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Elementary Student Engagement with Digital Engineering Notebook Cards (Fundamental)

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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: Techniques and Programs for Promoting Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Kristen B. Wendell Ph.D. Tufts University

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Kristen Wendell is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education at Tufts University. Her research efforts at at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach focus on supporting discourse and design practices during K-12, teacher education, and college-level engineering learning experiences, and increasing access to engineering in the elementary school experience, especially in under-resourced schools. In 2016 she was a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

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Chelsea Andrews Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach Orcid 16x16

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Chelsea Andrews is a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts University in STEM education. She received a B.S. from Texas A&M University in ocean engineering and an S.M. from MIT in civil and environmental engineering. Her current research includes investigating children's engagement in engineering design through in-depth case study analysis.

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While research in mathematics and science education has shown the importance of looking beyond individual students and attending to classroom communities of practice, questions about disciplinary classroom microcultures during engineering design have been addressed by just a small number of researchers. Our multi-year design based research program investigates the more and less productive ways that adults and tools can help elementary students access engineering Discourses and give students agency in creating taken-as-shared disciplinary approaches to design tasks in their classrooms.

One strand of our work explores the affordances of a new digital engineering notebooking tool that we have developed specifically for upper elementary students. This tool was informed by existing paper-based science and design notebooks, computer supported collaborative learning environments for science inquiry, research on classroom support for science notebooks, and current frameworks for quality K-12 engineering. In this paper, we report on a qualitative case study guided by the research question, how do elementary students engage with multimedia notebook cards designed to scaffold epistemic practices of collaborative engineering design?

The engineering notebooking tool consists of a set of templates for “notebook cards” that, when filled in, comprise teams’ digital engineering notebooks. The five most common cards are: “Problem,” “Ideas,” “Test,” “Final Design,” and “Feature.” Taken as a whole, the cards are intended to provide explicit access to disciplinary practices. The prompts on the cards are simple, but very carefully worded to cue engagement in different epistemic “games” and language practices. Each card has a designated place for a photo or drawing; photos are easily added without leaving the notebooking app. Students add cards as they work; each time they add a card, they choose the most appropriate template for their work at the moment. As a result, students’ notebook cards do not follow a pre-determined order. To review their work, students can choose to sort their cards by type or look at them in the chronological order in which they were created.

This qualitative case study comes from an enactment of the engineering notebook cards with an upper elementary class in the eastern United States. The teacher had several years of experience teaching engineering and chose to use the notebook cards as part of an existing unit on structural design. Data sources included researchers’ field notes, digital notebook artifacts, video recordings of small group and whole class work, and final design explanations and presentations. Microethnographic analysis revealed that the cards and related classroom structures both constrained and supported student work. The findings have both pedagogical and theoretical implications. In particular, they may inform new digital tools—and related pedagogies and lesson structures—that support other aspects of design practices, Discourses, and classroom microculture.

Wendell, K. B., & Andrews, C. (2017, June), Elementary Student Engagement with Digital Engineering Notebook Cards (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28212

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