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Enhancing Mathematics Instruction With Engineering Design

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Elementary School Engineering Education

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.587.1 - 11.587.15



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Paper Authors


M. David Burghardt Hofstra University

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Dr. M. David Burghardt is Professor, Chair of the Engineering Department, and co-Director of the Center for Technological Literacy at Hofstra University. He is the author of 11 engineering and technology education texts, numerous publications, and teaches a course on children’s engineering for in-service elementary school teachers.

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Krowles Christine Plainview School Distict

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Christine Krowles is a fifth grade teacher in the Plainview School District and a graduate the MA/MST program at Hofstra University.

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

Enhancing Mathematics Instruction with Engineering Design


This article addresses the results of an action research project in a fifth grade elementary school classroom conducted as part of an M.A. Program in Elementary Education with a specialization in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) where engineering design is used to interconnect learning in mathematics and design.

The students, working in teams of two, were challenged to design and construct a chair for a stuffed animal they have been shown and the chair had to meet a variety of geometric specifications. They were enthusiastic about constructing the chair.

In order to assess student knowledge improvement in geometry, it was necessary to determine the baseline of students’ geometric knowledge before the unit began. To assess each student’s level in the content domain, a written pretest was given to the students before beginning the unit. The grades ranged from 0% to 40%. The average score for the pretest was 17.6%, while the median score and the score earned most often was a grade of 16%. A written posttest, identical to the pretest, was given. The results were dramatically different. No students failed the exam. The lowest grade was a 76%, the average was an 88.6%, the median was 87%, and the grade earned most often was 96%. Every student increased by at least 40 points upon their own pretest score and most students improved by 80 to 99 points.

There were equally dramatic improvements in student attitude towards mathematics. We had anticipated that using design pedagogy would improve student learning, but not this dramatically. As is indicated by the low pretest scores, the students in Christine’s class were homogeneously grouped by prior low mathematics performance in fourth grade.


Geometry is a topic that is often difficult for students to grasp at the fifth grade level, particularly for students who have been placed by their district in the lowest of its three homogeneous math classifications. In the following year, the students will be in heterogeneous classes in a district with high parental expectations. These geometric goals were chosen because they related directly to the Geometry Standards for Grades 3-5 as prescribed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The standard seeks children to analyze characteristics was a key driving force in the unit. In addition, the unit was immersed in the standard which requires the student to use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems (NCTM, 2000). The NCTM standards on measurement, problem solving and communication were applied at points throughout the unit. The goals also revolved around increasing the students’ geometric knowledge according to van Hiele’s (1999) levels of geometric thought. The unit began with most students at a level zero on this scale.

In addition to the content-based goals, there were affective goals that centered around the objective of students possessing greater self-confidence in math and an enjoyment in doing math. The students’ mathematical ability and self-esteem were found to be very low when the unit

Burghardt, M. D., & Christine, K. (2006, June), Enhancing Mathematics Instruction With Engineering Design Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--497

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