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Elementary Student Reflections on Failure Within and Outside of the Engineering Design Process (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: Fundamental Research in Engineering Education (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Towson University

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Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences at Towson University. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, worked briefly as a process engineer, and taught high school physics and pre-engineering. She has taught engineering and science to children in multiple informal settings. As a pre-service teacher educator, she includes engineering in her elementary and early childhood science methods courses, and has developed engineering education courses for middle school pre-service teachers and practicing elementary teachers. She has provided science and engineering professional development to multiple schools and school systems in Maryland, and has significantly contributed to the writing of many integrated STEM units of instruction used by teachers and school systems. Her research has examined factors that support and those that hinder elementary teachers as they learn to teach engineering, and currently focuses on how children learn to engineer and in the process, learn to fail and productively persist. She is the Director of the Integrated STEM Instructional Leadership (PreK-6) Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program at TU. She currently serves as the Chair of the Pre-College Engineering Education Division of ASEE, and is a member of the ASEE Board of Directors Committee on P12 Engineering Education.

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In this qualitative study, I describe elementary students’ reflections on engineering design failure, their exposure to “fail words” (i.e., fail, failure, failed, etc.) in and out of school, and what they think it means to fail. This work draws from the idea that while design failure is a normal part of engineering practice, the concept of failure and the fail words themselves have very particular meanings in the context of engineering that are likely to be different than meanings these words and ideas take on in other contexts. Data collected for this study included 14 video-recorded, semi-structured focus group interviews with a total of 29 students, and the design journals of those students for the two Engineering is Elementary engineering units that they learned. Analysis involved an iterative approach to generating and refining codes to describe the range experiences, word use, and meaning making in the data. Students identified their first and second designs within design challenges as having failed overall, somewhat, or not at all. Their evidence for these assessments varied, and included criteria-based assessments (e.g., a design failed if it did not perform well against multiple criteria) that are in alignment with good engineering practice. Teams used other strategies, as well, including identifying a “most important criterion” amongst multiple design criteria, and determining their design success based upon how well other teams in the class performed. Students were exposed to fail words in and out of school. They heard fail words in various settings, including within the context of organized sports, from their parents, and in the media. Students had different conceptions of failure, including that it was associated with poor performance, quitting, failure analysis and improvement. Implications of this study include suggestions for preservice and inservice teachers, teacher educators, and professional development providers. Those suggestions include the need for teachers to: have conversations with students about fail words and their meanings; present an engineering definition for design failure to students; avoid the use of clichés about failure; and ensure that students follow testing procedures and assess design performance accurately and consistently.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S. (2017, June), Elementary Student Reflections on Failure Within and Outside of the Engineering Design Process (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28213

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