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Using Engineering Problems to Stimulate Critical Thinking in the Middle School Science Classroom (works in progress or curriculum exchange)

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1315.1 - 23.1315.4



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Paper Authors


Nicole D. Berge University of South Carolina

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Dr. Nicole Berge received her B.S. and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of South Carolina in 1999 and 2001, respectively. In 2006, she received her Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Central Florida. From 2006 to 2008, Dr. Berge worked as a postdoctoral associate at Tufts University. Currently, she is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina.

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Charles E. Pierce University of South Carolina

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Using Engineering Problems to Stimulate Critical Thinking in the Middle School Science Classroom (works in progress or curriculum exchange)AbstractPedagogical approaches that help develop critical thinking skills of students at all academiclevels are prominent in the national education discourse. Research shows that active learningstimulates critical thinking in students. When students are actively engaged in the classroom, theacademic environment is elevated and student learning can be improved. Students are even moreengaged and connected to the subject when content is relevant and meaningful to them. TheDepartment of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of ___________ and a localschool, __________ Middle School, have forged an educational partnership aimed at developingand implementing problem-based hands-on activities that can be incorporated within middleschool science classes to 1) enhance student learning, 2) increase critical thinking and problemsolving skills, and 3) raise student and teacher awareness of engineering issues and careers. Thispaper discusses this partnership and the transfer of a pedagogical approach, called EFFECTs,from the collegiate engineering environment to middle school science.The Environments for Fostering Effective Critical Thinking, or EFFECTs, are modular inquirybased tools specifically designed to develop critical thinking skills and collaborative teamworkskills while improving the transfer of core knowledge in science, technology, engineering andmath (STEM) courses. EFFECTs are based on a driving question where students considerfundamental concepts in the context of a realistic problem. Students complete a decisionworksheet, individually and then in groups, and provide an initial answer to the driving question.This first session is followed with multiple active learning sessions that are designed to enhancethe student’s core knowledge, stimulate critical thinking, and hone their estimation abilities.Students reflect on their learning by responding to journal questions, and instructors evaluatestudent responses using a rubric designed to assess both core knowledge and critical thinking.The journaling approach facilitates the identification of student misconceptions ormisunderstandings. Each EFFECT concludes with a student report that contains a final answer tothe driving question and a description of how the solution has changed as a result of the activelearning exercises.The educational partnership described herein serves as a model for transferring EFFECTs to theK-12 environment. A five-step model is proposed: 1) guest instruction – an engineering facultymember presents a modified EFFECT in a science class while the science teachers observe; 2)training workshop – engineering faculty members conduct a workshop where participants drafttheir own EFFECT appropriate for their particular grade level; 3) mentor-mentee relationships –an engineering faculty member partners with a science teacher to help refine the draft EFFECTprior to implementation; 4) evaluation – working meetings with mentors and mentees designedto evaluate the EFFECT and student performance, leading to appropriate revisions; and 5)dissemination – mentors and mentees collaborate to publish each EFFECT, using a pre-developed template, in appropriate venues such as the TeachEngineering digital library. Thispaper will provide specific information regarding the training workshop materials and teacherevaluations from the first workshop conducted at __________ Middle School.

Berge, N. D., & Pierce, C. E. (2013, June), Using Engineering Problems to Stimulate Critical Thinking in the Middle School Science Classroom (works in progress or curriculum exchange) Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22700

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