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Understanding How High School Students Approach Systems Design

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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

Design in K-12 Education

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Molly H Goldstein University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Molly H. Goldstein is an engineering design educator and researcher at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She previously worked as an environmental engineer specializing in air quality influencing her focus in engineering design with environmental concerns. Her research interests include how students approach decision making in an engineering design context. She obtained her BS in General Engineering (Systems & Design) and MS in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering from the University of Illinois and PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Corey T. Schimpf Concord Consortium Orcid 16x16

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Corey Schimpf is a Learning Analytics Scientist with interest in design research, learning analytics, research methods and under-representation in engineering, A major strand of his work focuses on developing and analyzing learning analytics that model students’ cognitive states or strategies through fine-grained computer-logged data from open-ended technology-centered science and engineering projects. His dissertation research explored the use of Minecraft to teach early engineering college students about the design process.

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Introduction: Systems thinking is described as the cognition a person uses in the solution and design of large-scale complex systems, often requiring hypothetical and holistic approach. Engineering and systems thinking are commonly part of a K-12 education, particularly in high school. Because systems engineering is a complex process to undertake, it is increasingly difficult to understand how secondary students approach a systems design problem. Objectives: This work-in-progress presents an exploratory approach for understanding how and to what degree high school students considered multiple systems in an engineering design project in order to develop categories of students for further inquiry. Methods: Students (n = 22) completed a systems engineering design task, The Solar Urban Design, in which they worked to optimize solar gains of high-rise buildings in both winter and summer months within Energy3D as a part of their engineering science classroom. Energy3D is a Computer Aided Design (CAD) rich design tool with construction and analysis capabilities. As students design in Energy3D, a log of all of their design actions and results from analyses are logged. In addition, students took reflective notes within Energy3D during and after designing. We computed percentile ranks for the students’ design performance for each of the required design elements (i.e. high rise 1 and high rise 2) for each of the required seasons (i.e. winter and summer). We investigated the degree to which students optimized only one of the buildings or one of the seasons versus how they used a systems engineering approach to incorporate all elements of the complete system as a summation of each of their four percentile ranks. We looked at the correlation between their engineering systems score and the quantity of reflections in order to better understand the profiles of students. Preliminary Results: Results suggest different patterns in the ways that students address systems engineering problems. Draft paper results will discuss student vignettes in order to illustrate the differing cases of students.

Goldstein, M. H., & Schimpf, C. T. (2020, June), Understanding How High School Students Approach Systems Design Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35422

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