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First Grade Students Planning and Artifact Construction While Working On An Engineering Design Problem

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Research Related to Learning and Teaching Engineering in Elementary Classrooms

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.715.1 - 22.715.24



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Paper Authors


Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Merredith Portsmore is a Research Assistant Professor in Education at Tufts University as well as the Director of Outreach Programs for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. Merredith has the unique honor of being a “Quadruple Jumbo” having received all her four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, Ph.D. in Engineering Education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in constructing solutions to engineering design problems. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, and

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Bárbara M. Brizuela Tufts University, Education Department

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First Grade Students Planning and Artifact Construction While Working On An Engineering Design Problem This paper describes a study undertaken to help increase understanding of youngchildren’s planning for engineering design problems by focusing on two primary researchquestions: 1. How does a first grade student’s drawing of their planned solution to an engineering design problem address the problem requirements? 2. What is the relationship between first grade students’ drawing of their planned solution and their constructed artifact?Planning and drawing prior to prototyping an engineering design solution is a key element ofmost depictions of the engineering design process. However, it is unclear how young childrenengage in this portion of engineering design. Empirical studies of young children engaged indesign problems show a lack of consensus with a number of studies (Johnsey, 1995; Rogers &Wallace, 2000; Welch, 1999) asserting that young children’s drawing and planning is notintegrated into their design process and may not be a useful for them to engage in. Alternatively,there is contrasting evidence (Fleer, 2000; Roden, 1995) that there is a strong relationshipbetween young children’s drawing and constructed artifact in specific contexts that may developover time. For all studies, the classroom context made it difficult to assess how planning waspresented and how young children understood the task. This study sought to further explore young children’s planning in an interview setting.Thirty-one first grade students participated in individual videotaped interview sessions around anengineering design problem, Trapped Keys, which tasked students to plan and construct anartifact to retrieve a set of keys from a tall, narrow Plexiglas container without touching themusing an assortment of craft materials (12” pipe cleaners, 12” wooden dowel rods, plastic spoons,pencils, string, paperclips, magnets, and tape). Participants were required to plan via drawingtheir idea for a solution prior to constructing it and work with the interviewer to describe andlabel their drawing. They were then given a fixed amount of time to construct and test theirsolution. Analysis of the data indicates that many students are able to draw plans for solutions thataddress the problem requirements (presenting a drawing of a viable solution). The data alsoindicated that many students were able to select materials that are most efficient for meeting therequirements of the problem presented to them at the drawing stage. In addition, over half of thestudents created artifacts that closely matched their planned drawings suggesting that firstgraders can carry most of their ideas from the planning of the solution to the actual constructions.The results of this study suggest that planning prior to constructing an artifact is within manyfirst grade students’ reach but more research is needed to understand the characteristics andexperiences of young students that differentiate their performance in planning. The results alsosuggest further experimental work to look at how the inclusion (or exclusion) of planning viadrawing impacts the quality of the artifact constructed. In addition, the implications of directlytransposing the engineering design process as used by professionals to children will be discussed. References Fleer, M. (2000). "Working Technologically: Investigations into How young ChildrenDesign and Make During Technology Education." International Journal of Technology andDesign Education 10: 43-59. Johnsey, R. (1995). The place of the process skill making in design and technology:Lessons from research into the way primary children design and make. IDATER95: InternationalConference on Design and Technology Educational Research and Curriculum Development,Loughborough, UK:Loughborough University of Technology. Roden, C. (1995). Young children's learning strategies in design and technology.IDATER95: International Conference on Design and Technology Educational Research andCurriculum Development, Loughborough, UK:Loughborough University of Technology. Rogers, G. and J. Wallace (2000). "The Wheels of the Bus: children designing in an earlyyears classroom." Research in Science & Technology Education 18(1): 127-135 Welch, M. and H. S. Lim (2000). "The Strategic thinking of Novice Designers:Discontinuity Between Theory and Practice." The Journal of Technology Studies XXVI(2).

Portsmore, M. D., & Brizuela, B. M. (2011, June), First Grade Students Planning and Artifact Construction While Working On An Engineering Design Problem Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17996

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