Engineering design in the elementary science classroom: supporting student discourse during an engineering design challenge

  • Justin McFaddenEmail author
  • Gillian Roehrig


This exploratory case study examines how various instructional strategies can influence elementary-aged student discourse patterns during an engineering design challenge. With engineering design increasingly entering the elementary science classroom both within the United States and internationally, students must now engage in discipline-specific practices intended to mirror the work of professional engineers. The current study analyzed classroom discourse over the length of an instructional unit using an analytical lens informed by Heath’s (in: Masten (ed) The Minnesota symposia on child psychology, Psychology Press, New York, pp. 59–75, 1999) concept of joint work, which revealed how three parallel and complimentary discourse practices emerged primarily and more readily once students were given access to the materials needed for their mining extraction tool. The study’s findings illustrate the importance of designing and implementing pedagogical supports capable of ensuring students understand how their drawn designs can be used (Henderson in Sci Technol Hum Values 16(4):448–473, 1991) to manage the uncertainty that naturally arises during an engineering design challenge. Furthermore, the results point to the need for further research at the classroom level that investigates how students can be better supported to overcome the challenges associated with design-based problem solving, possibly via the inclusion of written, rather than verbal support.


Engineering design Elementary engineering Discourse analysis 



This study was made possible by a Grant form the National Science Foundation (1238140). The findings, conclusions, and opinions herein represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of personnel affiliated with the National Science Foundation.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 64 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Education and Human DevelopmentUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.STEM Education CenterUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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