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Examining Children’s Engineering Practices During an Engineering Activity in a Designed Learning Setting: A Focus on Troubleshooting (Fundamental)

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Elementary Students: Computational Thinking, Reasoning, and Troubleshooting

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Hoda Ehsan Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Hoda is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education, Purdue. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering in Iran, and obtained her M.S. in Childhood Education and New York teaching certification from City College of New York (CUNY-CCNY). She is now a graduate research assistant on STEM+C project. Her research interests include designing informal setting for engineering learning, and promoting engineering thinking in differently abled students in informal and formal settings.

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Jessica Rush Leeker Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Jessica Rush Leeker earned her undergraduate degree from Penn State with a focus in Supply Chain and Information Systems and a minor in international business. She attended Purdue University, receiving an MBA with specialization in Sustainability and Operations.

Before business school, Jessica spent a summer in Haiti, delivering shoes to those in need and creating a more efficient supply chain for urban water projects. Jessica has worked for many successful consumer product companies including Unilever, and Georgia Pacific.

Currently, Jessica is completing her Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Purdue University to focus on practical methods of corporate outreach in STEM for minority communities. In her free time, writes children’s books, teaches yoga to children, and enjoys her family.

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Monica E. Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is the Director of the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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Gina Navoa Svarovsky University of Notre Dame

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Gina Navoa Svarovsky is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Notre Dame's Center for STEM Education and the College of Engineering. Her research interests include early childhood engineering, parent-child interactions around engineering activities, engineering education in informal settings, and STEM integration within engineering contexts.

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Children spend most of their time in out-of-school settings. As a result, informal learning settings can play a significant role in children’s learning development. Museums and science centers are informal settings that are intentionally designed to promote learning and interest development. Learning in these settings is highly participant structured. Participants’ interaction with each other and exhibits can direct their learning and understanding of the presented topics. Also, studies show that these settings are where children begin to develop competencies, skills, knowledge and problem-solving processes that support participation in STEM-related careers. For example, many engineering exhibits have been designed for children to promote their engineering skills and practices as well as their understanding of engineering careers.

One engineering practice is troubleshooting; trouble-shooting is a practice used in many aspects of engineering work, including design, analysis and programming. We situate this study in the engineering design literature as the task that our participants engaged in was an engineering design task. The research literature suggests that expert engineers engage in diagnostic troubleshooting which includes focusing on problematic areas of the potential solutions, defining the cause of a problem, and proposing ways of fixing it. However, beginning designers tend to be unfocused and uncritical when looking at the performance of their prototype which would lead to a poor and flawed design. In this study, we focused on children’s engagement in troubleshooting throughout an engineering design activity. Previous studies have referred to children as natural engineers who take similar engineering process as experts. Hence, in this study, we examined ways children engage in troubleshooting and compared them with what previous studies showed about the ways expert and beginner engineers troubleshoot their designs. To do so, we asked 7-11 years old children with their caregivers to design a pneumatic ball run using pneumatic pistons in 30 minutes. The video data of 10 cases were then analyzed using an a priori codebook. We found that the children were mostly engaged in troubleshooting after testing the whole or segments of the ball run. Troubleshooting was observed very often due to the immediate feedback they received (i.e., falling the ball means a problem). In addition, while examples of children acting like beginner engineers were observed, most of the cases were involved in diagnostic troubleshooting.

Ehsan, H., & Leeker, J. R., & Cardella, M. E., & Svarovsky, G. N. (2018, June), Examining Children’s Engineering Practices During an Engineering Activity in a Designed Learning Setting: A Focus on Troubleshooting (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30466

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