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Infusing Non-Traditional Engineering Projects into Traditional Classrooms: Where Do They Fit? How are They Assessed?

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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

Robot Mania!

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.877.1 - 22.877.20



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Paper Authors


Elisabeth W. McGrath Stevens Institute of Technology

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Elisabeth McGrath is Senior Research Associate at Stevens Institute of Technology and Executive Director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Engineering & Science Education, Hoboken, NJ.

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Susan Lowes Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College/Columbia University

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Susan Lowes, Ph.D., is Director of Research and Evaluation, Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College/Columbia University.

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Infusing Non-Traditional Engineering Projects into Traditional Classrooms: Where Do They Fit? How are They Assessed? The Case of the Build IT Underwater Robotics ProjectAbstractThe 2009 National Academy of Engineering report, Engineering in K-12 Education:Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects, states, “The presence of engineering inK-12 classrooms is an important phenomenon, not because of the number of students impacted…but because of the implications of engineering education for the future of science, technology,engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education more broadly” (2009). This pivotal publicationthen identifies a number of basic questions which at present remain unanswered: How isengineering taught in K-12? What types of instructional materials and curricula have been used?How does engineering education “interact” with other STEM subjects, including how hasengineering instruction incorporated science, technology, and mathematics concepts and howhave these subjects facilitated the integration of engineering concepts?As curriculum developers and program providers design and deliver innovative programs thatattempt to engage students in interdisciplinary STEM projects which elucidate engineeringconcepts and illustrate its practice, they face a number of challenges: cost of materials, logisticaldemands of non-traditional projects, teacher knowledge and capacity to effectively deliverinstruction which draws upon multiple content disciplines, curricular alignment and “fit”, andeffective assessment strategies to measure conceptual understanding and 21st century skills.The Build IT project is a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum that utilizes an engagingunderwater robotics project as the context to engage students in hands-on and conceptuallearning of engineering and science content and certain 21st century skills (Partnership for 21stCentury Skills, 2004). The curriculum, which spans approximately 30 “regular” class periods;which draws upon multiple content domains; and which requires extended use of a pool or tankto test the performance of student-designed remotely-operated vehicles, has been demonstratedto increase student learning of concepts such as buoyancy, gears, and IT/programming and toincrease student enjoyment of science and interest in engineering careers.Over three years, 65 middle and high school teachers from 34 socio-economically andacademically diverse schools implemented two versions of the Build IT curriculum (one withwire-guided switch controllers and one using NXT/Mindstorms) to program and control theROVs. This paper will draw upon three years of data to illustrate the ways in which a verydiverse group of teachers with students across a wide academic spectrum (from special education7th graders to AP Physics students) integrated this project into a variety of courses; how and whythey overcame heavy logistical demands associated with the project; how they justified theadditional support and time required to do the project; and their perceptions of academic and 21stcentury achievements gained by their students through the project. Lessons from this case studywill inform the engineering education community about the ways in which engineering can besuccessfully infused into mainstream courses; challenges to doing so; and opportunities toadvance K-12 STEM education and assessment and student acquisition of 21st century skills.

McGrath, E. W., & Lowes, S. (2011, June), Infusing Non-Traditional Engineering Projects into Traditional Classrooms: Where Do They Fit? How are They Assessed? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18172

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