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Middle School Capstone Engineering Projects (Work in Progress)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Kenneth Berry Southern Methodist University

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Dr. Kenneth Berry is a Research Professor at the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education (CIEE) in the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He has worked as an education specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory until he received his doctorate in Educational Technology in 2001. He then taught at the Michael D. Eisner School of Education at California State University at Northridge (CSUN). In 2009, he moved to Texas to work at the Science and Engineering Education Center, and Caruth Institute of Engineering Education. He specializes in Engineering, STEM, and Project-Based Learning instruction.

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The Labor Secretary’s Commission on Necessary Skills (SCANS) in the 1991 first identified common skills that all industries want their employees to have. Education systems have created shorthand terms for these skills, e.g., industry soft skills, or the 4 Cs. The 4 Cs in education are collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity skills. These sum up many of the SCANS skills. These are skills, as opposed to content knowledge. Most preK-12 education is focused on content knowledge because it can be listed in standards and tested easily. Skill development is not as easy to objectively test. As a result, there are no tests for the 4Cs and they do not reside in academic standards, and, therefore, they are often not emphasized in classrooms. Nevertheless, they are still considered critical skills by industries. They continue to popup on lists of what students should be able to do to be successful in their careers including resent research by Project Lead the Way and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

We do know academic activities that can address these skills. Engineering schools have been using them for years. Freshman design classes and senior design projects promote these skills because the projects are semester long projects. These projects require content knowledge, AND workforce skills. The projects require teams, and teamwork, project planning, budgeting and more. They require the 4 Cs of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. PreK-12 engineering advocates have been talking about the benefits of projects for a long time. There is a great deal of research on Project-Based Learning (PBL). However, PBL in preK-12 generally refers to relatively short-term projects of a week or two. The teacher is often the organizer of the projects instead of the students in project teams. PBL touches on the 4Cs, but does not fully engage the students in the 4 Cs.

In some school districts this is changing. Some school districts are instituting capstone design courses where students are given interdisciplinary design projects to complete within teams of students over an entire semester. Implementing these capstone courses has at times been a struggle.

This Work in Progress paper will discuss the promise of capstone courses for 8th grade students and the initial obstacles to implementing them. Through this paper we will describe a research-practitioner partnership that has developed between Southern Methodist University and a school district to implement capstone courses. Our initial findings are that the schools and teachers are woefully unprepared to implement these courses. Not surprisingly, their training did not include anything like them. Capstone courses are not business as usual for them. This paper will describe our first attempt to implement the capstone courses. We will explain what went well, what did not go well and what we expect to do about it.

Berry, K. (2021, July), Middle School Capstone Engineering Projects (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37504

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