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Content Analysis of Middle School Students' Argumentation in Engineering

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-College: Fundamental Research in Engineering Education (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Amy Wilson-Lopez Utah State University, Teacher Education and Leadership

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Amy Wilson-Lopez is an associate professor at Utah State University who studies literacy-infused engineering.

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Jared W. Garlick Utah State University

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Jared Garlick is a Graduate Student in the Secondary Education Master's of Education (MEd) program through the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. Research interests include argumentation in science and engineering and the benefit they play in developing literacy in specific content areas.

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Argumentation has become an important classroom tool to increase academic performance in science education. Tools have been developed and validated around assessing students’ learning progressions in argumentation in science. However, similar instruments for assessing students’ learning progressions in argumentation in engineering are lacking. The purpose of this exploratory study was to analyze middle students’ arguments in engineering to identify dimensions and levels of argumentation in engineering, so that these dimensions and levels could later be developed into an assessment rubric. To this end, we examined written work of 69 middle school students. These students participated in a unit where they observed prototypes of rockets and were asked to create their own rocket based on their observations. Following testing of their created rockets, students were asked to write an argument on why their rocket design was optimal. These written arguments were then coded by two individuals. The content analysis resulted in three findings. First, most students engaged in argumentation by justifying their design in multiple ways, most commonly by referring to tests, using scientific or mathematical reasoning, and referring to stated criteria and constraints. Second, at a much lower rate, some students referred to additional desirable characteristics beyond criteria and constraints to justify their designs, and they connected scientific reasoning to criteria and constraints. Third, students focused mostly on the benefits of their own rockets without weighing alternative solutions. Limitations of this study are found in the small sample size of middle school students from one school being taught by the same teacher. However, we argue that the findings from this exploratory study can inform the development of valid assessment tools that identify progressions in students' engineering argumentation.

Wilson-Lopez, A., & Garlick, J. W. (2017, June), Content Analysis of Middle School Students' Argumentation in Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28072

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