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Ingenuity Lab: Making and Engineering through Design Challenges at a Science Center

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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

Best of DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.752.1 - 23.752.17



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Paper Authors


Jennifer Wang University of California, Berkeley

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Jennifer Wang is a graduate student in the Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education, focusing on Engineering Education at the University of California, Berkeley. She also obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Berkeley. Jennifer has several years of experience tutoring students and working with schools, and became interested in education through these experiences. Her primary interest is in informal learning environments and educational technologies. She currently conducts research with the Lawrence Hall of Science on their engineering exhibits and works to improve the facilitation and design of the exhibits. Her research focuses on how science center visitors engage and tinker at engineering activities and the impacts of these open-ended tinkering activities in terms of STEM learning and engineering understanding.

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Making and Engineering through Design Challenges at a Science Center (research to practice)
Many engineers attribute their careers to early interest in STEM. Interest, not performance, hasbeen shown to be a greater predictor of choosing to concentrate in STEM (Maltese & Tai, 2011).However, schools often neglect the engineering component of STEM. Consequently,extracurriculars such as science centers must play key roles in influencing children by fosteringinterest in engineering. Taking advantage of the popular tinkering and Do-It-Yourself Makermovement, increasingly more science centers are offering engineering and maker programs. Butare they empowering visitors to engineer?This paper details the study of an engineering maker space at a public science center. The spaceis open to drop-in visitors on weekends, serving mostly family groups with ages ranging frominfant to elderly. The majority of children are between the ages of three and twelve. A monthlyopen-ended engineering design challenge and theme is presented, along with materials consistingof low-cost consumables and/or reusable electronics. Visitors design, build, and test solutions tothe challenges.This study aims to assess the program’s impact on its visitors with regards to visitors’perceptions of engineering and identity with engineering, as well as visitors’ confidence in andagency to do engineering. Design guidelines for engineering maker spaces will be developedbased on the results.Three challenges over three months were studied. Methods include photography, surveys,observations, and interviews. Photographs of visitors were taken while they worked in the spaceand posed with their designs as part of the program’s routine. These were used to assess howvisitors design, with whom and how they collaborate, and demographics. Visitors were asked tocomplete a short post-survey reflecting on their experience in the space. Random visitors werechosen for detailed observation via videotaping and field notes and interviewed before and aftertheir experience. Observations included demographics, time, behavior, skill, engagement,attitude, and collaboration. Interviews covered knowledge and understanding of engineering,identity with engineering, reflection on the activities, and confidence in engineering.Across the challenges, families engaged in and recognized their own engineering behaviors,perceiving engineering as accessible. Families collaborated across generations and appreciatedthe opportunity to work together, finding their own path and own solution to the challenge. Keyto their experience was learning to iterate and refine without giving up. However, childrenspecifically had difficulty connecting their actions to engineering in the real world.The largest surprise among families was parents’ and children’s new confidence in and agency todo engineering. Children were excited to get their design “to work;” the satisfaction of achievingthe challenge empowered them to do engineering. Many parents hoped to pursue such activitiesby collecting similar materials for home and returning to the engineering space.Design guidelines resulting from this research include allowing for multiple paths and solutions;utilizing a variety of everyday materials; offering challenges that are achievable within thetimeframe; fostering multiple iterations of refinement; and supporting collaboration throughvarying levels of open-endedness. Following these guidelines, this type of space may bereplicated to inspire the next generation of engineers.Figure 1: Examples of the three challenges. From left to right, a) creating a track for marbles, b)designing a spinning top, and c) putting together motorized cars with LEGOs and microcontrollers.ReferenceMaltese, A. V. & Tai, R. H. (2011). Pipeline Persistence: Examining the Association of EducationalExperiences with Earned Degrees in STEM Among U.S. Students. Science Education, 95(5), 877-907.

Wang, J. (2013, June), Ingenuity Lab: Making and Engineering through Design Challenges at a Science Center Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19766

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