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Kindergartners’ Engagement in an Epistemic Practice of Engineering: Persisting and Learning from Failure

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 17

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue Towson University

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Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., is Professor of Science and Engineering Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences at Towson University. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, worked briefly as a process engineer, and taught high school physics and pre-engineering. She has taught engineering and science to children in multiple formal and informal settings. As a K-8 pre-service teacher educator, she includes engineering in her elementary and early childhood science methods courses and developed and taught an engineering methods course for middle school teachers. She also developed a graduate-level engineering education course for PreK-6 teachers. Dr. Lottero has provided professional learning experiences in multiple schools and school systems in Maryland. She has co-authored numerous engineering-focused articles for the teacher practitioner journal, Science and Children, and presents her research regularly through the American Society for Engineering Education. Her current research includes investigating how K-5 students plan, fail, and productively persist, and how simulated classroom environments can be used to help inservice and preservice elementary teachers learn to lead argumentation discussions in science and engineering.

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Ming Tomayko Towson University

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Ming C. Tomayko, Ph.D., is a Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Mathematics at Towson University. She has a bachelor’s degree in secondary mathematics education, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and taught high school mathematics. Dr. Tomayko teaches mathematics content and pedagogy courses for elementary and middle school education majors at Towson University. Her current research interests include teacher education, teacher induction, and professional development.

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One way to investigate students’ engagement in engineering is through the frame of epistemic practices of engineering for P-12 education. These epistemic practices represent the ways of knowing and doing that are reflective of professional engineering practice and appropriate for P-12 students. In this study, we focus on one such practice: persisting and learning from failure. Specifically, we are interested in: how kindergartners engaged in an engineering design challenge analyze their design failure experiences, whether they choose to persist by trying again, and how they apply testing results and failure analysis when creating their next design attempt. This work builds on engineering education literature on failure and diagnostic troubleshooting.

The problem for the design challenge was to create a fence for “Nan” – a small, quick, and randomly-moving HEXBUG nano® robot the size of toothbrush head – to contain her and gave her as much room as possible to move. Students could use up to 10 foam and 10 wooden blocks to construct the fence; all blocks were same-sized rectangular prisms. Before the challenge, students conducted a simple experiment in which they learned that the foam blocks are easier to move than the wooden blocks. They also observed Nan’s motion.

Fifty-three kindergartners from five classrooms across three schools (rural, suburban, and urban) participated in the study (60% participation rate). Individual students did the design challenge with the first author while being video recorded. A semi-structured protocol was followed for the interview process. After creating their first try fence, each student tested it by seeing how long Nan could stay inside. Failure, although not identified explicitly as “failure” to the kindergartners, was if Nan escaped in under 30 seconds.

Forty-two (79%) of the 53 first try fences failed. Based on researcher analysis, those fences failed due to: (1) use of foam blocks that Nan could push (79%), (2) gaps in the fence through which Nan could escape (15%), (3) corners made by wooden blocks that Nan could push apart (12%), and (4) the fence not encompassing an area (17%). Reason 3 was difficult for the five students in this category to identify and explain. All but three students whose designs failed chose to try again, creating a second try fence and demonstrating persistence in the challenge.

We analyzed the correctness of students' failure analyses as compared to our researcher failure analysis. In doing so, we excluded the five students from the analysis whose designs failed due to Reason 3 and also excluded the three students who did not create a second design. Of these 34 students, their failure analysis was: correct (74%), partially correct (18%), incorrect (6%), or unclear (3%). When creating their second try fences: 38% made changes that completely addressed the reason for failure (based on researcher failure analysis), 47% made a change that partially addressed the reason, and 15% made an unrelated change. Thus, more kindergartners in our study were able to engage in correct failure analysis of their first try fences (74%) than were able completely remedy the reason(s) for failure within their second try fence designs (38%). In our paper and presentation, we will share interview excerpts/video to exemplify our findings.

Lottero-Perdue, P. S., & Tomayko, M. (2020, June), Kindergartners’ Engagement in an Epistemic Practice of Engineering: Persisting and Learning from Failure Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34892

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