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Playhouse Modules for Children

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Janice M. Margle P.E. Pennsylvania State University - Abington

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Janice M. Margle received her MSc and BSc degrees in Mechanical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. She is a licensed professional engineer and has worked for IBM, the Navy, NASA, PPL Electric Utilities, and private industry. She actively promotes activities to increase the number of women and minorities in engineering. Currently, she is an associate professor of engineering at Penn State Abington where she teaches introductory thermodynamics to sophomores and introductory engineering design to freshmen. From its start in 2008 through 2014, she was also co-PI and project manager of Penn State's $2.5M, NSF-sponsored, Toys'n MORE project.

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Kathleen Fadigan Pennsylvania State University - Abington

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Kathy Fadigan received her BS in Biology and her Ed.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology in Education from Temple University. She is currently the Program Chair for Education at Penn State Abington. She teaches courses in sustainability, early childhood and STEM education for pre-service elementary teachers. Her research investigates the long-term effects of out-of-school STEM programs on students’ educational and career trajectories.

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<center><b>PLAYHOUSE MODULES for CHILDREN</b></center>

This is a work in progress (WPI). It describes a multi-disciplinary project that brings together freshmen engineering students, pre-service elementary teachers, and preschool children. The playhouse module is an end-of-semester engineering design project for freshmen engineers enrolled in an Introductory Engineering Design course. As for the pre-service elementary teachers, they are enrolled in a course called Introductory Field Experience for Teacher Preparation, which includes voluntary service work at early childhood education centers, and thus, provides the connection with preschool children.

Finding or creating assignments that pique the interest of freshmen engineering students is challenging. The secret to the success of this team-based project is four-fold. (1) It is a combination of cardboard boxes. (What kid doesn’t like to build a fort or house from cardboard boxes?) (2) It is the freedom to design, build, and embellish a product (a playhouse module made from cardboard). (3) It is having young, “pint-size” clients (the preschool children). And, (4), it is having live, walking, talking, breathing resources (the pre-service teachers) who are at most a year, or two, older than the freshmen engineers, are enrolled in classes at the same university, and might even see each other on campus. All four aspects appear to level the playing field. And, as soon as the freshmen engineers meet the pre-service teachers and hear about the pre-K school children under their auspices, the atmosphere turns electric with highly motivated engineering design students.

As for the Introductory Engineering Design course, it is a 3-credit course with no prerequisites. The freshmen engineers are introduced to the design processes, methods, and decision making practices followed by most engineering firms. They are exposed to the engineering design process directly, or indirectly, six hours a week for 15 weeks. They learn how and why “real” design projects are supported by graphical, verbal, and written communication methods and are presented with team-based assignments and projects created and developed by their professor to include applications of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as well as AutoCAD and SolidWorks.

A highly unique element of the Playhouse Module project is the collaboration of engineering and pre-service elementary education students. The elementary education students, most of whom are female, receive first-hand knowledge of engineering and the engineering design process, and as a result, receive early exposure to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and engineering practices. Engaging these future elementary teachers in the design process is key to achieving an engineering-literate public in the future. By dispelling stereotypes and educating future teachers, this project aids in promoting engineering across diverse populations at an early age. At the end of the project, the modules designed by the engineers are donated to local early childhood education centers where the pre-service elementary teachers volunteer during the semester. Many of these daycare centers serve urban and low-income communities where the children benefit greatly from the playhouse modules generated by this project.

Margle, J. M., & Fadigan, K. (2016, June), Playhouse Modules for Children Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25911

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