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Physical Testing in an Elementary Engineering Camp

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Principles of K-12 Engineering Education and Practice

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.981.1 - 24.981.14



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Paper Authors


Chelsea J. Andrews Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Chelsea Andrews is a graduate student at Tufts University pursuing a Ph.D. in STEM education. She received a B.S. from Texas A&M University in ocean engineering and an S.M. from MIT in civil and environmental engineering. Her current research includes investigating how children naturally engage in engineering design through in-depth case study analysis.

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Physical Testing in an Elementary Engineering Workshop (research-to-practice)A common feature of many elementary classroom engineering design tasks is the use of aphysical test to evaluate groups’ design constructions. The design constructions often fail thephysical test—they do not meet the design criteria; this is also very common in the professionalworld, at which point engineers diagnose the problem, then re-design and create an improvedconstruction. Literature on elementary engineering has tended to contrast how students andprofessionals respond to failure, suggesting changes to the way engineering lessons are taughtthat will elicit responses more closely aligned with those of professionals (Crismond and Adams,2012; Sadler, Coyle, and Swartz, 2000; Roth, 1996; Welch, 1999).This study presents an analysis of video data of a group of fifth grade students working on adesign task in a single-day engineering workshop. From a summary of their failure responses,they appear to be troubleshooting in an unfocused way and not learning from previous results—indeed, far from what we would expect from professionals. However, if we instead take asituative perspective and look closely at their conversations, it is possible to see how theirresponses to the failures proceed logically from their ideas about how the physical world worksand what has occurred in the design process, in the context of the imposed material and temporallimits. This is consistent with the Piagetian position that within a localized context childrenbehave logically (e.g., Schliemann, 1998; Karmiloff-Smith & Inhelder, 1975). The analysisspecifically focuses on the connections between (a) the actions and discussions of the groupwhile planning and building, before their design construction fails the physical test, (b) theirevaluation of their test results, and (c) their response to failure of their design constructions. Thiscase study demonstrates the limitations of the prevailing reductionist approach to engineeringeducation research and what can be gained from an in-depth situative analysis that considers theentire design cycle. Beyond theoretical implications, these findings have important instructionalimplications for both engineering curriculum design and teaching practices.

Andrews, C. J. (2014, June), Physical Testing in an Elementary Engineering Camp Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22914

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