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Opening Pathways To Higher Education Through Engineering Projects

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Attracting Young MINDs

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.965.1 - 9.965.10



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Paper Authors

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Shaundra Bryant

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David Cavallo

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Arnan Sipitakiat

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Anindita Basu

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

Opening Pathways to Higher Education through Engineering Projects David Cavallo, Arnan Sipitakiat, Anindita Basu, Shaundra Bryant MIT Media Lab, 20 Ames St., E15-319, Cambridge, Ma. 02139 Tel: 617.253.8897, Fax: 617.253.6215 Email: [cavallo, arnans, anindita, bryant]

Abstract: A major obstacle to attracting minority candidates into engineering disciplines is the difficulty in ensuring a sufficient of interested and qualified candidates. We present our work in K-12 education in both school and informal settings on a constructionist approach to engineering projects based upon generative themes. Students design and construct artifacts embodying their ideas using a variety of computationally-rich materials. Through this construction process they not only learn important underlying concepts in math, physics, and engineering, but also gain significantly in their sense of themselves as capable learners. Children who had not previously achieved at necessary levels to enter engineering programs have shown tremendous progress and renewed interest in academic achievement. It is our hope that through a more widespread adoption of such an approach, we will have many more qualified minority applicants to university engineering programs.

Background A major obstacle to attracting minority candidates into engineering disciplines is the difficulty in ensuring a sufficient of interested and qualified candidates. Unfortunately far too many potential candidates do not achieve the necessary levels of academic preparedness, interest, or opportunity in order to qualify for acceptance into university engineering programs. While minority candidates perform on equivalent levels to others through primary school, it is in the middle school years where differences emerge. If one is to accept that these differences are not due to any inherent lack of innate abilities, then one must attempt to create initiatives to overcome the barriers at these ages in order to create pathways and opportunities for all.

We have designed and implemented a number of initiatives in K-12 education, in both schools and informal settings, in which we used engineering projects as a basis for creating personally meaningful artifacts within generative themes. This has opened new pathways to achievement for a broad range of students not only among those who already had high achievement levels, but also including those who did not perform well in traditional school settings as well as those who were not technically inclined. Students were able to deepen and, strengthen their understanding of underlying mathematical and scientific as well as explore these concepts in areas of personal interest.

We have taken an interdisciplinary approach by providing generative themes such as “Designing the City that You Want” and “RoBallet” (a performing arts and technology environment), in addition to creating more straightforward engineering challenges such as ramp climbing, robotic contests, autonomous vehicle rallies, and so on. We also emphasize programming projects, whether in the creation of their own video games or for programming of robotic devices or designs. While each of these themes are extensive and a thorough review of each is beyond the scope of this paper, they share the underlying premise of the primacy of meaningful engineering as a gateway to important content and personal achievement. Through the course of design and construction, students encounter problems that require knowledge within the disciplines (i.e. math, physics, etc.). However, in large part because they need the knowledge to make their own project function properly, they learn what is required in a situated manner. Over the course of constructing a variety of projects, they encounter deep principles through recurrent need. This approach has proven far superior to using toy problems in brief time periods. Students use a variety of computational and engineering materials (e.g. programmable microcontrollers, sensors, simulation tools, motors, gears, pulleys, etc.), in order to design, construct, critique and modify their own projects.

We have found that by introducing engineering projects in a variety of contexts we have overcome many difficulties among students who found the math and science too abstract, not useful, or not meaningful. We also

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Bryant, S., & Cavallo, D., & Sipitakiat, A., & Basu, A. (2004, June), Opening Pathways To Higher Education Through Engineering Projects Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13414

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