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Using Design-Centered Challenge Based Instruction to Teach Adaptive Expertise in High School Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Professional Development for K-12 Teachers

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1612.1 - 22.1612.32

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Paper Authors


Taylor Martin University of Texas, Austin

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Taylor Martin received a B.A. in Linguistics and an initial teaching certification from Dartmouth College in 1992, an M.S. in Psychology from Vanderbilt University in 2000, and a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University in 2003. She joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. Her primary research interest is how people learn content in complex domains from active participation, both physical and social. She is cooperating with local elementary schools to improve assessment tools for young children's mathematics and to examine how hands-on activities impact mathematics learning and investigating the development of adaptive expertise through cooperation with the VaNTH Engineering Research Center in Bioengineering Educational Technologies.

Research interests include the role of active learning strategies (e.g., hands-on activities and invention) in development of mathematics concepts, dynamic development of concrete & symbolic understanding of mathematics concepts, design & implementation of curricula and technologies that promote good math learning, and examining effectiveness of curricula and technologies in classrooms using experimental & observational methods.

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Pat Ko University of Texas, Austin

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With degrees in electrical engineering and in computer science, Pat worked in computer chip design before changing careers to teach high school. He is currently a graduate student in STEM Education at The University of Texas at Austin and his research interests include measuring the educational benefits of middle school and high school robotics programs.

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Stephanie Baker Peacock University of Texas, Austin

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Stephanie received her B.S. and M.S. of Mathematics at branch campuses of The University of Texas and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education at The University of Texas, Austin. Her predominate research interest focuses on development of algebraic reasoning and symbolic understanding. Special attention is paid to students in community college developmental math courses and their transitions to credit-bearing courses, and issues encountered by English Language Learners and persons of low socioeconomic status. She is broadly interested in access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at all grade levels.

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Jennifer Rudolph University of Texas, Austin

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Jennifer received her B.S. in Computer Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2004. After realizing a desire to teach rather than engineer, she acquired her teaching certification and spent three wonderful years teaching mathematics at an Austin area high school. She is currently working on her Masters in Mathematics Education at The University of Texas.

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Engineering is exploding in popularity as a high school discipline, creating a demandto train both new and in-service teachers to teach engineering. In Texas for example,the goal is to have one teacher in every high school prepared to teach engineeringby 2011. In just one state, this goal will require nearly 2000 teachers equipped toteach engineering.So, what is engineering for high school? Mechanical? Chemical? Electrical? Curriculabeing developed to follow state standards primarily focus on engineering design.Therefore, the course could draw from several content areas.This intersection of content options, varying teacher content expertise, and theopen-ended nature of design-based courses creates a need for maximally adaptiveteachers. As researchers involved in the preparation of these teachers, weconceptualize the competencies they need as Adaptive Expertise (AE). Adaptiveexperts are innovative: they adapt to perform well in novel and fluid situations. They arealso efficient: they apply core knowledge appropriately and expeditiously.Common engineering educational methods succeed at developing either efficiency (e.g.,traditional lecture-based instruction) or innovation (e.g., problem-based instruction, orPBI). Challenge-based instruction (CBI) is centered around challenge problems, muchlike PBI. However, there are explicit components of the instructional cycle that presentinformation directly, more like traditional lecture-based instruction.Prior research demonstrates that undergraduate engineering students in CBI coursesimprove on both innovation and efficiency, showing growth in AE. However, theinstructional cycle in these studies was primarily aimed at teaching in problem-solvingcontexts. Therefore, we developed and conducted our research using a cycle adapted forthe design-based engineering course.We have shown CBI develops AE in engineering problem solving. The current researchinvestigates whether and how design-centered CBI develops AE.Thirty-three experienced mathematics and science teachers participated in a 6-weeksummer institute made up of 4 challenge units: 1) Vehicle Design Challenge: Design and build a superstructure on a moving platform maximizing cargo volume while minimizing drag. 2) Reverse Engineering Challenge: Perform a customer needs analysis for a household object, such as a hair dryer, and predict the internal mechanisms of the machine. 3) Robotics Design Challenge: Design and build a robot to detect objects and transport them to a goal area. 4) Final Design Challenge: Develop and collaborate on a design project in groups (similar to a capstone design experience).For each section of the institute, we administered pre- and post-tests measuring theteachers’ innovation and efficiency relative to the content area of the section.Additionally, we measured the teachers’ adaptive beliefs about engineering and learningat the beginning and end of the summer institute.Teachers’ AE improved for each section of the institute. On the efficiency measures,teachers improved significantly on each test and they improved significantly oninnovation on all tests except the Vehicle Design Challenge test. Additionally, teachershave fairly adaptive beliefs that remain high through the course.CBI can improve teachers’ AE in the space of one course. Our next step is to examinehow this transfers to development of students’ AE.

Martin, T., & Ko, P., & Peacock, S. B., & Rudolph, J. (2011, June), Using Design-Centered Challenge Based Instruction to Teach Adaptive Expertise in High School Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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