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Engaging ALL Students in Engineering

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Broadening Participation

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.528.1 - 25.528.20



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Paper Authors


Christine M. Cunningham Museum of Science, Boston Orcid 16x16

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Christine Cunningham is a Vice President at the Museum of Science, Boston, where she oversees curricular materials development, teacher professional development, and research and evaluation efforts related to K-16 engineering and science learning and teaching. Her projects focus on making engineering and science more relevant, understandable, and accessible to everyone, especially marginalized populations such as women, underrepresented minorities, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, and people with disabilities. She is the Founder and Director of the Engineering is Elementary project.

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Cathy P. Lachapelle Museum of Science, Boston

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Cathy Lachapelle currently leads the assessment efforts for the EiE curriculum, designing assessment instruments, pilot and field testing them, and conducting research on how children use the EiE materials. She has worked on a number of research and evaluation projects related to K-16 STEM education, including the Women's Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) study of factors influencing the persistence of undergraduate women in engineering schools. She is particularly interested in how students learn science, engineering, and mathematics through collaborative interaction and through scaffolded experiences engaging in disciplinary practices. Lachapelle received her B.S. in cognitive science from MIT, and her Ph.D. in psychological studies in education from Stanford University.

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Engaging ALL Students in EngineeringThe introduction of a “new” discipline—engineering—into K-12 education comes with bothopportunities and responsibilities. One opportunity is that, as a new discipline for this age level,relatively few entrenched ways of operating currently exist; there is room to start fresh with aneye toward best practices. At the same time, engineering has a history at postsecondary levels inwhich certain groups have been traditionally marginalized or underrepresented in colleges,universities, and the workforce. As we introduce engineering into K-12 education, we must workvigilantly to ensure from its inception that such patterns are not prevalent at this level.There is much that curriculum design can do to foster equity in elementary engineering. Basedon the literature and our experiences working in classrooms, we developed a set of 14 designprinciples for curricula and materials that guided the development of an elementary engineeringcurriculum we recently completed. This paper will articulate these principles, briefly describethem and link them to relevant literature, and provide some examples of how they haveinfluenced design decisions and classroom outcomes. This is not offered as a comprehensive listbut rather as a starting place that should be continue to be discussed, researched, and revised.The principles, which we have grouped in four categories are:Set Learning in a Real-World Context: • Use narratives to develop and motivate students’ understanding of the place of engineering in the world. • Demonstrate how engineers help people, animals, or society. • Provide role models with a range of demographic characteristics.Present Design Challenges that are Authentic to Engineering Practice: • Ensure that design challenges are truly open-ended with more than one correct answer. • Value failure for what it teaches. • Produce design challenges that can be evaluated with both qualitative and quantitative measures. • Cultivate collaboration and teamwork. • Engage students in active, hands-on, inquiry-based engineeringScaffold Student Work: • Model and make explicit the practices of engineering. • Assume no previous familiarity with materials, tasks, or terminology. • Produce materials that are flexible to the needs and abilities of different kinds of learners.Demonstrate that “Everyone Engineers” and Everyone CAN Engineer: • Cultivate learning environments in which all students’ ideas and contributions have value. • Foster children’s agency as engineers. • Develop challenges that require low-cost, readily available materials.We purport that attention to including underserved and underperforming groups must be centralto the design of materials from their inception. Well-designed materials are critical for attracting,engaging, and retaining students’ interest and confidence in engineering. Thus, we set forth ourinclusive principles as a starting point for a conversation about engineering education resourcedesign.

Cunningham, C. M., & Lachapelle, C. P. (2012, June), Engaging ALL Students in Engineering Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21286

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