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Elementary Engineering Student Interests and Attitudes: A Comparison across Treatments

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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: Perceptions and Attitudes on the Pathway to Engineering (3)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Cathy P. Lachapelle Museum of Science

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Cathy Lachapelle leads the EiE team responsible for assessment and evaluation of our curricula. This includes the design and field-testing of assessment instruments and research on how children use EiE materials. Cathy is particularly interested in how collaborative interaction and scaffolded experiences with disciplinary practices help children learn science, math, and engineering. Her work on other STEM education research projects includes the national Women's Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) study. Cathy received her S.B. in cognitive science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Stanford University.

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Christine M. Cunningham Museum of Science Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Christine Cunningham is an educational researcher who works to make engineering and science more relevant, accessible, and understandable, especially for underserved and underrepresented populations. A vice president at the Museum of Science, Boston since 2003, she founded and directs Engineering is Elementary™, a groundbreaking project that integrates engineering concepts into elementary curriculum and teacher professional development. As of September 2016, EiE has served 12.6 million children nationwide and 118,000 educators. Cunningham has previously served as director of engineering education research at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, where her work focused on integrating engineering with science, technology, and math in professional development for K-12 teachers. She also directed the Women’s Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) project, the first national, longitudinal, large-scale study of the factors that support young women pursuing engineering degrees. Cunningham is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and was awarded the 2014 International Society for Design and Development in Education Prize. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in biology from Yale and a Ph.D. in Science Education from Cornell University.

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Elementary Engineering Student Interests and Attitudes: A Comparison across Treatments

As part of a large-scale efficacy study of an elementary engineering curriculum, we collected post-surveys of students’ interests in and attitudes towards engineering. Over two years, we collected almost 14,000 surveys from students in grades 3, 4, and 5 who participated in one of two engineering curricula, the treatment and comparison curriculum. We recruited teacher volunteers for this study through their principals and superintendents. Teachers applied to participate as teams of teachers from the same school. Once accepted, we randomized at the school level into the treatment or comparison group.

The treatment curriculum is designed from a social constructivist theoretical framework, taking as given that students learn deeply through meaningful engagement in a discipline at a developmentally appropriate level (Sawyer, 2006). The treatment curriculum meets the criteria for project-based learning (PBL), where students focus on a main design challenge which engages them with key ideas in science and engineering. In the treatment, the central project is open-ended, students are engaged in the problem with a realistic context, and heavy scaffolding is provided to engage in engineering practices and reasoning. The comparison curriculum also includes hands-on challenges, but in contrast, the challenges are not motivated with a context, scaffolding is not provided, many challenges are not open-ended, and information is given through direct instruction.

Students were asked to rate their interest and attitudes as compared to the summer before. The survey was developed from earlier research by the authors, as well as from surveys of science attitudes reported in the literature (Germann, 1988; Lichtenstein et al., 2008; Owen et al., 2008; Weinburgh & Steele, 2000). We will report on the development and testing of the survey, including validity evidence, in the final paper. We will also report on our methods of analysis and results, looking at differences between the treatment groups as well as the moderating effect of student demographics.

Germann, P. J. (1988). Development of the attitude toward science in school assessment and its use to investigate the relationship between science achievement and attitude toward science in school. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 25(8), 689–703.

Lichtenstein, M. J., Owen, S. V., Blalock, C. L., Liu, Y., Ramirez, K. A., Pruski, L. A., … Toepperwein, M. A. (2008). Psychometric reevaluation of the scientific attitude inventory-revised (SAI-II). Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(5), 600–616.

Owen, S. V., Toepperwein, M. A., Marshall, C. E., Lichtenstein, M. J., Blalock, C. L., Liu, Y., … Grimes, K. (2008). Finding pearls: Psychometric reevaluation of the Simpson–Troost Attitude Questionnaire (STAQ). Science Education, 92(6), 1076–1095.

Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Introduction: The new science of learning. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 1–16). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Weinburgh, M. H., & Steele, D. (2000). The Modified Attitudes toward Science Inventory: Developing an Instrument to Be Used with Fifth Grade Urban Students. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 6(1), 87–94.

Lachapelle, C. P., & Cunningham, C. M. (2017, June), Elementary Engineering Student Interests and Attitudes: A Comparison across Treatments Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28211

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