Asee peer logo

The Roles of Engineering Notebooks in Shaping Elementary Engineering Student Discourse and Practice (RTP)

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Research to Practice: K-12 Engineering Resources: Best Practices in Curriculum Design (Part 1)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jonathan D. Hertel Museum of Science

visit author page

Jonathan manages the Examining the Efficacy of Engineering is Elementary (E4) project (an NSF-funded study of the efficacy of the EiE curriculum), overseeing and organizing a research effort that involves 240 teachers in the different states. He also provides evaluation support for the Engineering Adventures and Engineering Everywhere projects. He holds an Ed.M. in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In 2013-2014, he was named a CADRE Fellow as part of the NSF Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE) project.

visit author page


Christine M. Cunningham Museum of Science Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Christine Cunningham is an educational researcher who works to make engineering and science more relevant, accessible, and understandable, especially for underserved and underrepresented populations. A vice president at the Museum of Science, Boston since 2003, she founded and directs Engineering is Elementary™, a groundbreaking project that integrates engineering concepts into elementary curriculum and teacher professional development. As of September 2014, EiE has served 6.2 million children nationwide and 71,000 educators. Cunningham has previously served as director of engineering education research at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, where her work focused on integrating engineering with science, technology, and math in professional development for K-12 teachers. She also directed the Women’s Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) project, the first national, longitudinal, large-scale study of the factors that support young women pursuing engineering degrees. Cunningham is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and was awarded the 2014 International Society for Design and Development in Education Prize. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in biology from Yale and a Ph.D. in Science Education from Cornell University.

visit author page


Gregory John Kelly Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Gregory Kelly is a Professor of Science Education and Associate Dean for Research, Outreach, and Technology in the College of Education at Penn State University. His research investigates classroom discourse, epistemology, and science learning.

visit author page


Cathy P. Lachapelle Museum of Science

visit author page

Cathy Lachapelle leads the EiE team responsible for assessment and evaluation of our curricula. This includes the design and field-testing of assessment instruments and research on how children use EiE materials. Cathy is particularly interested in how collaborative interaction and scaffolded experiences with disciplinary practices help children learn science, math, and engineering. Her work on other STEM education research projects includes the national Women's Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) study. Cathy received her S.B. in cognitive science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Stanford University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The introduction of engineering into elementary school state and national standards offers students new opportunities to engage in practices with which they are likely unfamiliar. One core engineering experience is using an engineering design process to solve a design challenge. As children navigate a structured engineering design process, they encounter new opportunities to engage in verbal and written discourse. Engineering curricula may feature physical artifacts like materials and engineering notebooks, the use of which structures students’ experiences. Engineering notebooks have potential to guide elementary students’ engineering practice in unique ways that enhance their learning; this study investigates how notebooks shape students’ engineering practice, discourse, and interactions. Our research approach is based on educational ethnography developed by Author 4 and colleagues ([Author 4], 2014; [Author 4 et al.], 1999). This approach begins by asking ethnographically oriented questions about the cultural practices of a group (Castanheira, Crawford, Dixon, & Green, 2003). In this case, we analyzed the video dataset and notebooks to understand the ways that elementary engineering was interactionally accomplished among the students, the notebooks they used, and their teacher. We drew from interactional sociolinguistics to study specific discourse processes in contexts of use (Gumperz, 1982). We used video data collected as part of a larger research study. We purposefully selected one elementary student group (3-5 students) from each of four classes engaged in engineering design. Student engineering notebooks were also collected. Students used these notebooks, part of the curricular resources, to record data, represent models, and present designs. We transcribed video footage of each group (4-7 hours apiece) and created event maps for each lesson. During analysis, we paid particular attention to student use of the notebooks. We derived categories representing how the notebook is used and the roles it plays as students engage in engineering practices. We found that the notebook shapes student practice of engineering, becoming an actor in the students’ conversations and structuring student activity in several key ways. First, the necessity to draw or describe plans for a group design in the notebook demands that students build consensus. Second, as part of the discussion and argumentation during this consensus-building, students rely on information held in the notebook, referring to previously recorded design ideas, scientific data, and engineering test results. Finally, particular sections of the notebook require students, individually and as a group, to reflect on their engineering practice and synthesize their activity throughout the design challenge to present final designs or recommendations to clients. As engineering at the elementary level proliferates, considering these and other ways in which notebooks support and structure student engineering practice could assist teachers and curriculum developers in designing better learning opportunities for elementary students. Castanheira, M. L., Crawford, T., Dixon, C. & Green, J. L. (2001). Interactional ethnography: An approach to studying the social construction of literate practices. Linguistics & Education, 11, 353-400. Gumperz, J. J. (1982). Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Author 4. (2014). Book chapter. Dordrecht: Springer. Author 4 et al. (1999). Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

Hertel, J. D., & Cunningham, C. M., & Kelly, G. J., & Lachapelle, C. P. (2016, June), The Roles of Engineering Notebooks in Shaping Elementary Engineering Student Discourse and Practice (RTP) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27014

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: © 2016 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