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Implications of Problem Based Learning (PBL) in Elementary Schools Upon the K-12 Engineering Education Pipeline

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Research Initiatives

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.709.1 - 23.709.14



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Paper Authors

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Daniel Tillman The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)

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Problem Based Learning in Elementary School: Implications for Elementary School Engineering EducationConnecting real world problems with academic content is an important part of engineering education,and within this are several opportunities for students to see the connection between several academicsubjects and their applicability in the real world, particularly with mathematics [1]. Helping students tolearn these connections at early ages can set the foundation for more advanced exercises later in schooland possibly give them a jump start in being prepared for challenging careers, including engineering.One instructional method that provides students as young as elementary school with opportunities tomake these connections is Problem Based Learning (PBL), where students are responsible foridentifying a problem, researching their options, and formulating a solution. These steps are similar toprocedures engineers are required to undertake during everyday work [2], and by integrating thisinstruction into elementary curricula, students are introduced to and can begin to develop skills thatwill prepare them to enter the engineering field later in their schooling. One of the key skills studentslearn through this instruction that is important in engineering programs is teamwork, which isbecoming more of an emphasis in engineering programs [3,4,5]. This paper examines theeffectiveness of a second grade math focused PBL unit in fostering student interest and collaborationin math through a randomized control design.The study took place in a rural school district in Virginia, where five of the ten elementary schools inthe district were selected as intervention schools who received the PBL intervention, and the other fiveserved as control schools who experienced traditional instruction, which in that district consistedprimarily of whole class instruction and worksheet completion. The PBL unit charged students withdeciding how to spend a sum of money donated by a benefactor to help their local animal shelter. Theintervention was designed help students solve the problem through a series of lessons that built uponeach other where they learned a variety of relevant math concepts, such as bargain shopping andmultiple representations. On a deeper level, students also learned several problem solving skills,including teamwork, researching a topic, formulating evidence based solutions, and presenting theirfindings. After the unit, all students answered a 22-item engagement survey (α = .77) that asked abouttheir perceptions of and experiences in math (i.e. “Today I explained how I solve math problems toother kids”). Results of a factor analysis indicated the presence of 3 groups of items: Value in Math,Collaboration, and Enjoyment. A subsequent Multivariate Analysis of Variance indicated that PBLstudents reported significantly higher levels of Collaboration, meaning they worked with and helpedtheir peers more than students in traditional, teacher and worksheet focused instruction. Morespecifically, students collaborated to solve math problems more than the control group, which involvea set of valuable skills they will need to succeed as engineers and essentially in several STEM careers.Particular components of the PBL unit that encouraged teamwork and collaboration and theengagement survey will also be discussed in detail.  [1]  Adams,  R.,  Evangelou,  D.,  English,  L.,  de  Figueiredo,  A.,  Mousoulides,  N.,  Pawley,  A.,  Schifellite,  C.,  Stevens,  R.,  Svinicki,  M.,  Trenor,  J.,  &  Wilson,  D.  (2011).  Multiple  perspectives  on  engaging  future  engineers.  Journal  of  Engineering  Education,  100  (1),  48-­‐88.  [2]  Rogers,  C.,  &  Portsmore,  M.  (2004).  Bringing  engineering  to  elementary  school.  J.of  STEM  Ed,  5  (3,4),  17-­‐28.    [3]  Adams,  S.  (2003)  Building  successful  student  teams  in  the  engineering  classroom.  J.of  STEM  Ed.,  4(3,4),  1-­‐6.  [4]  McNair,  L,  Newswander,  C.,  Boden,  D.,  &  Borrego,  M.  (2011).  J.  of  Engineering  Education,  100  (2),  374-­‐396.  [5]  Seat,  E.,  Parsons,  J.,  Poppen,  W.  (2001).  Enabling  engineering  performance  skills:  A  program  to  teach  communication,  leadership,  and  teamwork,  90(1),  7-­‐12    

Tillman, D. (2013, June), Implications of Problem Based Learning (PBL) in Elementary Schools Upon the K-12 Engineering Education Pipeline Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19723

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