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The Use of Engineering Notebooks in an RET Experience

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

K-12 and Bridge Experiences in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Matthew T. Stimpson North Carolina State University

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Matthew Stimpson is the Director of Assessment in the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at NC State University.

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Jerome P. Lavelle North Carolina State University

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Jerome P. Lavelle is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University. His teaching and research interests are in the areas of engineering economic analysis, decision analysis, project management, leadership, engineering management and engineering education.

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Laura Bottomley North Carolina State University

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Dr. Laura Bottomley, Teaching Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Elementary Education, is also the Director of Women in Engineering and The Engineering Place at NC State University. She has been working in the field of engineering education for over 25 years. She is dedicated to conveying the joint messages that engineering is a set of fields that can use all types of minds and every person needs to be literate in engineering and technology. She is an ASEE and IEEE Fellow and PAESMEM awardee.

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Abstract: The use of research notebooks in engineering and science is a long-standing practice. Researchers, students, and lab assistants use notebooks to catalog the progression of experiments, take notes on successes and failures, sketch ideas, and brain-storm new areas of interest and focus. Given the rich and vibrate data in a research notebook, these documents provide a structure from which the evolution of ideas and knowledge can be studied.

The Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program is a grant funded initiative of the National Science Foundation (NSF), where teachers are placed in university research laboratories and engage in engineering-focused research. Parallel to the lab experience, teachers participate in pedagogical instruction and are encouraged to bridge laboratory activities with professional development activities to create ways in which engineering concepts can be infused in curricula. Participants in our NSF-funded RET grant, who serve as the sample for this study, were part of stratified teams that included teachers, engineering students, education students, and community college faculty. Participants in our RET were provided research notebooks to catalog both their lab work and overall experiences over the course of the six-week summer lab assignment. Participants also used the notebooks to record notes and ideas related to the development of an engineering informed lesson plan to take back their respective K-12 and community college classrooms.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ways in which participants used their research notebooks during the NSF-RET experience to catalog ideas, progression of research, and the development of lesson plans. Specifically, we answer the following research questions:

1. How do participants use research notebooks to record and catalog research activities? 2. How do participants use research notebooks to record and catalog potential pedagogical practices related to using engineering concepts? 3. How do the notebooks reflect participants incorporating engineering concepts into the development of engineering informed lesson plans?

Theoretically, our research is grounded in constructivism, as we seek to examine how participants made sense of the experience, extracted new knowledge and information, and then applied that new knowledge and information. Constructivism, as a learning theory, focuses on how individuals construct knowledge for themselves within their individual context (Pritchard & Wollard, 2010).

We analyze the data using thematic analysis. Thematic analysis involves use and development of codes that are then systematically grouped into findings (themes). The identification of themes can occur through identification of linked codes and ideas, prevalence of codes, and framing of relationships between codes (Guest, MacQueen, & Namey, 2012).


Guest, G., MacQueen, K. M., & Namey, E. E. (2012). Applied thematic analysis. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Pritchard, A., & Woollard, J. (2010). Psychology in the classroom: Constructivism and social learning. Routleddge: New York.

Stimpson, M. T., & Lavelle, J. P., & Bottomley, L. (2020, June), The Use of Engineering Notebooks in an RET Experience Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35379

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