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Learning About Scientific Inquiry Through Engineering

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

K-12 Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.874.1 - 10.874.12



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Paper Authors

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Jessica Harwood

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Al Rudnitsky

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Learning about Scientific Inquiry Through Engineering

Jessica Harwood, Al Rudnitsky

Smith College

The broad question addressed by this study is "how should ideas from engineering be integrated into the school curriculum?" Efforts to include engineering in the K - 12 curriculum have increased considerably in recent years. Many of engineering's educational advocates hold the position that engineering should not be a "stand-alone" school subject or, at the very least, not be exclusively so. This paper is a case study of integrating engineering into the existing curriculum. The more focused questions addressed here include "what does engineering bring to teaching and learning when it is integrated with other subject matter?" and "what are some important things to consider when attempting this sort of integration?" The evidence needed to answer these questions is ultimately to be found in student learning outcomes. This, however, is not the only source of evidence. How the integration of engineering into other content areas affects teacher thinking and behavior also speaks to these questions. The planning and teaching of a novice teacher, as told in her own words, is the focus of this paper. The teacher is working in the subject area of science, more specifically she is teaching ideas about scientific reasoning to middle school students. The instructional approach she follows relies on ideas from engineering and engineering education. Should these ideas prove useful to a beginning teacher who is working with a very complex and important subject matter, it would lend considerable support for this sort of curricular integration.

Theoretical framework

“Reasoning scientifically” or “thinking like a scientist” are two expressions frequently used by educators to describe an important, long held and almost universally shared educational goal; see Dewey [1]. Recent suggestions for reform in science education such as those from AAAS [2], or NRC [3], reflect this by making scientific inquiry a primary learning goal and also recommending that the actual conduct of scientific inquiry serve as a core instructional strategy. “Reasoning scientifically” and “thinking like a scientist” are expressions so widely used they have achieved the status of slogans. The danger with slogans is that we sometimes stop thinking about their meaning. Such would be unfortunate because these expressions convey the essence of a learning goal that is of the utmost importance if students are to be well educated and prepared to participate in what Bereiter [4] refers to as the knowledge age. The reasoning and thinking alluded to by these expressions, and what we mean when we use the term “scientific inquiry,” go beyond science and encompass learning outcomes such as understanding what it means to “know” something, understanding where knowledge comes from, being able to evaluate the believability of a knowledge claim, and understanding why knowledge is always improvable – never final.

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Harwood, J., & Rudnitsky, A. (2005, June), Learning About Scientific Inquiry Through Engineering Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14168

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