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Using the Engineering Design Process to Complement the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 2

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Paper Authors


Aaron Brakoniecki Boston University

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Dr. Aaron Brakoniecki is a Lecturer at Boston University. His research focuses on preservice teachers' uses of technology (specifically, the Internet) to support their learning of mathematics. He is also involved with the Noyce BEST project at BU, which focuses on training engineers to become mathematics teachers in high needs classrooms.

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Michael Ward Boston University

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Michael Ward is currently entering his senior year of Mechanical Engineering while simultaneously earning his MAT as part of Boston University's STEEP program which gives students the ability to earn an engineering BA and MAT in 5 years. Michael is also a member of BU's varsity cross country and track and field teams and volunteers an after-school program for Boston Public School students. A native of Boston, Michael would like to return to the Boston Public Schools as a Math/STEM teacher after completion of the STEEP program.

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Gretchen Fougere Boston University

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Dr. Fougere has split her career thus far in industrial and academic research and product development, management, and STEM education. At Boston University, she leads and has founded several nationally impactful technology and engineering programs that bring active-learning engineering experiences and Inspiration Ambassadors to about 3,5000 middle and high school students and their teachers. She directs the STEM Educator Engineer Program with Profs. Chapin and DeRosa and they advise engineers completing their BS as well as Masters in Teaching to certified secondary Math. and Physics teachers. She holds a doctorate in Nanotechnology/Materials and two Bachelor's degrees in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering.

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With the recent development of the Common Core State Standards for mathematics, teachers have now been recommended a set of standards that cover not only the content of their mathematics classrooms, but also the practices with which to engage students as they learn that content (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). These practice standards include objectives such as “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them”, “use appropriate tools strategically”, and “look for and make use of structure”. While there are ways to address these practice standards solely within the domain of mathematics, there are many rich connections to these practice standards within the field of engineering. The eight practice standards contained within the Common Core standards share many similarities to the Engineering Design Process (EDP). As mathematics teachers look for ways to engage their students in these mathematical practices, the EDP can be leveraged as a way to encourage students to simultaneously think as a mathematician, and as an engineer.

This paper describes a project based learning experience (Dym, Agogino, Eris, Frey, & Leifer, 2005) conducted at a large private university in the Northeas in which beginning mathematics teachers and engineering students attempted to learn engage with mathematics content through an engineering design experience. The goals of this project were to build a tower that could support a marshmallow, optimizing the height of the tower, while also minimizing the cost of the tower’s supplies. Participants in the session were first introduced to the EDP, looking at the different phases including identifying the problem and constraints, developing possible solution paths, selecting a path and building a prototype, evaluating the process and making improvements. Attendees worked in pairs, designing different towers, constructing, and refining their towers in an iterative process.

At the conclusion of this activity, the session participants engaged in conversations about the mathematical content of the engineering task, as well as the connections between the EDP and the standards of mathematical practice. Through the discussion, participants were able to see how this one task could be utilized to have students think about a variety of mathematics content, from geometric visual and spatial reasoning, to algebraic systems of linear equations. Especially powerful during this discussion was the comparison of the engineering design process to the practice standards they had already begun discussing in their coursework. Participants felt that there was significant overlap between the EDP and the work they were doing already in their classrooms to engage students with the standards for mathematical practice.

There are many kinds of knowledge that go into effective teaching including knowledge of the content, knowledge of the curriculum, and a horizon content knowledge across the subjects areas (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008). This paper illustrates one example of how the teaching and learning of mathematics can be strengthened by incorporating ideas from engineering. The engineering design process allows students to engage with key ideas of investigating and solving problems as they work toward a greater understanding of content and more richly connected habits of mind.

References Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content Knowledge for Teaching: What Makes It Special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(5), 389–407. Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O., Frey, D. D., & Leifer, L. J. (2005). Engineering Design Thinking, Teaching, and Learning. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 103–120. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers.

Brakoniecki, A., & Ward, M., & Fougere, G. (2016, June), Using the Engineering Design Process to Complement the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27167

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