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Graphic Literacy In Elementary Science Education: Enhancing Inquiry, Engineering Problem Solving, And Reasoning Skills

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Innovative Teaching Strategies in Engineering Graphics

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.656.1 - 14.656.10



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Paper Authors

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John Bedward North Carolina State University

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Eric Wiebe North Carolina State University

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Lauren Madden North Carolina State University

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James Minogue North Carolina State University

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Mike Carter North Carolina State University

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

Graphic literacy in elementary science education: Enhancing inquiry, engineering problem solving and reasoning skills.


The demand for high quality science and engineering graduates continues to outstrip supply. The response must be a science and engineering education pedagogy that considers multiple modes of learning and teaching tailored to the various grade levels. Graphic literacy, the use of visual representations and their offspring including but not limited to pictures, models, graphs and other visual symbols can enhance K-12 scientific and engineering inquiry and problem-solving skills. The Grade 5 Motion and Design STC curriculum is one of several science units where technology and engineering concepts are introduced as part of the science inquiry cycle. The challenge is to identify and support student meaning-making and reasoning through the use of graphics and other support documentation. Over the past year the research team have been working with teachers to enhance the use of student-generated graphics. This study provides insight into the process of improving graphic pedagogy by leveraging semiotic analysis of student notebooks, in-class observations and ongoing support, the introduction of graphic tools (e.g., graphic taxonomy and master images), and formative assessment strategies to facilitate student science and technology learning. It is not enough to create representations; students must work through and revisit their graphics in context of the inquiry and problem solving cycle.


Research in elementary graphic literacy is an emergent area of study, just as the integration of elementary science1 and elementary engineering education research is a relatively new area of investigation. One such project is Engineering is Elementary (EiE), an NSF funded engineering curriculum project focused on integrating engineering, reading literacy and elementary science topics2,3. Another engineering education initiative is Project Lead The Way (PLTW), which promotes technology education in the classroom for middle and high school students4. As well, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) has provided guidelines for hands-on, standards-based, interdisciplinary engineering activities5, and the National Academy of Engineering with their publication Technically Speaking encourages technological literacy6. These curriculum initiatives and publications promote engineering as a career choice. But there are opportunities in elementary science education where engineering design and technological problem-solving can be leveraged to integrate connections between science, technology and engineering.

One example is the Grade 5 kit-based science unit, the Motion and Design7 curriculum, one of 16 science units approved by the school district the research team are supporting. Science concepts such as force, friction and momentum are investigated by integrating scientific-inquiry and engineering problem-solving activities. Teaching students to move between inquiry science and engineering problem-solving is not an easy task. There are clear overlaps, but each has its own unique ways of thinking8. How these two worlds come together is not explicitly taught or described in the science kits. Even though national standards in science and technology emphasize the need for young students to engage in technological problem solving, the design process, critical thinking and communication9,10,11,12 the challenge of integration for teachers

Bedward, J., & Wiebe, E., & Madden, L., & Minogue, J., & Carter, M. (2009, June), Graphic Literacy In Elementary Science Education: Enhancing Inquiry, Engineering Problem Solving, And Reasoning Skills Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4719

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