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Investigating Children with Autism’s Engagement in Engineering Practices: Problem Scoping (Fundamental)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Design for Elementary Students

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Hoda Ehsan Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Hoda is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education, Purdue. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering in Iran, and obtained her M.S. in Childhood Education and New York teaching certification from City College of New York (CUNY-CCNY). She is now a graduate research assistant on STEM+C project. Her research interests include designing informal setting for engineering learning, and promoting engineering thinking in differently abled students in informal and formal settings.

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Monica E. Cardella Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is the Director of the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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In the last two decades, pre-college engineering education has been on a sharp rise. However, limited research, if at all, considered aspects of engineering thinking of children with disabilities. Therefore, in line with the call for diversifying engineering education, considering inclusion of children with disabilities is necessary. Among different disabilities, the number of children with autism is rapidly growing. In addition, studies have shown that individuals with autism have the potential to perform well in activities that require systematizing abilities like engineering. Given the importance of participating in engineering learning opportunities from childhood and its impact on future engineering performance, engaging children with autism in appropriate engineering experiences is necessary. Therefore, we need to gain a deep understanding of how they engage in engineering learning activities. This study is a part of a bigger project in which we aim to characterize engineering thinking of children with autism. In this study, we are closely looking at the first and very important engineering practices; problem scoping. The main purpose of this study is to investigate how 8-10 years old children with autism engage in problem scoping. We focused on three main components of problem scoping in engineering design (1) Problem Framing, (2) Information Gathering, and (3) Reflection. For this study, we have conducted a qualitative single case study analysis. We carefully chosen one case of child with autism. The child is make and 9 years old and participated in this study with his parent. They were asked to solve an engineering problem of building a roller coaster for a local amusement park in 60 minutes. Their interaction was videotaped and pictures of their designs were captured. We have analyzed the video data video analysis approach based on the codebook we developed by reviewing literature on problem scoping. The instances that we have seen in mom-child interactions and conversation provided evidence that the child with autism was capable of engaging in all three actions of problem scoping. The behaviors we have observed were mostly associated to Problem Framing and Information Gathering. However, we have seen some evidence of Reflection. We believe, that the findings of this study lays foundation for future studies on children with autism and engineering design, and how to effectively engage in them in these activities.

Ehsan, H., & Cardella, M. E. (2019, June), Investigating Children with Autism’s Engagement in Engineering Practices: Problem Scoping (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33022

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