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Pre-Service Teachers’ Engineering Design Practices in an Integrated Engineering and Literacy Experience

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Pre-Service Development Initiatives

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.973.1 - 23.973.16



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Paper Authors


Kristen Bethke Wendell University of Massachusetts Boston

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Dr. Wendell is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction Center of Science and Mathematics in Context.

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Pre-Service Teachers’ Engineering Practices in an Integrated Engineering and Literacy Experience  The National Research Council’s recent Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) and thedraft Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, Inc., 2012) bring new urgency andimportance to the task of exposing K-12 students to the practices and big ideas of engineering.At the elementary school level, this task requires not only the adjustment of curriculum andpedagogy, but also a transformation in the preparation of new elementary teachers. The teachereducation community is limited in its understanding of how novice teachers of elementarystudents learn to teach engineering. Research is needed to inform a new model for preparing pre-service elementary teachers to teach engineering.One potential model for bringing engineering to the elementary classroom and to pre-serviceelementary teachers is to integrate engineering and literacy (McCormick & Hynes, 2012). In theintegrated engineering and literacy approach, design challenges are drawn from children’sliterature. Students and teachers read texts closely, analyze the plot for problems faced by thecharacters, design and test solutions to the problems, and then reflect in writing about theproblems and solutions.The purpose of our descriptive research study was to identify the engineering practices that pre-service teachers use when they participate in an integrated engineering and literacy learningexperience. We hypothesized that when solving engineering problems linked to fictionalcharacters, teachers’ identification with the characters might lead them to emphasize thepractices of problem scoping (i.e., what does this character really need?) and conceptual design(i.e., what would please this character?), while neglecting the practice of iterative prototyping.The study participants were 26 graduate students enrolled in an elementary science teachingmethods course. On three different occasions, these pre-service teachers worked in small groupson engineering design challenges faced by the main characters in works of children’s literature.We video recorded and transcribed the whole-class and small-group discussions that took placeduring these sessions. We used a systematic, iterative process of qualitative data analysisdrawing from methods of grounded theory (Charmaz, 1995) and constant comparative analysis(Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Two researchers independently conducted line-by-line coding using apriori codes based on existing engineering design process models (Atman et al., 2007; Cardellaet al., 2008) as well as emergent codes. The researchers iterated on category definitions andassignments until they reached consensus on a set of categories and sub-categories that describedthe pre-service teachers’ engineering practices. These included problem definition (attending tocost and safety, negotiating requirements), generating ideas (meeting characters’ needs,constructing external representations of solutions, prioritizing simplicity), feasibility analysis(anticipating critiques, posing thought experiments about potential solutions), and decision(justifying proposed solutions, synthesizing across multiple solutions). Frequency analysissuggests that in an integrated engineering and literacy experience, pre-service teachers may excelat identifying problems, generating possible solutions, and attending to multiple constraints, butstruggle to engage in iterative modeling and appropriate evaluation of proposed solutions. Wediscuss the instructional implications for pre-service teacher education that integratesengineering design with literacy experiences.ReferencesAchieve, Inc. (2012). Next Generation Science Standards May 2012 draft performance expectations. Retrieved from standards/Atman, C.J., R.S. Adams, S. Mosborg, M.E. Cardella, J. Turns, and J. Saleem (2007). “Engineering Design Processes: A Comparison of Students and Expert Practitioners.” Journal of Engineering Education, 96(4).Cardella, M. E., Atman, C. J., Turns, J., & Adams, R. S. (2008). Students with differing design processes as freshmen: Case studies on change. International Journal of Engineering Education, 24(2), 246-259.Charmaz, K. (1995). Grounded theory. In Smith, J. A. , Harré, R. and van Langenhove, L. (eds.) Rethinking methods in psychology, London, Sage.Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.McCormick, M. & Hynes, M. M. (2012). Engineering in a fictional world: early findings from integrating engineering and literacy. 2012 Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. San Antonio, TX.National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Wendell, K. B. (2013, June), Pre-Service Teachers’ Engineering Design Practices in an Integrated Engineering and Literacy Experience Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22358

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