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Engineering Is Life: Storytelling In The Material Science Classroom

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teaching Methods for the 21st Century: Part 1

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.641.1 - 12.641.7



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Paper Authors

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Cindy Waters North Carolina A&T State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


Storytelling has been used throughout time as a powerful educational tool to exchange and disseminate difficult ideas. Storytelling has found its rightful place in primary and secondary education through the years. However, its value in higher education has only been recognized recently. The reality is that we engineers may be the last to advocate for bringing drama or stories into our esteemed engineering classrooms. Wankat and Oreowicz contend that “all lectures are performances” 1. Joseph Lowman in Mastering the Techniques of Teaching, states that “college classrooms are fundamentally dramatic arenas in which the teacher is the focal point, like the actor or orator on stage” 2. What better way to break the monotony of information transfer than a good story. Papadimitriou has recognized three main ways of using storytelling in the teaching of a technical subject: (a) providing historical/biographical context to a subject, (b) illustrating a concept by a story, and (c) embedding educational material into a story 3. This paper provides examples of storytelling in a Materials Science class and student reactions to the class. The paper is intended to serve as the starting point of an audience discussion during the presentation session.


Storytelling has pedagogical importance in education and has long been used in the classroom. Back when science was being developed and passed along Aristotle and his peers used the spoken word, i.e. stories to teach all that they knew. Medical education has long realized the significance of stories and anecdotes and more recently articles show the practice in computer science education. Christos Papadimitriou an electrical engineer argues that “Stories are in a certain intrinsic sense interesting, in that they are attractive, high-priority memory fodder. Everything else being equal, we are much more likely to remember a story than a logical argument.” Now think about our typical student of today. In particular, the under-represented students need a format that relates to their background. Associated with this last point is the observation that storytelling happens to be alive and well, and broadly practiced, precisely in those places and cultures that are in dire need of CS and math education —the Third World and the ghettos of poverty and illiteracy 3. In addition, women appear to be somewhat pre- determined towards storytelling. Narrative Psychology is a clear perspective within psychology concerned with the way students comprehend their world and their experience by constructing stories and assimilating stories by others.

Life moves at a fast pace for the millennial generation. Storytelling is constructive in teaching Engineering because it is different. We all know, variety is the spice of life and therefore desirable in education. Think about the typical university class, the M-W-F classes of fifty minutes are too many minutes and T-Th courses consisting of seventy five minutes can be an eternity. A good story can break the tedium of one-way information transfer. Stories combined with other active learning activities create a class that is difficult to forget.

This paper will share experiences from one Materials Science course and the conference presentation’s intent will be to also share the experiences of others from the distinguished audience.

Waters, C. (2007, June), Engineering Is Life: Storytelling In The Material Science Classroom Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1569

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