Envisioning a larger workforce of engineers, with broad participation from a diverse set of workers, is one of the central concerns of engineering education research. While many current K-12 programs focus on engineering thinking and design, there is still a need to promote aspiration and understanding of engineering as an occupation, especially in out-of-school environments where children spend a majority of their time. Career aspirations and expectations of children have already started to develop prior to entering formal schooling. Several studies has shown that parents play a significant role in the development of occupational awareness in their children, but the process by which this occurs is not well understood. In engineering and other fields it is common for children to follow in the career footsteps of their parents in a phenomenon called occupational inheritance. It is hypothesized that parents socialize their children through the social norms, personal knowledge, attitudes and beliefs that they share through everyday activity.This study investigated the strategies that engineering parents conduct when reading a story about engineering to their children. Conversation analysis was used to distinguish the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs that were shared during the interaction. Twenty-four participants that self-identified as engineers (through a degree conferred or job association or other) video-recorded themselves in their own home, reading a provided story book to their young children, aged 3 to 5 years. The storybook centered on two kids on a mission to deliver an odd shaped package to an engineer. Along the way they ponder who an engineer is, what they do, and where they work before eventually meeting up with a team of engineers. The storybook also contained imagery of potential misconceptions (e.g. only work on trains, similarity to mechanics) as well as messages from “Changing the Conversation” (e.g. engineers make the world a better place).Several of the results told an interesting tale: while engineering parents are expected to have a high degree of understanding about their field, they had difficulty in expressing occupational knowledge, and in some cases even had difficulty correcting misconceptions that the child held. Also, several parents expressed astonishment when their child did not recognize that they too were engineers. Engineering parents also provided additional engineering knowledge during the storybook reading.The results of this study will be used to develop materials to inform parents (as well as the general public) of strategies with which to engage conversations about engineering,and can be extended to other non-familiar occupations as well.
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