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Beyond Trial & Error: Iteration-to-Learn using Computational Paper Crafts in a STEAM Camp for Girls

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division: Student Empathy & Human-centered Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Colin Dixon Concord Consortium

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Colin Dixon holds a Ph.D. in Learning & Mind Sciences from the University of California, Davis. He researches the development of STEM practices and agency among young people creating things to use and share with the world. He writes about equity and identity in making and engineering, the role of community in science learning, and how youth leverage interests and experiences within STEM education.

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Corey T. Schimpf The Concord Consoritum Orcid 16x16

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Corey Schimpf is a Learning Analytics Scientist with interest in design research, learning analytics, research
methods and under-representation in engineering, A major strand of his work focuses on developing
and analyzing learning analytics that model students’ cognitive states or strategies through fine-grained
computer-logged data from open-ended technology-centered science and engineering projects. His dissertation
research explored the use of Minecraft to teach early engineering college students about the design

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Sherry Hsi Concord Consortium

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Dr. Sherry Hsi is the Executive Vice President of the Concord Consortium. She leads the strategic development, design, and research of learning technologies using her background in engineering, science education, and the learning sciences to improve learning and engagement in STEM. Her work incorporates sensor technologies, computationally-enhanced papercraft, and augmented reality among other technologies. She is the Co-PI of Paper Mechatronics project and the PI of an NSF STEM+C project on computational thinking in high school biology.

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When asked about how they deal with unforeseen problems, novice learners often describe a process of “trial and error.” This process might fairly be described as iteration, a critical step in the design process, but falls short of the practices that engineering education needs to develop. In the face of novel and multifaceted problems, future engineers must be comfortable and competent not just trying again, but identifying failure points, troubleshooting, and running systematic tests with relevant data.

To examine the abilities of novice designers to test and effectively refine ideas and prototypes, we conducted qualitative analysis of structured interviews, audio, video, and designs of 11 girls, ages 9 -11, working on computational papercrafts as part of a museum-based STEAM summer camp. The projects involved design and construction of expressive paper and cardboard sculptures with gears and linkages powered by servomotors. Over the course of one day, the girls generated designs inspired by a camp theme, then had to work with mechanics, electronics and craft to create working versions that would be displayed as part of a public exhibit.

Computational papercraft was selected because it lowers cost and intimidation. Our design conjecture was that by making materials familiar and abundant, learners would have more relevant knowledge, could easily modify and replicate components, and would therefore be better able to recognize potential faults and more likely to engage in testing and refinement. We also supported design and troubleshooting with a customized circuit board and an online gear simulator. In the first stage of this study, we looked at what engineering practices emerged, given these conditions. We asked: What opportunities for testing and refinement did computational papercrafts open up? What resources and tools do young learners employ when testing and refining designs?

Analysis showed that technical supports for testing and refinement were successful in supporting valued testing and refinement practices as youth pursued personal goals. Use of the simulator and customized microcontroller allowed for consideration of multiple alternatives and for “trial before error.” Learners were able to conduct focused tests on subsystems of their paper machines, and to make “small bets,” keeping initial ideas and designs fluid. Inexpensive materials also allowed them to test and refine at late project stages, without feeling that they were wasting time or materials. The analysis sheds light on young students practices of testing and refinement, and how to best support young people as they begin learning trajectories in engineering. The approach is especially relevant within making-oriented engineering education and other settings working to broaden participation in engineering.

Dixon, C., & Schimpf, C. T., & Hsi, S. (2019, June), Beyond Trial & Error: Iteration-to-Learn using Computational Paper Crafts in a STEAM Camp for Girls Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32153

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