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Instructional Strategies in K-12 Informal Engineering Education - Deep Case Study Approaches to Educational Research

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Practice II: Curricular Innovations

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Sarah Hug Colorado Evaluation & Research Consulting

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Dr. Sarah Hug is Research Associate at the Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society (ATLAS) Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder and director of Colorado Evaluation & Research Consulting. Dr. Hug earned her PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research and evaluation efforts focus on learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with a special interest in communities of practice, creativity, and experiences of underrepresented groups in these fields across multiple contexts.

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Suzanne Eyerman Fairhaven Research and Evaluation

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Suzanne Eyerman, Ph.D. is a researcher and evaluator for STEM programs in higher education and in K-12 classrooms and afterschool programs. A former classroom teacher, Dr. Eyerman’s has investigated learning in a variety of contexts including school playgrounds and children’s museums. Currently, her works focuses on increasing the participation of women and people of color in engineering and computer science. Dr. Eyerman received her B.A. in Psychology from Monmouth University and her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research interests are in the areas of girls’ and women’s identities in STEM fields, engineering and computer science in K-12 education, and iteration.

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This evidence-based practice paper highlights interactions that supported youth learning in a girls-only after school engineering context. K12 out-of-school engineering education seeks to expose youth to the field of engineering, often through hands-on inquiry projects that provide opportunities to think like engineers. Assessment of learning gains in informal education is rare, given the intent to engage in voluntary engineering activity and a need to remain “unschooled.” (Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2010) In an effort to ensure youth have opportunities to make meaning in these settings, instructors in the focal non-profit organization use lessons designed with defined criteria and constraints, brief instructor-led mini-lessons that orient youth to the design challenge, and opportunities for iteration. The instructors circulate during design time, fielding questions and making suggestions to youth. They follow guided inquiry pedagogical practices, as they refrain from directing youth activity but instead scaffold understanding through their interactions with youth. This practice of guided inquiry has roots in education and psychological research literature (Dewey, 1916; Piaget, 1973; Vygotsky, 1976) and constructivist teaching practices (Crawley, Malmqvist, Ostlund, & Brodeur, 2007). While it is often clear to educators which ways for engaging youth are less ideal (i.e., giving answers directly, or explaining step-by step how to solve the problem), educators are often less clear on how best to approach scaffolding student understanding. This is particularly challenging when learners express misconceptions.

This exploratory research paper analyzes 2 informal learning lessons in the greater Seattle area, one with 5th grade girls building cars in a mechanical engineering unit and another with high school girls developing rubber balls in a chemical engineering unit. The focus of the paper is on the instructional moves made by the lead instructors when youth displayed misconceptions about the engineering content. Formal observations were made of both lessons, and extensive notes were taken by more than one observer in each case. The educational researchers identified several “scenes” of interest in which instructors were interacting with one or more youth expressing a misconception about the project. Initial analyses indicate the following instructional moves were used by informal educators: revoicing and amplifying the words of peers, physical modeling of phenomena, and brokering conversations across small groups. Member checking was used with informal educators to assess the extent to which instructional moves observed and reported fit the intentions and motives of the educators observed. This paper intends to serve as an analysis of ways that informal educators have effectively engaged with young women in an out-of-school engineering program.

Hug, S., & Eyerman, S. (2018, June), Instructional Strategies in K-12 Informal Engineering Education - Deep Case Study Approaches to Educational Research Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30674

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