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“What the Problem Really Was…": A Preliminary Exploration of Youth Problem Definition in Everyday Contexts

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Pre-K12 Track - Technical Session II

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pre K-12 Education

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Paper Authors


Jacqueline Handley University of Michigan

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Jacqueline Handley is a graduate student in science education at the University of Michigan. Her background is in material science and engineering, with an emphasis on biomaterials design. She is interested in, broadly, how best to bridge engineering practice and educational research. More specifically, she is interested in engineering access and inclusion in the K-12 space, and navigation in engineering culture.

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Elizabeth Birr Moje

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With this proposal, we seek to present our findings on how two young women’s work on engineering problem definition and delimitation helped them begin to think like, and see themselves as, future engineers. The data are drawn from work in an afterschool and summer school program with youth in one neighborhood of an economically challenged Midwestern city. Our work was framed by the Next Generation Science Standards and informed by critical sociocultural theories of learning. The recent creation and continued adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has increased the urgency and volume of the discussion around engineering education at the K-12 level. The idea of educators working with children as early as kindergarten on an engineering design cycle could be considered both exciting and daunting, especially given the lack of apprenticeship for teaching engineering design. The architects of the NGSS included engineering to provide students a foundation in engineering design and engage them in solving the major societal and environmental challenges they will face in the decades ahead. Prior to its inclusion in NGSS, access to pre-college engineering education programming in classrooms could be described as limited and sporadic, with most such programs in extra-curricular or summer programming. The inclusion of engineering within NGSS represents a more unified and consistent effort to introduce engineering design to students earlier in their educational trajectories, given the need for more diverse perspectives in the problem-solving process. Although potentially daunting, the newness of engineering design within the NGSS represents a unique opportunity to consider not just how to teach aspects of engineering design well, but also to experiment with using these facets of engineering design to disrupt the traditional power dynamics and exclusionary notions of who can and cannot be engineers. Significant work on engineering and STEM identity has demonstrated the relationship between youths’ identification with the representations, knowledge, and goals of engineering and their sense that engineering is an accessible and path for them to pursue. In practice, supporting youth engineering identity formation can be accomplished in several ways. This work presents the short narratives of Adina and Marie (psuedonyms), two Latina youth participating in a community-based engineering program, and offers an initial analysis of their interpretations of problem definition and delimitation. More specifically, we explore how problem definition and delimitation can be studied as a navigational contact zone and to challenge what knowledge is traditionally considered “engineering” knowledge. In particular, we examine what the young women’s interpretations suggest about what they consider engineering knowledge. We conclude by arguing for a broader understanding of the types of knowledge is valued in engineering within the K-12 space.

Handley, J., & Moje, E. B. (2018, April), “What the Problem Really Was…": A Preliminary Exploration of Youth Problem Definition in Everyday Contexts Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--29504

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