, data analysis (quantitative and qualitative), curriculum design, curriculum implementation, and sustainability.

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Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh Arizona State University

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Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh is Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He has bachelors and masters degrees in Computer Science and Engineering and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. His research interests include educational research methods, communication of research, and K-16+ engineering education. Ganesh’s research is largely focused on studying K-12 curricula, and teaching-learning processes in both the formal and informal settings. He is principal investigator of the Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers project, Learning through Engineering Design and Practice (2007 - 2011), a National Science Foundation Award# 0737616 from the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. This project is aimed at designing, implementing, and systematically studying the impact of a middle-school engineering education program.

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Analysis of Census Survey of Middle School Students’ Knowledge of Engineers and Engineering in a Large Suburban K-8 School DistrictAbstractThe 2009 National Academy of Engineering’s Committee on K-12 Engineering Education[1]made recommendations for enhancing K-12 engineering education, which is in its infancy incomparison to K-12 mathematics education, science education, or technology education. There isa need to understand what middle school students already know[2] about engineers andengineering as new approaches to engineering education in K-12 schools are being designed andimplemented as a way of integrating science and mathematics education with engineering-designchallenges. A local university and a K-8 school district have collaborated to design engineering-design based curricula for in-school implementation in the middle grades. The purpose for thisstudy was to establish a baseline for what middle school students know about engineers andengineering. The K-8 school sub-urban district in the southwestern United States has six middleschools that serve over 5,500 students. A census survey of all sixth, seventh, and eighth gradestudents in this school district was conducted. Responses were collected from 5,585 students.Survey procedures implemented sought out students’ knowledge and awareness of thefollowing:i) what is important to the student in her/his careerii) how well the student knows what people in certain professions do on a day-to-day basis whileat workiii) how well the student thinks certain phrases/words describe engineers or engineeringiv) how appealing or interesting some examples of engineering are to the studentThe survey utilized questions from an online survey developed by the National Academy ofEngineering[2].Participant demographics are shown in table 1. Respondents indicated that they were morefamiliar with what teachers do day-to-day than engineers at work (see Table 2). Students wereleast familiar with what engineers and accountants do at work. Only 8% of female (vs 16% male)students said that they “knew extremely well” what engineers do at work. Findings haveimplications for experiences that need to be designed and offered to enhance all middle schoolstudents’ knowledge of engineers and engineering.In answer to questions about attributes of engineering, “hard working” (44%), “builds,constructs, or makes things” (37%), and “math and science” (35%), were rated as phrases thatdescribe engineers or the field of engineering “extremely well.” However, “creativity and originalthinking” was rated as an extremely good descriptor of engineering by only 19% of respondents.These findings indicate that the Engineering Habits of Mind (creativity, systems thinking,optimism, collaboration, communication, and ethical considerations) are valuable skills thatstudents need to experience in the middle grades.Students recognized “building cars that run on alternative fuels,” “iPoD”, “solar energy”,“designing video games” as examples of engineering and found “making smaller faster computerprocessors” and “developing new fabrics” as less appealing. Overall, male students indicated amore positive outlook toward engineering as a career choice than female students. The full paperwill present the survey method, data analysis, and results by gender and ethnicity indicatingengineering curricular areas that may be more appealing to certain populations as a means forengagement in engineering-design based learning experiences.Table 1. Grades 6, 7, and 8 participants, N=5585Demographics PercentageGender Female 51% Male 49%Race/Ethnicity White 54% Black 12% American Indian 6% Asian 10% Hispanic 19%Table 2. Familiarity with Professionals, Percentage that rated Profession as “Know Very Well”by GenderProfession Total Female MaleTeacher 38% 33% 44%Doctor 22% 24% 21%Engineer 12% 8% 16%Lawyer 15% 15% 16%Architect 12% 10% 14%Scientist 14% 13% 15%Accountant 10% 10% 11%References[1] National Academy of Engineering. (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understandingthe status and improving the prospects. Committee on K-12 Engineering Education: LindaKatehi, Greg Pearson, and Michael Feder (Eds). Washington DC: National Academies Press.[2] National Academy of Engineering. (2008). Changing the conversation: Messages forimproving public understanding of engineering. Committee on public understanding ofengineering messages. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

Thieken, J., & Ganesh, T. G. (2011, June), Analysis of Census Survey of Middle School Students’ Knowledge of Engineers and Engineering in a Large Suburban K-8 School District Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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