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Engineering Everywhere: Bridging Formal and Informal STEM Education (Works in Progress)

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.509.1 - 23.509.9



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Paper Authors


Sharlene Yang Museum of Science

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Sharlene Yang is the director of Partnerships for the Engineering is Elementary project. In this position she is working with organizations and individuals across the country to help them support implementation of elementary engineering with area schools and teachers. She also led the efforts and initiatives of EiE professional development team, which now reach approximately 300 teachers a year. Yang has been active with STEM education for the past fifteen years; prior to her work with EiE, Yang has over a decade of experience as both a science educator and researcher that includes teaching biology to at-risk and under-served populations, environmental outreach education, and research in biopsychology. Yang has focused much of her work with EiE on creating and conducting professional development that not only teaches content, but models strong science pedagogy so that teachers can experience for themselves the power of inquiry-based and open-ended learning. In her work with partners, she hopes to bring these methods to science education PD providers nationwide. Sharlene received her B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Cornell University, her M.S. in Biopsychology from the University of Michigan, and her M.A.T. in Science Education from Tufts University.

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Lydia Beall Museum of Science

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Works in Progress Engineering Everywhere: Bridging Formal and Informal STEM Education  As interest in STEM education has increased, engineering design challenges have been used in many different educational settings to engage student learning. As a way to illustrate the similar and differing needs of classroom and out‐of‐school time environments, this paper compares and contrasts factors that influence the structure of two engineering education programs: a formal engineering curriculum for the elementary classroom and an informal hands‐on engineering design challenge program at a science museum in northeast United States.   This paper begins with an analysis of goals and factors that are similar between design challenges in the formal and informal setting. For example, elementary school students and museum visitors have similar misconceptions about engineering and technology; both formal and informal learning environments aim to create an engineering experience that is accessible and appealing to diverse populations; and classroom teachers and museum facilitators are challenged by both a limited budget and scarce preparation time.     It then identifies some of the common structural components that both programs have  adopted in response to these goals and factors. For example, both programs create activities  using cheap and familiar materials and minimize set up and preparation time.    In the second part of the paper, differences between formal and informal learning environments that have created divergences in our programs’ structures and goals are examined. For example, classrooms have extended learning time for engineering activities (i.e., several hours over multiple days) whereas a museum interactive exhibit rarely has more than 20 minutes to engage a visitor in an activity. In addition, classroom lessons are designed to engage only 25‐30 children at a time whereas a museum interactive activity must be able to accommodate more than 200 visitors in a two‐ hour time period.      This is followed by a discussion of how the two programs have developed different structures to reach their similar goals. For example, because of the constraints of the museum environment, the design challenge program focuses on creating unique hands‐on engineering experiences within an exhibit setting that are quick, simple, and do not require much facilitation.    This paper draws from a number of research and evaluation studies that examined how these engineering programs have impacted their learners. The results of these studies, some of which is presented in the paper, have further informed how the programs might be structured and delivered. This examination of engineering education in these two educational settings will further understanding about the factors/components that are critical to successful engineering activities so that others will be able to create richer STEM learning experiences in their own educational environments, whether in the classroom or out. 

Yang, S., & Beall, L. (2013, June), Engineering Everywhere: Bridging Formal and Informal STEM Education (Works in Progress) Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19523

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