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Elementary Teachers' Reflections on Design Failures and Use of Fail Words after Teaching Engineering for Two Years (Fundamental)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Fundamental; K-12 Students & Engineering Division: Fundamental; K-12 Students & Engineering Design Practices: Best Paper Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Ph.D. 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 and teachers 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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Elizabeth A. Parry North Carolina State University

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Elizabeth (Liz) Parry

Elizabeth Parry is an engineer and consultant in K-12 Integrated STEM through Engineering Curriculum, Coaching and Professional Development and a Coordinator and Instructor of Introduction to Engineering at the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University. For the past sixteen years, she has worked extensively with students from kindergarten to graduate school, parents, preservice and in- service teachers to both educate and excite them about engineering. As the Co-PI and project director of a National Science Foundation GK-12 grant, Parry developed a highly effective tiered mentoring model for graduate and undergraduate engineering and education teams as well as a popular Family STEM event offering for both elementary and middle school communities.

Parry is currently a co-Pi on two NSF DR-K12 Projects: the Exploring the Efficacy of Elementary Engineering Project led by the Museum of Science Boston studying the efficacy of two elementary curricular programs and Engineering For All, a middle school project led by Hofstra University. Other current projects include providing comprehensive professional development, coaching, culture change and program consulting for multiple K-8 integrated STEM schools across the country, serving as a regional Professional Development for the Museum of Science, Boston’s Engineering is Elementary curriculum program; and participating in the development of the Curriculum Framework for an AP Engineering course.

In June, 2014, Liz was appointed by the Board of Directors of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) to chair a new committee on K-12 Engineering. She is a past chair for ASEE's K-12 and Precollege Division, serves as the Vice President of the executive board of the Triangle Coalition for STEM Education, is a board member of the STEM Consortium and is a member of the K-12 Advisory Committee for the American Society of Mechanical Engineering. The past three years, Liz has been named a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty” program, a select group of notable scientists and engineers invited to give keynote presentations in advance of the festival. She has authored or co-authored over 40 papers on issues relating to K-20 integrated STEM, including “Perspectives on Failure in the Classroom by Elementary Teachers New to Teaching Engineering,” (co-author with Dr. Pamela Lottero-Perdue of Towson University) which was awarded best Division (K-12 and Precollege), Best PIC (IV) and Best Overall Conference paper for ASEE in 2014 and "Elementary Teachers’ Reported Responses to Student Design Failures", which was awarded best paper for the K-12 and Precollege Division in 2015. Liz is a frequent invited keynote speaker both nationally and internationally. Prior to joining NCSU, Liz worked in engineering and management positions at IBM Corporation for ten years and co-owned an informal science education business.

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In this mixed-methods study we investigate teachers’ reflections on students’ design failures after teaching Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum over two years. The following questions guide this work:

1. How do students respond to design failures during instruction? 2. How do teachers respond to students when students’ designs fail? 3. Are teachers more, less, or equally comfortable supporting students when students’ designs fail during the second versus the first year of instruction? 4. Are they more, less, or equally comfortable using words like fail or failure (i.e., fail words)? 5. To what extent does the EiE curriculum support students in learning from failure or persevering in the face of setbacks?

This work builds on arguments in the literature that failure, a normative aspect of engineering practice, should receive explicit attention in pre-college engineering education, and that it is essential for students to have opportunities to learn from failure and practice perseverance. Finally, it builds upon our recent research that has addressed teacher perspectives on fail words, student responses to design failures, and teacher responses to students whose designs fail.

This study includes quantitative and qualitative analysis of post-year-2 survey data from 74 upper elementary teachers (response rate: 99%) participating in a multi-state research project. The survey used an ecosystem rating scale with an embedded 10-point Likert scale of comfort level to address Questions 3 and 4, above. A separate 10-point Likert scale of importance level addressed Question 5. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics for non-parametric data. Additionally, some survey respondents (26% of 78) shared additional statements for Questions 3 and 4. A subset of ten teachers participated in post-year-2 interviews. Thirty-minute to one-hour (on average) interviews were semi-structured in format, audio-recorded, and transcribed; these explicitly addressed Questions 1 through 5. Qualitative survey questions and interview transcripts were analyzed using iterative qualitative methods.

Interviewees shared a similar range of student responses to design failure as were reported in the authors’ previous work from year one. Interviewees’ reactions to student design failures were also consistent. Beyond these patterns, interviewees indicated that their comfort level using fail words was consistent or, more often, increased. Survey analysis showed a significantly higher comfort level with supporting students whose designs failed and with using fail words for Year 2 as compared to Year 1. Interviews revealed that although the range of student reactions to design failures was similar, the reactions of particular students were not what teachers would have predicted. Interviewees also shared broad messages about failure (e.g., it's okay to fail) with students, and cited consistent or increased comfort with the use of fail words when they normalized the word in the context of engineering. All participants reported that the EiE curriculum created opportunities for students to learn from failure and persevere in the face of setbacks – more so than curricula where the curriculum is either scaffolded to their needs or does not emphasize improvement.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S., & Parry, E. A. (2016, June), Elementary Teachers' Reflections on Design Failures and Use of Fail Words after Teaching Engineering for Two Years (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26923

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