Learning through engineering design and practice: Implementation and impact of a middle school engineering-education program

Tirupalavanam Ganesh, John Thieken, Dale Baker, Stephen Krause, Chell Roberts, Monica Elser, Wendy Taylor, Jay Golden, James Middleton, Sharon Robinson Kurpius

Research output: Contribution to journalConference Articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This paper describes research efforts and results of the first year of a two-year long technologically centered discovery-based extracurricular learning experience designed and delivered to over 100 seventh-grade students from four middle schools. Research methods used to study program impact included statistical analysis of pre- and post- tests, qualitative research techniques of eliciting information using subject-produced drawings, journal writing, focus groups, and observation. This project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program aimed at enhancing traditionally underrepresented youths' interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Disciplinary experts were drawn from materials science, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, sustainability, science education, mathematics education, cognitive psychology, counseling, and education research methods. These experts worked with K-12 educators to design and deliver an extra-curricular middle school engineering education program. The program utilized the engineering design process as the fundamental construct for engagement with the novel teaching and learning experiences. The program provided experiences where participants learned engineering and information technology skills through activities such as simulating desert tortoise behaviors, and researching and developing designs to mitigate the urban heat island. They also participated in leadership development activities over the summer serving as docents for younger children at the local science center, a research internship with the university, and an industry internship with a local energy and water service provider. Student learning was assessed using formal and informal methods. Informal assessments consisted of whiteboard presentations, open-ended questioning, demonstrations, journal write-ups, and teacher observations. These were used to guide daily activities and lessons. Formal assessments consisted of pre and post assessments. Subject produced drawings were used to elicit students' pre- and post-program knowledge. Draw a Robot and Draw an Engineer assessments were used. A survey instrument was developed and implemented to elicit tinkering and technical self-efficacy. An earlier developed instrument that was validated using a sample of responses of 200 engineers to develop the items was modified for use with youth. Observations of project activities by external evaluators, interviews with educators, school administrators, program facilitators, principal investigators, industry volunteers, collaborators, and student participants, were used to study whether project and research goals were met. Pre and post assessments in the form of open-ended questions related to content in major units were administered. Assessments were analyzed to determine what impact the project had on student learning and student interests in related STEM content. A two-way repeated measures ANOVA was conducted on each unit to compare differences in the relationship between pre and post assessment scores. Data revealed that by engaging youth in learning experiences that emphasizes both utilitarian and inquiry-based motivations, where learning is made relevant to students' lives, the outcome leads to enhanced learning in content areas. We have also learned that systematic efforts are needed to dispel misunderstandings regarding STEM subjects and professions. Coordinated and carefully designed in-depth and long-term experiences are needed to provide students and families with knowledge of STEM education and career pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes
Event2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Louisville, KY, United States
Duration: Jun 20 2010Jun 23 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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