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Model-Eliciting Activities to Develop Problem-scoping Skills at Different Levels (Resource Exchange)

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

PCEE Resource Exchange

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Aran W. Glancy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Aran Glancy is a Ph.D candidate in STEM education with an emphasis in Mathematics Education at the University of Minnesota, and the Research Coordinator for the EngrTEAMS Project at Purdue University. He has experience teaching both high school physics and mathematics, and his research focuses on supporting mathematics learning, specifically in the domains of data analysis and measurement, through STEM integration and engineering. He is also interested in mathematical modeling.

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Tamara J. Moore Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Tamara J. Moore, Ph.D., is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education and Director of STEM Integration in the INSPIRE Institute at Purdue University. Dr. Moore’s research is centered on the integration of STEM concepts in K-12 and postsecondary classrooms in order to help students make connections among the STEM disciplines and achieve deep understanding. Her work focuses on defining STEM integration and investigating its power for student learning. Tamara Moore received an NSF Early CAREER award in 2010 and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2012.

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Problem-scoping, the process by which engineers iteratively define and refine the problem, is an important part of the engineering design process but also one that requires specific skills and habits of mind. In this resource exchange, we share three activities that where specifically developed to emphasize the problem-scoping phase of the engineering design process. These activities, called Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs), are realistic, client driven problems that require students to work in teams to develop a process for solving the client’s problem. MEAs have been used extensively in undergraduate engineering and statistics courses, as well as in K-12 mathematics classrooms to develop modeling and problem solving skills along with different course content.

In each of the three activities described here, the students are introduced to the client who shares with them his or her problem. To encourage the development of problem-scoping skills, the activities were structured to include back-and-forth communication with the client. Initially, the client presents the problem in the broadest, most general terms, leaving out much of the relevant information needed to begin solving the problem. Students are then asked to brainstorm ideas and ask questions of the client. The client then responds with answers to the questions and more specific information about the problem. Only after another round of questions and answers do the students finally begin trying to solve the problem. In this way, students gain experience generating questions, identifying important information and background they need to learn, and communicating with a client.

This problem-scoping structure could be applied to a variety of open-ended engineering or modeling problems, and in this exchange we share three: the Paper Airplane MEA, the Pelican Colonies MEA, and the Comparing Leaves MEA. The Paper Airplane MEA challenges students with designing a scoring scheme for a paper airplane contest. Students must decide how to combine different types of data and consider variation within the data as they develop a fair way to judge the airplane contest. In the Pelican Colonies MEA, a nature conservationist tasks the students with determining a way to estimate the size of a pelican colony based on limited information. This estimate will be used to determine which colonies need to be protected by the wild-life commission. The last problem, the Comparing Leaves MEA, asks students to develop a way to reliably compare the size of the leaves on a tree from year to year. In this problem, the client is a climate scientist who is trying to measure the impact of climate change on the environment.

All materials necessary to immediately implement these activities in the classroom will be shared. Additionally, ways to tailor these activities for use with different grade levels and courses, will also be suggested. As presented, each activity will be focused on a different grade level (elementary, middle, and undergraduate) demonstrating how problem-scoping skills can be developed at a variety of age levels using similar strategies.

Glancy, A. W., & Moore, T. J. (2018, June), Model-Eliciting Activities to Develop Problem-scoping Skills at Different Levels (Resource Exchange) Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30814

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