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Students’ Experience with Collaborative Engineering Design Challenges in a Middle School Engineering Course (Evaluation)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Design Process Activities with Secondary Students

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Jessica D. Gale Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jessica Gale is a Senior Research Scientist at Georgia Tech's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). Her research focuses on project-based learning, STEM integration at the elementary and middle grades levels, design-based implementation research, and fidelity of implementation. Dr. Gale has a particular interest in project-based engineering in elementary school communities and the socio-cultural dimensions of pre-college engineering education. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Emory University.

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Meltem Alemdar Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Meltem Alemdar is Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at Georgia Tech's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). Dr. Alemdar has experience evaluating programs that fall under the umbrella of educational evaluation, including K-12 educational curricula, K-12 STEM programs after-school programs, and comprehensive school reform initiatives. Across these evaluations, she has used a variety of evaluation methods, ranging from a multi-level evaluation plan designed to assess program impact to methods such as program monitoring designed to facilitate program improvement. She received her Ph.D. in Research, Measurement and Statistics from the Department of Education Policy at Georgia State University (GSU).

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Roxanne Moore Georgia Institute of Technology

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Roxanne Moore is currently a Senior Research Engineer at Georgia Tech with appointments in the school of Mechanical Engineering and the Center for Education Integrating Mathematics, Science, and Computing (CEISMC). She is involved with engineering education innovations and research from K-12 up to the collegiate level. She received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2012.

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As part of a National Science Foundation Math Science Partnership at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), middle school (6th-8th grade) students participated in a semester-long engineering course featuring a sequence of engineering design challenges intended to develop understanding of the engineering design process while reinforcing mathematics and science content. For example, in eighth grade, students participate in a robotics challenge in which they apply physical science concepts and use 3D modeling software to design, prototype, and test “feet” for a walking insect-bot. This study builds on previous research to further explore students’ development of proficiency with the engineering design process. First, the study documents student perspectives on participating in collaborative engineering design challenges. Second, the study examines how, following participation in the engineering course, students approach a novel engineering design performance task. The study utilizes two qualitative data sources collected from six groups of 8th grade students (n = 21) at the end of the semester-long course: focus group discussions and observations of an engineering performance task. Focus group discussions lasted approximately 30 minutes and were facilitated using a semi-structured protocol, which asked students to reflect on various aspects of their experiences in the course including their experience working in collaborative groups. Focus groups were transcribed and analyzed using a sequential coding process in which a combination of holistic and descriptive codes were used to identify patterns in the focus group data. Following the focus group discussions, the same groups of students participated in a novel engineering performance task. In this task, which will be described in detail in the final paper, students were given a problem scenario in which a traveling circus needed a design solution to move an elephant from ground level into an elevated train car. The scenario provided students with certain constraints (e.g. size and dimensions of the train car) and they were given everyday materials (e.g. shoebox, string, ruler, card stock) and 20 minutes to design a solution to the challenge. As students completed the task, observation data were gathered using a structured field note guide. This observation data was then synthesized to describe the various approaches student groups took to address the engineering design task and the degree to which these approaches resembled the design process students used previously in their engineering course. Consistent with previous research on the curriculum, students generally described their participation in design challenges as a highlight of the course, noting ways in which these challenges fostered understanding of the engineering design process, collaboration, and application of mathematics and science concepts. Preliminary analysis of observation data illustrate a variety of approaches, from “tinkering” to more analytical/mathematical strategies, and indicate variations in the degree to which student groups applied the engineering design process they learned in the course as they completed the novel engineering design task.

Gale, J. D., & Alemdar, M., & Moore, R. (2019, June), Students’ Experience with Collaborative Engineering Design Challenges in a Middle School Engineering Course (Evaluation) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33314

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