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Urban Elementary School Students' Reflective Decision-making During Formal Engineering Learning Experiences (Fundamental)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Fundamental: K-12 Students and Engineering Design Practices (Part 1)

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1636.1 - 26.1636.16



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Paper Authors

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Kristen Bethke Wendell University of Massachusetts Boston


Christopher George Wright University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Dr. Wright is an Assistant Professor of STEM Education in the Department of Theory & Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee.

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Patricia C Paugh University of Massachusetts Boston

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Urban elementary school students’ reflective decision-making during formal engineering learning experiences (Fundamental)In its Framework for K-12 Science Education, the National Research Council writes, “Engineers,too, make decisions based on evidence that a given design will work; they rarely rely on trial anderror” (2012, p. 62). For engineers to plan feasible solutions and revise solutions they havealready tested, they need to engage in reflective decision-making that takes into accountinformation about design options. This is a key component of engineering design cognition.Therefore, as the Next Generation Science Standards ask K-12 students to learn the practices ofengineering design, those students need to be equipped for reflective decision-making. In ourresearch program, we explore the nature of reflective decision-making in elementary schoolengineering design. In this qualitative descriptive research study, we investigated the researchquestion, what does reflective decision-making look like among urban elementary schoolstudents participating in a formal engineering design curriculum?Participants in our study were students in seven classrooms ranging from second to fifth grade.During each of eight Engineering is Elementary (EiE) units, we video recorded classroomlessons and collected all of the students’ written work. We also audio recorded our de-briefingmeetings with the classroom teachers.After reviewing engineering cognition literature and analyzing the content of the EiE curriculummaterials, we constructed an a priori definition of reflective decision-making. Then, we usedqualitative microethnographic methods to analyze data from classrooms and teacher/researchermeetings in order to confirm or disconfirm the parts of that definition. Members of the researchteam brought data of interest to the entire group, and themes about elementary students’reflective decision-making emerged from the group’s discussion. Characteristics of reflectivedecision-making were added to our findings when they were confirmed by multiple episodes ofclassroom data and not able to be disconfirmed by other data.To summarize our findings, we describe reflective decision-making in children’s engineering asthe multi-faceted practice of taking stock, analyzing, and moving forward.In particular, we found that during engineering planning, children are often engaged in reflectivedecision-making when they: 1. Articulate and review more than one idea about how to solve a problem; 2. Consider multiple options according to the criteria and constraints of the problem, mathematical and scientific principles, and critique by other children and adults; 3. Intentionally select a potential solution to pursue.We also found that during engineering re-design, children seem to be using reflective decision-making when they: 1. Re-tell the performance of a possible solution; 2. Analyze possible solution(s) according to several types of evidence, including results of physical tests, data from scientific investigations, information from external sources, and critique by other children or adults; 3. Purposefully choose how to move forward to improve the proposed solution.In our paper we will describe specific episodes of data that support each element of reflectivedecision-making listed above. Our goal in characterizing children’s reflective decision-making isto describe the behaviors, habits, or skills that should be emphasized as we work to supportelementary students in meaningful learning of engineering design practices.

Wendell, K. B., & Wright, C. G., & Paugh, P. C. (2015, June), Urban Elementary School Students' Reflective Decision-making During Formal Engineering Learning Experiences (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24972

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