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Engineering in a Fictional World: Early Findings from Integrating Engineering and Literacy

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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

The Role of Engineering in Integrated STEM--uh STEAM--uh Education!

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.549.1 - 25.549.15



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Paper Authors


Mary McCormick Tufts University

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Mary McCormick is a graduate student at Tufts University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education, focusing on mathematics, science, technology, and engineering education. She received a B.S. from University of Massachusetts, Lowell, in civil engineering, and an M.S. from Tufts University in civil engineering. Her current research involves seeing the engineering thinking and doing in children.

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Morgan M. Hynes Tufts University

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Morgan Hynes is a Research Assistant Professor in the Tufts University Education Department and Education Research Program Director for the Tufts Center of Engineering Education and Outreach. Hynes received his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 2001 and his Ph.D. in engineering education in 2009 (both degrees at Tufts University). In his current positions, Hynes serves as PI and Co-PI on a number of funded research projects investigating engineering education in the K-12 and college settings. He is particularly interested in how students and teachers engage in and reflect upon the engineering design process. His research includes investigating how teachers conceptualize and then teach engineering through in-depth case study analysis. Hynes also spends time working at the Sarah Greenwood K-8 school (a Boston Public School), assisting teachers in implementing engineering curriculum in grades 3-8.

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Engineering  in  a  Fictional  World:  Early  Findings  from  Integrating  Engineering  and   Literacy    Previous  studies  indicate  that  elementary  school  students  commonly  describe  engineering  as  fixing,  building,  making,  or  working  on  things  with  tools,  and  relate  an  engineer  to  a  mechanic,  laborer,  or  technician  (Oware,  Capobianco,  and  Deifus-­‐Dux;  Capobianco,  Mena,  and  Weller,  2011).    Contrary  to  children’s  voiced  conceptions,  many  teachers,  researchers,  and  parents  notice  children  “engineering  informally”  on  a  daily  basis,  watching  them  iteratively  creating  solutions  to  complex  problems  (Hester  and  Cunningham,  2007).  However,  in  a  school  setting,  a  child’s  natural  method  of  engineering  may  be  lost  when  he  or  she  resorts  to  memorizing  a  linear  version  of  the  “Engineering  Design  Process”  to  pass  a  test  (Massachusetts  Frameworks,  2008).        Using  observational  methodology  we  have  noticed  a  distinctive  emergence  of  children’s  natural  inclinations  to  be  engineers  in  an  integrated  engineering  and  literacy  unit.    When  children  engage  in  engineering  to  address  issues  in  a  story,  they  temporarily  escape  the  assessment-­‐driven  classroom  and  begin  to  collaboratively  engage  in  engineering  design  to  solve  problems  for  their  clients,  the  characters  of  the  story.    In  this  paper,  we  use  a  case  study  method  to  illustrate  instances  of  third,  fourth,  and  fifth  grade  students  shifting  out  of  a  typical  “school”  epistemological  framing  to  engage  in  real  engineering  within  a  narrative  world,  identifying  specific  problems  of  the  characters,  making  assumptions,  considering  the  constraints  of  the  story  setting,  and  creatively  designing,  testing,  and  building  prototypes  to  solve  the  character’s  problems.    We  also  address  pedagogical  implications,  arguing  that  this  synergistic  integration  may  not  only  afford  a  rich  context  for  engineering  to  occur,  it  may  also  allow  teachers  to  more  deeply  assess  students’  comprehension  of  literature.        

McCormick, M., & Hynes, M. M. (2012, June), Engineering in a Fictional World: Early Findings from Integrating Engineering and Literacy Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21307

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