Elementary students' engagement in failure-prone engineering design tasks
Abstract: Although engineering education has been practiced at the
undergraduate level for over a century, only fairly recently has the field broadened to
include the elementary level; the pre-college division of the American Society of
Engineering Education was established in 2003. As a result, while recent education
standards require engineering in elementary schools, current studies are ... read morestill filling in
basic research on how best to design and implement elementary engineering activities. One
area in need of investigation is how students engage with physical failure in design tasks.
In this dissertation, I explore how upper elementary students engage in failure-prone
engineering design tasks in an out-of-school environment. In a series of three empirical
case studies, I look closely at how students evaluate failed tests and decide on changes to
their design constructions, how their reasoning evolves as they repeatedly encounter
physical failure, and how students and facilitators co-construct testing norms where
repetitive failure is manageable. I also briefly investigate how students' engagement
differs in a task that features near-immediate success. By closely examining student
groups' discourse and their interactions with their design constructions, I found that
these students: are able to engage in iteration and see failure-as-feedback with minimal
externally-imposed structure; seem to be designing in a more sophisticated manner,
attending to multiple causal factors, after experiencing repetitive failure; and are able
to manage the stress and frustration of repetitive failure, provided the co-constructed
testing norms of the workshop environment are supportive of failure management. These
results have both pedagogical implications, in terms of how to create and facilitate design
tasks, and methodological implications—namely, I highlight the particular insights afforded
by a case study approach for analyzing engagement in design tasks.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2017.
Submitted to the Dept. of Education.
Advisor: Kristen Wendell.
Committee: Barbara Brizuela, Brian Gravel, and Ayush Gupta.
Keywords: Education, Science education, and Engineering.read less