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Learning from Toy Makers in the Field to Inform Teaching Engineering Design in the Classroom

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Making in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1070.1 - 26.1070.18



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Paper Authors


Chrissy Hobson Foster Arizona State University

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Chrissy Foster is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. Her dissertation study explores the approaches to technical innovation within Native American communities.

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Matthew Dickens Arizona State University


Shawn S. Jordan Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Orcid 16x16

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SHAWN JORDAN, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches context-centered electrical engineering and embedded systems design courses, and studies the use of context in both K-12 and undergraduate engineering design education. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Education (2010) and M.S./B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University. Dr. Jordan is PI on several NSF-funded projects related to design, including an NSF Early CAREER Award entitled “CAREER: Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community, and Society” and “Might Young Makers be the Engineers of the Future?” He has also been part of the teaching team for NSF’s Innovation Corps for Learning, and was named one of ASEE PRISM’s “20 Faculty Under 40” in 2014.

Dr. Jordan also founded and led teams to two collegiate National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest championships, and has co-developed the STEAM Labs™ program to engage middle and high school students in learning science, technology, engineering, arts, and math concepts through designing and building chain reaction machines. He has appeared on many TV shows (including Modern Marvels on The History Channel and Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC) and a movie with his Rube Goldberg machines, and worked as a behind-the scenes engineer for season 3 of the PBS engineering design reality TV show, Design Squad. He also held the Guinness World Record for the largest number of steps – 125 – in a working Rube Goldberg machine.

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Micah Lande Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Micah Lande, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches human-centered engineering design and innovation courses in the engineering and manufacturing engineering programs. Dr. Lande researches how technical and non-technical people learn and apply a design process to their work. He is interested in the intersection of designerly epistemic identities and vocational pathways. Dr. Lande received his B.S in Engineering (Product Design), M.A. in Education (Learning, Design and Technology) and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (Design Thinking) from Stanford University. Dr. Lande is the PI on the NSF-funded project “Should Makers Be the Engineers of the Future” and a co-PI on the NSF-funded project “Might Young Makers Be the Engineers of the Future?”

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It’s Not Just a Game; Preparing Future Engineers with Toy MakingThe Make movement is gaining momentum as a hub for creativity – attracting novices andexperts alike who share in an enthusiasm and appreciation for building and creation. Individualsand groups embark on projects of all sorts, led primarily by their interests and curiosities,informed by their skills or the skills they want to learn. They make creative efforts like fire-breathing robots as performance art (Heile, 2006) - combining contributions from communitymembers with electrical, mechanical and embedded systems knowhow, or construct intricate,wooden geometric puzzles CNC’d from exotic woods commissioned by patrons (Yen, 2008).Toy making is becoming a staple of the Make movement, capturing the essence of what Makingis about - experimental play (Dougherty, 2014). Makers from a variety of backgrounds – art,engineering, science, product design, game design, and marketing – are engaging in toy makingand readily showing off their designs at Maker Faire festivals.This study was driven by the research questions: (RQ1) what knowledge, skills, and attitudes dotoy Makers possess and (RQ2) how might these knowledge, skills, and attitudes be related toengineering? The study relied upon artifact elicitation and critical incident interviews conductedwith 11 adult toy Makers at four flagship Maker Faire festivals. Artifact elicitation interviews,based on the method of photo elicitation (Harper, 2002), were gathered from the Makers in frontof their artifact showcase and asked Makers to describe their toy, including how it works andtheir process for bringing the idea to fruition. Critical incident technique interviews (Flanagan,1954) were conducted as follow-ups via Skype to more deeply explore the Makers’ knowledge,skills, and educational pathways. Under a theoretical framework of constructivist groundedtheory and through parallel inductive-deductive analysis, the results of the study indicate that toyMakers possess a broad set of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that would be considered desirableoutput for many engineering education programs despite coming from a variety of educationalbackgrounds, some related to formal engineering and others not. The toy Makers possessconceptual knowledge of the fundamental science and mathematics underlying the toys; theypossess strategic knowledge and skills that enable them to design and implement their ideas; theygain expertise from their applied practice, including gaining knowledge of heuristics with toydesign; and they have synthesized knowledge from performing design practices and methods tobringing their toy ideas to fruition. Not all toy Makers possess all knowledge and skills listedhere, but they rapidly seek opportunities to adopt new knowledge and skills to overcome barrierswith their toy Making. The toy Makers are driven by an ethos of sharing and participating inadditive innovation – whereby the toy Makers have ideas for toys, go through a process toactively search out what others have done in the space, create their toys, and then share themback into the community. This study will advance the currently limited knowledge of the Makercommunity and transform the conversation of who the engineer of the future could be, linkingMaking with engineering.

Foster, C. H., & Dickens, M., & Jordan, S. S., & Lande, M. (2015, June), Learning from Toy Makers in the Field to Inform Teaching Engineering Design in the Classroom Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24407

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