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Eliciting Informed Designer Patterns from Elementary Students with Open-ended Problems (Fundamental)

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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

Fundamental: K-12 Students and Engineering Design Practices (Part 2)

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.593.1 - 26.593.13



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Paper Authors


Lija Andrija Yang Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Lija Yang is an Educator in Residence and Curriculum Developer at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach; she has a M.Ed. in Literacy Instruction K-12 and is a certified Reading Specialist. She has taught 1-4th grade and integrated engineering concepts and thinking in her curriculum. Her focus is to help educators gain confidence and experience in STEM and enable them to inspire and teach engineering to budding engineers.

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Aaron W. Johnson Tufts University

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Aaron W. Johnson is a postdoctoral research associate at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, where his research focused on human-automation interaction in complex aerospace vehicles. Aaron also obtained a master's degree from MIT in 2010 and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 2008, both in aerospace engineering.

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Merredith D Portsmore Tufts University

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Fourth grade students’ development of problem constraints and requirements in an ill-defined engineering problem (Fundamental) The inclusion of engineering design practices in the Next Generation ScienceStandards have raised the issue of what design practices children should be expected toengage in. While the standards have put forth ideas for the scaffolding of engineeringdesign practices, there is little support in the research literature for the kind ofengineering practices students are capable at different grade levels. In addition, as awhole, the literature lacks rich descriptions of children engaged in engineering designpractices – How do they tackle problems? What are areas they struggle with? This studybegins to address this through careful attention to students engaged in early stages of theengineering design process. This paper will present an interview study with 4th grade students. Fifteen fourthgrade students (8 boys, 7 girls) from an urban-rim school were individually presentedwith a prompt that a dog (Abby) that was having trouble getting around and neededsomething designed to help her. The problem was intentionally ill-defined and thestudents were invited to ask questions about Abby and to draw their idea for a design tohelp her. Students were made aware that this was a conceptual design task, resulting in adrawing, but that they should specify materials from their home or school that they woulduse to make their design. The interviewers had a fixed backstory (about a dachshund dogabout about 10 inches tall and 15 inches long, living in a 2 –story apartment with adamaged vertebrae resulting in the permanent paralysis of her back legs) to supportstudents’ questions. This paper will present 3 case studies of students’ approach todefining the constraints and requirements and their design. The cases studies illustratethe different pathways that students take when tackling this – ranging from from expert-like questioning to identify constraints before designing to sequential attention toconstraints while designing to complete designs that were modified with questions afterthe fact. The heterogeneity of approaches suggests that we have to carefully considerstudents initial approach to design, similar to the way we consider their existing ideas andconceptions and science. These results have implications for teacher professionaldevelopment and curriculum design.

Yang, L. A., & Johnson, A. W., & Portsmore, M. D. (2015, June), Eliciting Informed Designer Patterns from Elementary Students with Open-ended Problems (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23931

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