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Engineering Design-Based Science, Science Content Performance, and Science Attitudes in Elementary School

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Abstract

Background

New learning standards call for engineering instruction to be incorporated into elementary education, yet engineering experiences must not detract from quality science instruction. Previous research at the secondary level has found engineering design to be a supportive context for science learning. Designing functional artifacts may ground children's exploration of scientific concepts; engineering design may contextualize science learning.

Purpose

Our research investigated whether an engineering design-based curriculum changed elementary student science attitudes and science content knowledge in four domains.

Design/Method

In the first year of the efficacy study, 12 elementary teachers taught science with their school or district's status quo curriculum. In the second year, they taught the same science content with a new engineering design-based curriculum that incorporated LEGO™ design challenges. In both years, students completed pre- and post-tests on science content and attitudinal surveys.

Results

The increase in science content performance from pre- to post-test was significantly greater for the LEGO engineering students than for the status quo students, but there was minimal difference in the science attitudes of the two student groups.

Conclusions

The findings suggest that engineering design-based science curriculum units may support elementary students' science content knowledge, while helping students learn to design, construct, and test solutions to engineering problems. Because students using either curriculum had similarly positive attitudes toward science, our research suggests that the benefit of engineering design for science learning cannot be attributed simply to the positive science attitudes that may result from the use of novel materials or methods.

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