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Capturing the Design Thinking of Young Children Interacting with a Parent

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.256.1 - 24.256.7



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Paper Authors


Brianna L. Dorie Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Brianna Dorie is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education as well as Ecological Science & Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Program at Purdue University. Her primary interests focus on learning engineering in informal environments, sustainability and spatial reasoning.

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Monica E Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University and the Director of Informal Learning Environments Research for INSPIRE (the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning). She has a BSc in Mathematics from the University of Puget Sound and an MS and PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Washington. Her research focuses on: parents' roles in engineering education; engineering learning in informal environments; engineering design education; and mathematical thinking.

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Gina Navoa Svarovsky Science Museum of Minnesota

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Dr. Gina Navoa Svarovsky is a Senior Evaluation and Research Associate at the Science Museum of Minnesota. For over a decade, she has been interested in how young people - and in particular, girls and youth of color - learn science and engineering in both formal and informal learning environments. Her research explores how pre-college youth develop engineering skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking as a result of participating in engineering experiences within out-of-school settings. Since joining the Science Museum of Minnesota, Dr. Svarovsky has conducted both evaluation and research studies on a broad range of projects, each focused on engaging the public in current science and engineering topics. Dr. Svarovsky holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Capturing the Design Thinking of Young Children (Research)Children have often been labeled as “natural engineers” whose curiosity about the world aroundthem evokes comparisons to skills used by professional engineers and taught to undergraduateengineering students. Building towers out of blocks, taking things apart and figuring how thingswork are a part of childhood and have been considered to be precursors to engineering thinking.However there has been considerable debate around what engineering looks like for youngchildren. Can young children engage in design and if so, what does that look like? How can wedifferentiate “design” (especially “modeling” or “create”) activity from normal everyday play?Several design models have taken into account the developmental stages of young children, butthey often are based on assumptions and have minimal evidence.In the GRADIENT (Gender Research on Adult-child Discussions within Informal ENgineeringenvironmenTs) study, a collaboration between researchers at a museum and university, welooked at how parents with young girls engage in two different engineering activities in informalsettings. The first setting is a Preschool Playdates program for children 3-5 years old, where theparent-daughter dyads were asked to build a tower first out of familiar materials (foam blocks)and then out of unfamiliar materials (dado squares). The second setting is a pneumatic ball runthat is part of an engineering exhibit at the museum and was focused on children 6-11 years old.In each setting, 30 dyads were video recorded, and the verbal and non-verbal segments wereopen and axially coded for engineering talk and action.We found that children engage in the engineering design process in ways that are similar to othermodels of the engineering design, that include problem scoping, idea generation, modeling,testing, evaluation and revision. We also found that children engage in both predictive andreflective behavior, and often add context to the problem. However, we want to acknowledgethat the way children engage in engineering thinking is different from the way that adults do(especially with idea generation and revision) and we will discuss this further in the paper. Thiswork lays a foundation for future research, as understanding how children engage in the designprocess can help us understand how children learn engineering design skills, and how peopledevelop engineering design skills across pre-college, undergraduate, and professional practice.The work also has implications for the development of learning experiences in both school andout-of-school settings.

Dorie, B. L., & Cardella, M. E., & Svarovsky, G. N. (2014, June), Capturing the Design Thinking of Young Children Interacting with a Parent Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20147

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