Eliciting and characterizing students' mental models within the context of engineering design

Chelsey Dankenbring, Purdue University


Recently, science education reform documents have called for the incorporation of engineering principles and practices into the K-12 science standards and curriculum. One way this has been done is through the use of engineering design tasks as a way for students to apply their scientific understandings to real-world problems. However, minimal studies have documented students' conceptions within the context of engineering design. Thus, the first chapter of this thesis outlines the steps taken to develop a draw-and-explain item that elicited students' mental models regarding the cause of the four seasons after finishing an engineering design task. Students' mental models regarding the reason for the seasons are also described. The second chapter characterizes students' conceptions regarding sun-Earth relationships, specifically the amount of daylight hours throughout the year, for students who completed either an engineering design task or more traditional learning activities. Results from these studies indicate that draw-and-explain items are an effective way of obtaining students' mental models and that students harbor a variety of alternate conceptions on astronomy related concepts within various learning contexts. Implications from this study include the need for further research regarding how engineering design is used in the classroom and how engineering design facilitates science learning. Also, professional development that allows in-service teachers to gain experience teaching engineering design is needed, as are teacher preparation programs that expose pre-service teachers to engineering design.




Capobianco, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Science education|Curriculum development

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