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Elementary Teachers’ Reported Responses to Student Design Failures

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Best Papers in K-12 / Pre-college Division

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.592.1 - 26.592.37



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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 (PD) 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 currently serves as the Chair-Elect of the K-12 and Pre-College Division of ASEE.

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Elizabeth Anne 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 Family Engineering project. 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 the Immediate Past Chair of the ASEE 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 35 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. 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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Elementary Teachers’ Reported Responses to Student Design Failures and Explicit Talk about Failure During Instruction (Research-to-Practice) In this mixed-methods, empirical study we explore how elementary teachers respondwhen students’ engineered designs fail to meet design criteria. It responds to arguments thatfailure, a normative aspect of engineering practice, should receive explicit attention in K-12classrooms.1 It is further supported by growth mindset research, which asserts the importance ofstudents learning from failure experiences.2 Finally, it builds upon recent research suggestingthat teachers may be disinclined to use words like fail or failure in elementary classrooms.3 This study includes quantitative and qualitative analysis of pre- and post-teaching surveydata from 110 upper elementary teachers participating in a multi-state research project. Includedis a pre-teaching survey question that queried teachers’ perspectives on the word, failure. Thepost-teaching survey was given after teachers had taught either one (52 teachers) or twoEngineering is Elementary (EiE) units (58) during one academic year. It asked how teachersresponded to students whose designs were unsuccessful by checking “all that apply” from a listof 13 possible responses; six responses (“f-responses”) included the words fail, failed, or failure.Additionally, teachers could add their own unique responses. A subset of eight teachers participated in both pre- and post-teaching interviews. Thirty-minute interviews were semi-structured in format, audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzedusing grounded theory. Pre-teaching interviews explored teachers’ perceptions of failure andtheir use of words like fail and failure in the classroom. Post-teaching interviews addressed theuse of these words during engineering instruction, and probed teachers about how theyresponded to design failures. Both before and after teaching, and on surveys and in interviews, few teachers reportedthat they used the words fail or failure in their classrooms. Rather, they used euphemisms (e.g.,“didn’t work”). Four of the six possible f-responses to students who had unsuccessful designswere the least reported of the 13 total possible responses. The other two, however, were selectedby nearly half of the survey teachers. One was, “How can you prevent a similar failure in thefuture?” Significantly more two-unit teachers than one-unit teachers reported using f-responses(t-test; significance < 0.05). This suggests that either the nature of the additional unit (bridgedesign unit) or the experience of teaching more units was influential; we suspect both werefactors. One third of survey participants offered additional responses beyond the 13 “check-all-that-apply” responses; of those, few (<10%) included the words fail, failed, or failure, and morethan half focused on helping students improve their designs. Post-teaching interview datasuggested teachers had a growing comfort with: 1) using fail or failure words in the context ofstudent design improvement; and 2) creating a fail-safe classroom environment by encouragingresilient responses to design failure (e.g., by encouraging failure analysis and improvement).These findings have implications for both teacher and student learning in engineering.References1. Cunningham, C., & Carlsen, B. (in press). Precollege engineering education. In S.K. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.). Handbook of Research in Science Education (2nd edition) (p. xxx-xxx). Taylor & Francis.2. Dweck, C.S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books: New York.3. Author reference

Lottero-Perdue, P. S., & Parry, E. A. (2015, June), Elementary Teachers’ Reported Responses to Student Design Failures Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23930

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