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What Will You Do to Help Elementary Students Who Struggle in the Engineering Design Process? Analysis of Teachers’ Reflections

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Zachary Minken Arcadia University

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Mr. Zachary Minken, High School Science Teacher, teaches Biology and Chemistry to 10th - 12th grade students.  He is the Lead Coach of the School of the Future Robotics Team, which is a rookie team participating in the FIRST Tech Challenge.  During the summer months, he is the Director of the iD Tech Camp based at the University of Pennsylvania, a summer program designed to teach students ages 7-17 about programming, physical computing, and game design. Mr. Minken is also currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Arcadia University with a research focus in STEM education.

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Augusto Z. Macalalag Jr. Arcadia University

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Dr. Augusto Macalalag, Jr., Associate Professor of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, teaches undergraduate and graduate STEM methods courses for pre-service and in-service teachers. He is the Advisor of Secondary School Teaching Certification Programs (Links to an external site.) that prepare pre-service teachers to teach General Science (Links to an external site.), Biology (Links to an external site.), Chemistry (Links to an external site.), and Mathematics (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.). In 2014, Dr. Macalalag conceptualized and developed the STEM Education Graduate Certificate Program (Links to an external site.) for in-service elementary and middle school teachers. The certificate program’s goal is to foster teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge in planning, implementing and assessing instructions that incorporate science and engineering practices based on the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education. The STEM certificate program has five courses (15 credits) that include an environmental education preview to Sicily, Italy.

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Najah Naylor

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Ms. Najah Naylor is a Computer Science Educator within the Philadelphia School District. She completed two master’s degrees, one in Education and the other in Business Administration, and she is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Education Administration. Naylor developed a passion for urban education as a teen student mentor over twenty years ago and enjoys integrating technology in the learning process. Currently, she serves on the BoD of Learn VR, a virtual reality organization that provides urban students learning experiences through the lens of virtual reality. Before becoming an Educator in the disciplines of business and technology, Naylor spent over ten years as a business leader in the telecommunications industry.

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Teaching through the engineering design process (EDP) requires not only teachers’ knowledge about it, but also be able to identify conceptual challenges of students and to address them in their lessons. However, helping teachers develop their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) towards teaching the EDP is challenging to do, particularly for those with limited experiences and repertoire in the domain. Our study was conducted during the 3-credit teaching methods course for 15 weeks (3 hours per week, 45 hours total) in a small liberal arts university in the northeastern United States. Participants in this study included 17 practicing elementary school teachers: 13 had seven or more years of teaching experience, while four had six or fewer years of teaching; the majority (70%) had degrees in early childhood and elementary education.

Throughout the course, teachers learned the EDP (ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve) by using and implementing the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) modules ( Our study was guided by the following research questions: (a) To what extent, if any, do teachers’ knowledge of the EDP change before and after the course?, (b) What are the changes, if any, on their identification of students’ challenges before and after the course?, and (c) In what ways, if any, do teachers’ pedagogical moves to scaffold students’ learning experiences of the EDP change at the end of the course?

We developed and administered identical pre-and post-tests on the first and last day of the course. We reported our analysis of open-ended questions on PCK of teaching EDP. The scenario used was adapted from the Museum of Science in Boston’s Everest Trek module. Participants were asked to consider a scenario which tasked them with designing and creating a coat capable of protecting a team of adventurers from the harsh weather conditions of Mt. Everest at all times of year, where the temperature ranges from -76oF to -2oF. We asked teachers to reflect on components of EDP, how to help struggling students, and how to create a grading scheme.

Our preliminary findings show that, when we asked our teachers to list and describe the steps they would take to design and create a type of coat for their team members, our teachers made positive changes from pre- to post-tests in terms of incorporating components of EDP with respect to brainstorming (imagining possible solutions), planning, and prototyping (creating and improving). We found no differences with respect to asking or defining the problem from pre- to post-test. When asked to give advice to students based on scenarios where students skipped EDP steps or struggled to come to a consensus, we found that teachers gave students advice that evidenced an understanding of EDP and scientific practices, such as conducting investigations, testing and controlling for particular variables, and encouraging students to make arguments from evidence. Finally, teachers responded that they would evaluate student performance with regard to this scenario by considering process versus product oriented grading, use of rubrics (e.g. EDP, iteration, and effectiveness of design), and teamwork.

Minken, Z., & Macalalag, A. Z., & Naylor, N. (2020, June), What Will You Do to Help Elementary Students Who Struggle in the Engineering Design Process? Analysis of Teachers’ Reflections Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35505

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