Asee peer logo

From Pretending to Engineering: An Examination of Students' Dynamic Engagements in Novel Engineering Design Activities (Fundamental)

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Fundamental: K-12 Students and Engineering Design Practices (Part 1)

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.804.1 - 26.804.21



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Mary McCormick Tufts University

author page

Jessica Watkins Tufts University

Download Paper |


From Pretending to Engineering: An examination of students’ dynamic engagements in Novel Engineering design activities (Fundamental)The National Research Council’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (2013) notonly calls for integration of engineering at a K-12 level, it shifts the current paradigmfrom specific content objectives to engineering design practices, ideas, and crosscuttingconcepts. This shift marks an exciting opportunity in engineering education; however, italso heightens the urgency for advancing research on how students understand andengage in open-ended engineering projects in elementary classrooms. To date, thecommunity knows little about “what engineering looks like” for elementary students, orhow students learn and operate in social, psychological, and material dimensions of aclassroom environment (Johri & Olds, 2011). As engineering design becomes a coresubject area at an elementary level, engineering education researchers must consider newquestions pertaining to how children manage the complexity and ambiguity of open-ended and ill-structured design situations. In this paper, we (1) examine how studentsdynamically form and maintain a sense of purpose in the task, and (2) explore how theirsense of purpose supports or inhibits their engagement in engineering design.In a Novel Engineering design activity, children’s literature provides a context forengineering design: story characters become students’ clients and the plot provides amultidimensional design situation. The nature of the task is inherently ambiguous andopen-ended: students must integrate aspects of story and classroom contexts to develop asolution they believe to be viable. Informal observations indicate wide variations instudents’ tacit understandings of what is taking place, which shift and evolve in sociallyand materially rich classroom settings. For example, while some focus on developingfunctional solutions that are testable in their classroom, others create representations ofimaginative solutions. These variations, we believe, have implications for studentlearning in engineering design, particularly in how they navigate design processes andevaluate solutions with respect to context-specific design criteria and constraints.In this paper, we present a series of episodes from in-depth qualitative case studies ofelementary students participating in Novel Engineering activities. We select episodes toillustrate the varying and complex dynamics in student engagement that unfold indifferent classrooms and with different literature. In our analyses of video data, we drawon tools from interaction analysis (Jordan & Henderson, 1995), sociology (Bateson 1955;Goffman, 1974/81), and sociolinguistics (Tannen, 1993; Tannen & Wallat, 1993) todevelop rich accounts of student engagement. We then elucidate aspects of studentengagement that are generative for engineering design by showing how students’reasoning and actions reflect those of professional engineers. This work will contribute toliterature on student engagement in engineering, and has implications for thedevelopment and implementation of open-ended activities and curricula in K-12 settings.

McCormick, M., & Watkins, J. (2015, June), From Pretending to Engineering: An Examination of Students' Dynamic Engagements in Novel Engineering Design Activities (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24141

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015