Asee peer logo

Teaching Engineering In Single Gender Middle School Classrooms

Download Paper |


2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Women in K-12 Engineering

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1134.1 - 14.1134.8



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Joy Watson University of South Carolina

author page

Jed Lyons University of South Carolina

Download Paper |

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

Teaching Engineering in Single Gender Middle School Classrooms Abstract Students in middle school are often given pre-planned laboratory experiments which provide little or no opportunity to develop creativity or problem solving skills. This paper describes an investigation of middle school students’ reactions to an open-ended engineering design problem, specifically to create a machine to move a Cheerio™ or a plastic egg seventy centimeters. If the problem was solved quickly, a modified problem was provided that forced the students to redesign their solutions. Student attitudes to the design problem solution process were assessed though direct observations during the activity, and written reflective responses afterwards. The results indicate that most students were enthusiastic about developing their own in the science classroom. An interesting aspect of this study is that it was conducted in four single gender eighth-grade classrooms: two classes of males and two of females. Classroom dynamics to the activity were affected by the student demographics. Thus, this study contributes to our understanding of male and female students’ creativity and approach to design processes.

Background Middle school students do not know what engineers do1. They know the stereotype better than the reality and perceive engineers to be people lacking interpersonal skills with an interest in things. In reality, engineers are creative people who work in teams to create solutions for many of today’s problems, such as water purification and creating medicines to cure diseases. Studies have shown that students respond positively to engineering when they understand its historical contributions and social relevance. Engineering is the application of science, technology and creativity that has led to inventions such as iPods®, computers, telephones and airplanes2.

The Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program from the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides fellowships to graduate students (GK-12 Fellows) to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The study reported in this paper was conducted by an engineering GK-12 Fellow who worked in single-gender, eighth-grade science classrooms in a metropolitan area in the Southeastern United States. The Fellow works in this classroom two days a week. The Fellow works alongside a classroom teacher in developing and teaching lessons and activities with a focus on engineering examples, design approaches and problem solving techniques to show the application of science, technology and math concepts3. This study is based upon an open-ended design challenge to assess and hopefully develop positive attitudes and reactions towards science and engineering in middle school students. The approach was to illustrate the importance of creativity in the engineering design process.

According to Torrance4, creativity is a process that begins when people sense a problem or gap in information. Upon realizing the problem, people begin to formulate hypothesis about the problem then test it, possibly revising and retesting of the hypothesis. The data gathered is then communicated to others by various means4. The creative process mirrors the scientific method of finding a problem, making a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, then reporting the results5. In engineering, testing a hypothesis could involve designing and building new equipment through the tinkering process.

Watson, J., & Lyons, J. (2009, June), Teaching Engineering In Single Gender Middle School Classrooms Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5064

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: © 2009 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