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Engineering Explorations: Connecting K-12 Classroom Learning and Field Trip Experiences through Engineering Design

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Danielle Harlow University of California, Santa Barbara

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Danielle Harlow is a professor of STEM education at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Ron Skinner MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation Orcid 16x16

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Ron Skinner, Research and Evaluation Specialist at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

Ron Skinner has been involved with science education and research for the past 30 years. He has taught physics, astronomy, and general science in formal settings to audiences from kindergarteners to graduate students in the schools of the Lucia Mar School District, and at Cornell University, University of California, Irvine, and Santa Barbara City College. He has worked in informal STEM education at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. As MOXI’s first Director of Education, Skinner created the philosophical vision for the department, mapped out a five-year strategic plan, and built up an education staff of five full-time employees, 20 part-time employees, and over 100 volunteers. He planned, budgeted, and implemented a full slate of informal and formal education programs; collaborating with teachers and school administrators, university departments, science and technology companies, community organizations, and donors.

At MOXI, Skinner’s current role in education research focuses on training informal STEM facilitators and engaging visitors in the practices of science and engineering. He is the principal investigator on two collaborative NSF grants and one sub-award with UC Santa Barbara, where he is also pursuing doctoral work in education research.

Skinner’s science research experience includes marine science fieldwork along the Northern California coast; plasma physics research at the University of California, Irvine; and nanotechnology research at Sandia National Laboratory. He gained practical engineering experience as a patent reviewer for Lenker Engineering and a software engineer for both Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Visual Solutions, Inc. For 14 years he owned and operated an organic farm, where he developed and directed a yearlong apprentice program in sustainable agriculture, ran informal education programs both on the farm and as outreach in local schools, and designed and fabricated small-scale farming equipment. He holds a B.S. in Engineering Physics from Cornell University and an M.S. in Physics from the University of California, Irvine.

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Alexandria Muller University of California, Santa Barbara

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Alexandria is a third-year doctoral student working with Dr. Danielle Harlow in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona in 2017. She has worked with informal science institutions for the past 11 years, including The Chandler Museum, Tucson Children's Museum, and Biosphere 2. Currently, her research interests are facilitator, curriculum and exhibit development within informal science environments as well as Research- Practice Partnerships to benefit the local community. For more information about current projects and interests, please visit

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Interactive science centers are in a unique position to provide opportunities for engineering education through K-12 field trip programs. However, field trip programs are often disconnected from students’ classroom learning and K-12 teachers lack the engineering education background to make that connection.

Explore Engineering (pseudonym for blind review) is a 3-year project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) program Research in the Formation of Engineers (RFE). The primary goal of this project is to develop and test engineering education modules that link K-12 students’ classroom learning to field trip experiences in an interactive science museum, increasing student learning and extending the field trip experiences. Each Explore Engineering module consists of one 50-minute field trip program completed at an interactive science center and curriculum for three 50-minute lessons to be implemented by the classroom teacher before and after the field trip program. Our poster will present both development and research outcomes.

Development accomplishments. To date, we have developed and tested 3 field trip programs with over 4000 K-12 students and full modules with a subset of these classrooms. This year we are developing additional in-person modules as well as virtual modules that support remote learning. Each of the field trip programs engage students in an engineering design challenge from designing an object that hovers in a moving column of air to designing a patch for a greenhouse on the moon to modifying a structure to reduce swaying in an earthquake. The classroom activities provide opportunities for students to develop science and engineering ideas that augment the engineering design challenge and to reflect on the field trip experience.

Research accomplishments. Our research has focused on using an iterative design process to inform design principles used to develop the engineering field trip programs and curriculum modules. We will present design principles for coordinating classroom and field trip programs, for accommodating different grade levels, and for engaging diverse audiences.

Harlow, D., & Skinner, R., & Muller, A. (2021, July), Engineering Explorations: Connecting K-12 Classroom Learning and Field Trip Experiences through Engineering Design Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37061

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