Asee peer logo

Elementary School Teachers' Attempts at Integrating Engineering Design: Transformation or Assimilation?

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Education Research in K-12

Tagged Divisions

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering and Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.551.1 - 22.551.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Brenda M. Capobianco Purdue University

visit author page

Brenda M. Capobianco is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and School of Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. She holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, M.S in science education from Connecticut Central State University, and Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She teaches elementary science methods and graduate courses in teacher action research and gender and culture in science education. Her research interests include girls’ participation in science and engineering; teacher’s engagement in action research; and science teachers’ integration of the engineering design process to improve science learning.

visit author page


Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Heidi Diefes-Dux is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member in Purdue’s First-Year Engineering Program, the gateway for all first-year students entering the College of Engineering. She is currently the Director of Teacher Professional Development for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE). Her P-12 research interests center on the integration of engineering into elementary education.

visit author page


Irene B. Mena Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education. Her research interests include K-12 engineering education, first-year engineering, and graduate student professional development.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Elementary school teachers’ attempts at integrating engineering design: Transformation or assimilation?The primary aim of this study is to examine how elementary school teachers translate what theylearned from a professional development program using the Engineering is Elementary (EiE)curriculum. The research questions include the following: 1) What are the teachers’ first steps indeveloping engineering design-based science lessons? 2) What are the teachers’ actual attemptsat integrating the engineering design process? 3) How can we characterize teachers’ attempts?The context of this research study is a university-based initiative focused on creating anengineering literate society through preeminence in P-12 engineering education research andscholarship.Data were collected via teacher interviews (n = 40), implementation plans (n = 10), informalclassroom observations (n = 10), and supporting documents (i.e., lesson plans, teacher-developedlesson materials, and student work). Data analysis entailed the use of grounded theory andcontent analysis. Triangulation involved the convergence of all data sets resulting in theidentification of several recurring themes.Findings indicated that all ten teachers integrated one or more engineering design-based tasks.Teachers reported using not only the professional development materials provided through theprogram, but also existing classroom resources (e.g., state standards, science kits, and inquiryactivities). Central to each teacher’s attempt were three key elements:1) the role of the designprocess; 2) the role of science concepts; and 3) the use of feedback loops within and across eachdesign-based task. We used these elements to characterize each teacher’s attempt. Using acontinuum or phase model, we determined that teachers’ attempts at incorporating design-basedactivities into their practice (i.e., instruction and curriculum) ranged from “assimilation” (leftend) to “transformation” (right end) (see Figure 1).Teachers who placed emphasis on the design process as a prescribed method for solvingproblems with some or little attention to the application of science concepts and feedback loopsin a design situation were characterized as “assimilating” science instruction and curriculum toinclude engineering design. In this phase, teachers systemically worked with students toidentify, practice, and recall each step of the design process. Interestingly, these teachers alsoreported teaching scientific inquiry in the same manner. This was most evident among 2nd, 3rd,and 4th grade teachers.Teachers who immersed students in the design process, without direct instruction, and whoreinforced key scientific concepts along the way while encouraging students to reflect on theprogress of their team’s designs we characterized as “transforming” science instruction andcurriculum. This was most pronounced among 1st and 5th grade teachers. In this manner, teachersreconstructed science instruction and curriculum to include the principles of the design processas a fluid, more transparent approach to learning scientific concepts.Findings from this study suggest that there is no universal approach to translating the engineeringdesign process into the elementary science classroom. Teachers take different orientations toincorporating design in their science lessons. Attention must be given to teachers’ professionaldevelopment and transformation toward the inclusion of engineering design-based instructionand curriculum in order for engineering education to be fully realized in the elementary scienceclassroom.Figure 1: Continuum of teachers’ attempts at integrating engineering design.Characteristics Assimilation TransformationRole of design 2nd, 3rd, 4th 1st, 5thRole of science 2nd, 3rd, 4th 1st, 5thFeedback loops 2nd, 3rd, 4th 1st, 5th

Capobianco, B. M., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Mena, I. B. (2011, June), Elementary School Teachers' Attempts at Integrating Engineering Design: Transformation or Assimilation? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17832

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015