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Using A Systems Engineering Approach To Teach Middle School Science Concepts

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Design for Community and Environment

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1374.1 - 11.1374.9



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Paper Authors


Matthew Mehalik University of Pittsburgh

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Matthew Mehalik is Visiting Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering and Research Associate at the Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh

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Yaron Doppelt University of Pittsburgh

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Yaron Dopplet is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Learning Research and Deverlopment Center at the University of Pittsburgh

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Christian Schunn University of Pittsburgh

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Christian Schunn is Assistant Professor of Intelligent Systems and Psychology and Research Scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh

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

Using a Systems Engineering Design Approach to Teach Middle School Science Concepts I. Abstract

This paper contrasts performance overall and by gender, ethnicity, and SES for middle school students learning science through traditional scripted inquiry versus a systems engineering, design-based approach, in which students designed and built electrical alarm systems to learn electricity concepts over a 4-week period using authentic engineering design methods. The contrast study took place in the 8th grade of an urban, public school district, with the systems approach implemented in 26 science classes (10 teachers and 587 students) and the scripted inquiry approach implemented in contrast group of 20 science classes (5 teachers and 466 students). The results suggest that a systems design approach for teaching science concepts has superior performance in terms of knowledge gain achievements in core science concepts, engagement, and retention when compared with a guided inquiry approach. The systems design approach was most helpful to low-achieving African American students.

II. Introduction

What does student performance look like using an authentic design task to teach science concepts when examined concurrently with a scripted inquiry approach to do the same? For this project, the authors developed, disseminated, implemented, and evaluated a module for building electrical alarm systems in order to teach students electricity concepts in science classes. Design-based learning is intended to engage students in ways that enhance their abilities to solve real-life problems and to reflect on their learning processes. This style of active learning is an extension of project-based learning, which is argued to enable students to relate problems to science concepts.10, 15 Design-based learning differs from project based learning in that, in addition to constructing and building, students engage in a design and planning process that follows engineering design.

Typically, as was the case in the subject school district, electricity (and science in general) is taught using a guided/scripted inquiry approach to learning. Students are given materials and procedural scaffolding that is intended to help them “discover” properties of electricity and electrical (scientific) principles, such as voltage, resistance, and current in different electronic components using multi-meters. Such an approach is central to the design of many science classroom learning materials and environments, such as the Full Option Science System (FOSS), as was the case in the subject school district. This contrasts with the design-based immersion approach, which begins with providing scaffolding for students to solve a problem that is relevant to their lives and that connects to the electricity (science) topics. The intention of immersion units14 of the sort in this paper is to provide an in-depth experience for learning science. The researchers wanted to explore how a systems design approach affects student performance when compared/contrasted with the scripted inquiry approach. In addition, they wanted to investigate whether a systems design approach could reduce achievement differences.

Mehalik, M., & Doppelt, Y., & Schunn, C. (2006, June), Using A Systems Engineering Approach To Teach Middle School Science Concepts Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1397

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