Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 123–135 | Cite as

Sixth-Grade Students’ Views of the Nature of Engineering and Images of Engineers

  • Faik O. Karatas
  • Amy Micklos
  • George M. BodnerEmail author


This study investigated the views of the nature of engineering held by 6th-grade students to provide a baseline upon which activities or curriculum materials might be developed to introduce middle-school students to the work of engineers and the process of engineering design. A phenomenographic framework was used to guide the analysis of data collected from: (1) a series of 20 semi-structured interviews with 6th-grade students, (2) drawings created by these students of “an engineer or engineers at work” that were discussed during the interviews, and (3) field notes collected by the researchers during the interviews. The 6th-grade students tended to believe that engineers were individuals who make or build products, although some students understood the role of engineers in the design or planning of products, and, to a lesser extent in testing products to ensure that they “work” and/or are safe to use. The combination of drawings of “engineers or engineering at work” and individual interviews provided more insight into the students’ views of the nature of engineering than either source of data would have offered on its own. Analysis of the data suggested that the students’ concepts of engineers and engineering were fragile, or unstable, and likely to change within the time frame of the interview.


6th-Grade students Engineering design Engineers-at-work drawings Middle-school students The nature of engineering Phenomenography 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Bechtel Foundation and the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE) in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University for funding this project as part of an initiative to promote research in engineering thinking in pre-K to 6th-grade (P-6) learners.


  1. Abd-El-Khalick F, Bell RL, Lederman NG (1998) The nature of science and instructional practice: making the unnatural natural. Sci Educ 82:417–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams CC (2004) The role of humanities in distinguishing science from engineering design in the minds of engineering students. In: Ollis DF, Neeley KA, Luegenbiehl HC (eds) Liberal education for 21st century engineering: responses to ABET/EC 2000 criteria. Peter Lang, New York, pp 91–112Google Scholar
  3. Aikenhead GS (2005) Research into STS education. Educ Quím 16:384–397Google Scholar
  4. Aikenhead GS, Ryan AG (1992) The development of a new instrument: “Views on Science-Technology-Society” (VOSTS). Sci Educ 76:477–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1989) Science for all Americans. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993) Benchmarks for science literacy: a project 2061 report. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Bame EA, Dugger WE (1989) Pupils’ attitude toward technology-PATT-USA: a first report of findings. Retrieved November 5, 2009 from
  8. Bell RL, Lederman NG, Abd-El-Khalick F (2000) Developing and acting upon one’s conception of the nature of science: a follow-up study. J Res Sci Teach 37:563–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bodner GM (2004) Twenty years of learning how to do research in chemical education. J Chem Educ 81:618–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boston Museum of Science (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2009 from the Boston Museum of Science Engineering is elementary project website:
  11. Bradford CS, Rubba PA, Harkness WL (1995) Views about science-technology-society interactions held by college students in general education physics and STS course. Sci Educ 79:355–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bucciarelli LL (2003) Engineering philosophy. Delft University Press, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  13. Carroll DR (1997) Bridge engineering for the elementary grades. J Eng Educ 86(3):221–226Google Scholar
  14. Cunningham C, Lachapelle C, Lindgren-Stricher A (2005) Assessing elementary school students’ conceptions of engineering and technology. In: Proceedings of the 2005 American society for engineering education annual conference & exposition, Portland, ORGoogle Scholar
  15. de KlerkWolters F (1989) A PATT study among 10 to 12-year-old students in the Netherlands. J Technol Educ 1(1). Retrieved from
  16. deBoer GE (2000) Scientific literacy: another look at its historical and contemporary meanings and its relationship to science education reform. J Res Sci Teach 37:582–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Driver R, Leach J, Miller R, Scott P (1996) Young people’s images of science. Open University Press, BuckinghamGoogle Scholar
  18. Dym CL (1999) Learning engineering: design, languages, and experiences. J Eng Educ 88(2):145–148Google Scholar
  19. Dym RC (1994) Engineering design: a synthesis of views. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Dym C, Agogino A, Eris O, Frey D, Leifer L (2005) Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. J Eng Educ 94(1):103–120Google Scholar
  21. Fensham PJ, Harlen W (1999) School science and public understanding of science. Int J Sci Educ 21(7):755–763CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Finson K (2002) Drawing a scientist: what we do and do not know after fifty years of drawings. Sch Sci Math 102:335–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fleming R (1988) Undergraduate science students’ views on the relationship between science, technology and society. Int J Sci Educ 10:449–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fralick B, Kearn J, Thompson S, Lyons J (2009) How middle schoolers draw engineers and scientists. J Sci Educ Technol 18:60–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gibbson M (2009) A slow surge. ASEE Prism 19(3):22–23Google Scholar
  26. Grose TK (2006) Trouble on the horizon. ASEE Prism 16(2):26–31Google Scholar
  27. Hall TJK (2001) Should technological literacy be a mandate for technology education programs? J Ind Teach Educ 38(2). Retrieved from
  28. Hurd PD (1998) Scientific literacy: new minds for a changing world. Sci Educ 82:407–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ihde D (2004) Has the philosophy of technology arrived? A state-of-the-art review. Philos Sci 71:117–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. International Technology Education Association (ITEA) (1996) Technology for all Americans: a rationale and structure for the study of technology. ITEA Press, VirginiaGoogle Scholar
  31. International Technology Education Association (ITEA) (2006) Technological literacy for all: a rationale and structure for the study of technology. ITEA Press, VirginiaGoogle Scholar
  32. International Technology Education Association (ITEA) (2007) Standards for technological literacy: content for the study of technology. ITEA Press, VirginiaGoogle Scholar
  33. İrez S (2006) Are we prepared? An investigation of pre-service science teacher educators’ beliefs about nature of science. Sci Educ 90(6):1113–1143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kaya ON, Yager R, Dogan A (2009) Changes in attitudes towards science-technology-society of pre-service science teachers. Res Sci Educ 39:257–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Knight M, Cunningham CM (2004) Draw an engineer test (DAET): development of a tool to investigate students’ ideas about engineers and engineering. In: Proceedings of the 2004 American society for engineering education annual conference & exposition, Salt Lake CityGoogle Scholar
  36. Koen BV (2003) Discussion of the method. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. Lederman NG (1992) Students’ and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: a review of the research. J Res Sci Teach 29(4):331–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lederman NG, Abd-El-Khalick F, Bell RL, Schwartz RS (2002) Views of nature of science questionnaire: toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 39(6):497–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lewin D (1983) Engineering philosophy—the third culture. Leonardo 16(2):127–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lyons J, Thompson S (2006) Investigating the long-term impact of an engineering-based GK-12 program on students’ perceptions of engineering. Paper presented at the ASEE Annual Conference and ExpositionGoogle Scholar
  41. Mansour N (2009) Science-technology-society (STS): a new paradigm in science education. Bull Sci Technol Soc 29:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marton F (1981) Phenomenography—describing conceptions of the world around us. Instr Sci 10(2):177–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Marton F (1986) Phenomenography—a research approach to investigating different understandings of reality. J Thought 21:28–49Google Scholar
  44. Marton F (1994) Phenomenography. In: Husen T, Postlethwaite TN (eds) The international encyclopedia of education (2nd ed.), vol 8. Pergamon, Oxford, pp 4424–4429Google Scholar
  45. Marton F (1996) Is phenomenography phenomenology? Accessed 1996 from
  46. Matthews C (1998) Case studies in engineering design. Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  47. McComas WF (1997) 15 Myths of science: lessens of misconceptions and misunderstandings from a science educator. Skeptic 5:88–95Google Scholar
  48. McComas W (1998) Principle elements of the nature of science: dispelling the myths. In: McComas WF (ed) The nature of science in science education: rationales and strategies. Kluwer, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  49. McComas WF, Clough MP, Almazroa H (1998) The role and characteristics of the nature of science in science education. In: McComas WF (ed) The nature of science in science education: rationales and strategies. Kluwer, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  50. Mitcham C (1998) The importance of philosophy to engineering. Teorema 17(3):27–47Google Scholar
  51. National Research Council (NRC) (2000) Inquiry and the national science education standards. National Academic Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  52. National Science Foundation (1983) Educating Americans for the twenty-first century: report of the national science board commission on pre-college education in mathematics, Science and Technology. National Science Foundation, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  53. Orgill M (2007) Phenomenography. In: Bodner GM, Orgill M (eds) Theoretical frameworks for research in chemistry/science education. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  54. Oware E, Capobianco B, Difes-Dux H (2007) Gifted students’ perceptions of engineers? A study of students in a summer outreach program. Proceedings of the 2007 American society for engineering education annual conference & exposition, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  55. Palmquist BC, Finley FN (1997) Pre-service teachers’ views of the nature of science during a post-baccalaureate science teaching program. J Res Sci Teach 34(6):595–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Patton MQ (2002) Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed). Sage Publication, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  57. Robinson M, Kenny B (2003) Engineering literacy in high school students. Bull Sci Technol Soc 23:95–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rogers GFC (1983) The nature of engineering. The Macmillan Press Ltd, LondonGoogle Scholar
  59. Rophl G (2002) Mixed prospects of engineering ethics. Eur J Eng Educ 27(2):149–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rubba PA, Harkness WL (1993) Examination of pre-service and in-service secondary science teachers’ beliefs about science-technology-society interactions. Sci Educ 77:407–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ryan AG, Aikenhead GS (1992) Preconceptions about the epistemology of science. Sci Educ 76(6):559–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ryder J, Leach J, Driver R (1999) Undergraduate science students’ images of science. J Res Sci Teach 36:201–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sadler TD, Chambers WF, Zeidler DL (2004) Student conceptualizations of the nature of science in response to a socio-scientific issue. Int J Sci Educ 26:387–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Säljö R (1997) Talk as data and practice—a critical look at phenomenographic inquiry and the appeal to experience. High Educ Res Dev 16:173–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Samarapungavan A, Westby E, Bodner GM (2006) Contextual epistemic development in science: a comparison of chemistry students and research chemists. Sci Educ 90(3):468–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sokolowski R (2000) Introduction to phenomenology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  67. Stein SJ, McRobbie CJ (1997) Students’ conceptions of science across the years of schooling. Res Sci Educ 27(4):611–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Strauss A, Corbin J (1990) Basics of qualitative research: grounded theory procedures and techniques. Sage, Newbury ParkGoogle Scholar
  69. The Royal Society (1985) The public understanding of science. The Royal Society, LondonGoogle Scholar
  70. Thompson S, Lyons J (2008) Engineers in the classroom: their influence on African American students’ perceptions of engineering. Sch Sci Math 108:197–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. UNESCO (1983) Science for all. UNESCO Office for Education in Asia and the Pacific, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  72. van Manen M (1990) Researching lived experiences. State University of New York Press, AlbanyGoogle Scholar
  73. Vincenti W (1990) What engineers know and how they know it: analytical studies from aeronautical history. The Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  74. White RT, Gunstone RF (1992) Probing understanding. The Falmer Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  75. Wulf WA (2002) The urgency of engineering education reform. J Sci Technol Eng Math Educ 3:3–9Google Scholar
  76. Yager RE (1996) History of science/technology/society as reform in the United States. In: Yager RE (ed) Science/technology/society as reform in science education. SUNY Press, Albany, pp 3–15Google Scholar
  77. Yalvac B, Tekkaya C, Cakiroglu J, Kahyaoglu E (2007) Turkish pre-service science teachers’ views on science-technology-society issues. Int J Sci Educ 29:331–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Faik O. Karatas
    • 1
  • Amy Micklos
    • 2
  • George M. Bodner
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Secondary Science and Mathematics EducationKaradeniz Technical UniversitySogutlu, TrabzonTurkey
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and School of Engineering EducationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

Personalised recommendations