Asee peer logo

Piaget And Engineering Education

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Understanding Students: Cognition

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.988.1 - 9.988.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Lawrence Genalo

Download Paper |

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

Session 1330

Piaget and Engineering Education Lawrence J. Genalo, Denise A. Schmidt, Melanie Schiltz Iowa State University


Thomas Edison was a noted engineer while Jean Piaget made his fame in children’s educational psychology. Piaget’s “cognitive constructivism” has been adopted in many early childhood programs, but it also applies to engineering education and its “hands-on” approach, especially in laboratories and project-based courses. The direction of education dramatically shifted when Jean Piaget developed a child-centered developmental learning theory. According to his theory, children construct knowledge about their world through their active involvement in experiences that are meaningful for them in order to provide an ideal learning environment. A Piagetian classroom is filled with authentic activities designed to challenge students so they can construct knowledge at their own developmental pace.

Creating constructivist learning environments where students construct their own meaning is not an easy task. Learners need opportunities to learn in a constructivist manner to effectively connect new ideas to existing schema. Educators must empower students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers, experience the world’s richness, and challenge them to understand the world’s complexities. Classroom instruction is frequently centered on delivering the content to students instead of facilitating student inquiry during the learning process. Although many of the principles of constructivism offer promise in the development of successful learning environments, practical applications are often hard to incorporate into the common constraints of the school environment.1

With the recent emphasis on “learner-centered” education in engineering education, a deeper understanding and application of Piaget’s work is in order. The purpose of this paper is to present a model of an engineering/education collaborative program that is built on Piagetian principles and attempts to outreach to K-12 students to build their enthusiasm for engineering and science. Thus, this paper will describe how Piaget’s work was continued by Seymour Papert who then introduced the idea of “constructionism” and how that concept applies to engineering education in the Toying With TechnologySM Program at Iowa State University ( A comparison of Piaget’s pedagogy and Edison’s work will demonstrate why this pedagogy has application in engineering.


What could an inventor like Thomas Edison and a child psychologist like Jean Piaget possibly have in common? Edison spent his life inventing things which he felt needed to be improved or would make the lives of people a bit easier. Jean Piaget devoted his life to studying how a child

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

Genalo, L. (2004, June), Piaget And Engineering Education Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13150

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015