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Dimensions of Experienced Responsive Teaching in Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Student Reflection, Self-Perception, Misconceptions, and Uncertainty

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Aaron W. Johnson Tufts University

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Aaron W. Johnson is a postdoctoral research associate at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, where his research focused on human-automation interaction in complex aerospace vehicles. Aaron also obtained a master's degree from MIT in 2010 and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 2008, both in aerospace engineering.

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Kristen B. Wendell Tufts University

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Kristen B. Wendell is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education at Tufts University, where she leads an interdisciplinary research group at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.

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Jessica Watkins Tufts University

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This research paper details the dimensions of responsive teaching among elementary teachers experienced in facilitating engineering design learning experiences. It then presents a case study of a teacher new to engineering to discuss one possible trajectory to gaining this experience. Responsive teaching is a concept that captures how teachers elicit, notice, and respond to student thinking to support the development of students’ disciplinary ideas and their participation in disciplinary practices. A great deal of literature has focused on responsive teaching in science and mathematics, but there has been little research or professional development on responsive teaching in engineering. This paper investigates responsive teaching in the context of a new engineering program for elementary school students in which fiction and non-fiction texts serve as the basis for engineering projects.

Prior work on this project looked at what in-service elementary teachers new to engineering noticed in video episodes of students solving design problems and how these teachers envisioned responding to the students. We build on this work by identifying a set of dimensions of responsive teaching using teachers experienced in engineering. We analyzed interviews with six teachers who had completed at least two years of the new engineering curriculum in their classes. In these interviews the teachers discussed their implementation of the curriculum and reflected on videos of their students working on their engineering projects. We analyzed these interviews to answer two research questions: 1) In what ways did experienced teachers notice and interpret disciplinary aspects of their students’ engineering design? and 2) What challenges do teachers describe in responding to their students’ engineering design work?

Four themes emerged from our analysis of teacher interviews. Teachers noticed students’ framing of the project – how they saw students foreground the story and the characters, classroom norms and teacher expectations, or both simultaneously. Teachers also noticed students engaging in particular aspects of the engineering design process, such as testing and iterating on their physical prototypes. More than this, however, the teachers noticed how student behaviors in these phases of the engineering design process resembled those of informed designers. Finally, experienced teachers noticed social dynamics in a way that was more nuanced than teachers new to engineering. The prior research found that new teachers commented that students were “working together well,” but experienced teachers commented on students communicating about and negotiating the functionality of their engineering design solutions. In addition to discussing noticing and interpreting students’ engineering design, many teachers also discussed how they responded to their students’ work and challenges that they faced in determining the best response.

These findings suggest that teachers with no formal background in engineering can notice disciplinary aspects of their students’ engineering design and flexibly respond to their students’ work to support their engagement in engineering design. Once teachers can notice disciplinary aspects of students’ engineering design, they can actively work to promote these in class and give elementary students experience with the open-ended problems of the engineering profession and the actual strategies that engineers use to solve these problems.

Johnson, A. W., & Wendell, K. B., & Watkins, J. (2016, June), Dimensions of Experienced Responsive Teaching in Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26846

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