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Dynamics of 5th Grade Students Engineering Service Learning Projects

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

It's Elementary

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.444.1 - 23.444.18



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Paper Authors

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Jessica E S Swenson Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Merredith D Portsmore Tufts University

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Dynamics of 5th Grade Students Engineering Service Learning Projects Most engineering problems given to elementary school students revolve around a designtask in which students use the steps of the engineering design process to complete the design taskto meet an explicit list of requirements as defined in the problem statement. Some curriculumscurrently in use also include a narratives about environmental impact and other cultures (Hesterand Cunningham, 2007) or incorporate science investigations to meet district standards(Wendell,, 2011). Following trends in undergraduate engineering service learning projects(Oakes, Coyle, and Jamieson, 2000), we designed and implemented an engineering servicelearning unit in an elementary school classroom. Service type engineering projects taskundergraduate engineering students with designing a solution for a community issue such asincreasing sustainable practices, optimizing donations to community service organizations, andmanaging water resources. To date, university level service learning project have “proven veryeffective for attracting women and underrepresented minorities to engineering” (Houchens,2010) and attracted students due to the “practical, real-world experience in engineering design”(Coyle, Jamieson, and Oakes, 2005). We wanted to leverage the appeal and engagement ofservice learning for elementary school students. Our service learning design challenge tasked thestudents to define/construct their own problems and requirements in a context in which they werethe experts, their school. This created a unique problem space where elementary age studentswere engaged in engineering design in a very different way than provided by other elementaryengineering curricula. This paper will provide a case-study analysis of 5 groups of 5th grade students engagedin a service learning project. Students were asked to identify a problem in their school and tosolve it using engineering. Once in groups, the students brainstormed solutions and chose oneproblem to construct a solution for. We will present and characterize the different types ofproblems the students chose to pursue and their abilities to evaluate the quality of their solutions. From this analysis we present a preliminary set of affordances and challenges that are presentwhen elementary students are engaged in an open-ended engineering problem, like servicelearning. We also identify areas of engineering design, such as material selection and solutionevaluation, that elementary students need additional scaffolding with to facilitate productiveengineering design practices. We discuss the implications of these outcomes for elementaryengineering curriculum design and classroom teaching practices. This paper also identifies futureresearch priorities for open-ended engineering design with elementary students.REFERENCESCoyle, E., Jamieson, L., and Oakes, W., (2005). EPICS: Engineering Projects in CommunityService. International Journal of Engineering Education, 21(1)Hester, K. and Cunningham, C. (2007) Engineering is Elementary: An Engineering andTechnology Curriculum for Children. American Society for Engineering Education AnnualConference and Exposition, Honolulu, HawaiiHouchens, B. (2010) Service and Design as Mechanisms to Impassion the Study of Engineering,from K-12 to Higher Education. International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, 5(1),25-46.Oakes, W., Coyle, E., and Jamieson, L. (2000) EPICS: A Model of Service-Learning in anEngineering Curriculum. American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference andExposition, St. Louis, MissouriWendell, K., Portsmore, M., Wright, C., Rodgers, C., Jarvin, L. and Kendall, A. (2011) TheImpact of Engineering-Based Science Instruction on Science Content Understanding. AmericanSociety for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Swenson, J. E. S., & Portsmore, M. D. (2013, June), Dynamics of 5th Grade Students Engineering Service Learning Projects Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19458

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