Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 171–185 | Cite as

Teaching Design in Middle-School: Instructors’ Concerns and Scaffolding Strategies

  • Yael M. BambergerEmail author
  • Clara S. Cahill


This study deals with engineering education in the middle-school level. Its focus is instructors’ concerns in teaching design, as well as scaffolding strategies that can help teachers deal with these concerns. Through participatory action research, nine instructors engaged in a process of development and instruction of a curriculum about energy along with engineering design. A 50-h curriculum was piloted during a summer camp for 38 middle-school students. Data was collected through instructors’ materials: observation field notes, daily reflections and post-camp discussions. In addition, students’ artifacts and planning graphical models were collected in order to explore how instructors’ concerns were aligned with students’ learning. Findings indicate three main tensions that reflect instructors’ main concerns: how to provide sufficient scaffolding yet encourage creativity, how to scaffold hands-on experiences that promote mindful planning, and how to scaffold students’ modeling practices. Pedagogical strategies for teaching design that developed through this work are described, as well as the ways they address the National Research Council (A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2011) core ideas of engineering education and the International Technological Literacy standards (ITEA in Standards for technological literacy, 3rd edn. International Technology education Association, Reston, VA, 2007).


Design Middle-school education Engineering education Participatory action research 



The research reported in this article was generously supported by The National Center for Learning and Teaching in Nanoscale Science and Engineering (NCLT) under the National Science Foundation Grant #0426328. Any opinions expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the funding agencies.


  1. American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993) Benchmarks for scientific literacy. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Atman CJ, Bursic KM (1996) Teaching engineering design: can reading a textbook make a difference? Res Eng Design 8(4):240–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bamberger YM, Davis EA (2011) Middle-school science students’ scientific modelling performances across content areas and within a learning progression. Int J Sci Educ. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2011.624133 Google Scholar
  4. Brandt AM, Colton AB (2008) Toys in the classroom: LEGO MindStorms as an educational haptics platform. In: Proceedings of the symposium on haptic interfaces for virtual environments and teleoperator systems, IEEE, Reno, Nevada, USAGoogle Scholar
  5. Brickhouse NW (1990) Teachers’ beliefs about the nature of science and their relationship to classroom practice. J Teach Educ 41:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burghardt MD, Hacker M (2004) Informed design: a contemporary approach to design pedagogy as the core process of technology. Technol Teach 64:6–8Google Scholar
  7. Bybee RW (2000) Achieving technological literacy: a national imperative. Technol Teach 60:23–28Google Scholar
  8. Cahill C, Bamberger Y, Short H, Hagerty J, Krajcik J (2010). Building energy transformation conceptions through design-based instruction. In: Proceedings of the annual meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Philadelphia, PA, USAGoogle Scholar
  9. Cejka E (2005) Inservice teachers’ approaches to open-ended engineering design problems and the engineering design process. Unpublished master’s of science thesis, Tufts University, Medford, MAGoogle Scholar
  10. Clement J (2000) Model based learning as a key research area for science education. Int J Sci Educ 22(9):1041–1053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cropley AJ (2005) Creativity in education and learning: a guide for teachers and educators. RoutledgeFalmer, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis M, Hawley P, McMullan B, Spilka G (1997) Design as a catalyst for learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar
  13. 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(6):582–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Duschl RA, Schweingruber HA, Shouse AW (2007) Taking science to school: learning and teaching science in grades K-8. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  15. Fasko D Jr (2001) Education and creativity. Creat Res J 13(3&4):317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fasse B, Gray J, Holbrook J, Camp P, Ryan M (2001) Scaffolding teacher’s development through curriculum materials. In: The proceedings of the annual meetings of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WAGoogle Scholar
  17. Felder R (1993) Reaching the second tier: learning and teaching styles in college science education. J Coll Sci Teach 23(5):286–290Google Scholar
  18. Fortus D, Dershimer RC, Krajcik J, Marx RW (2004) Design-based science and student learning. J Res Sci Teach 41(10):1081–1110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gail Jones M, Minogue J, Tretter T, Negishi A, Taylor R (2006) Haptic augmentation of science instruction: does touch matter? Sci Educ 90:111–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hmelo CE, Holton DL, Kolodner JL (2000) Designing to learn about complex systems. J Learn Sci 9(3):247–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hynes MM (2010) Middle-school teachers’ understanding and teaching of the engineering design process: a look at subject matter and pedagogical content knowledge. Int J Technol Des Educ. doi: 10.1007/s10798-010-9142-4 Google Scholar
  22. International Technology Education Association (ITEA) (2007) Standards for technological literacy, 3rd edn. International Technology education Association, RestonGoogle Scholar
  23. Justi RS, Gilbert JK (2002) Modelling, teachers’ views on the nature of modelling, and implications for the education of modellers. Int J Sci Educ 24(4):369–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kemmis S, McTaggart R (2000) Participatory action research. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 567–605Google Scholar
  25. Kimmel H, & Rockland R (2002) Incorporation of pre-engineering lessons into secondary science classrooms. In: Proceedings of the 32nd ASEE/IEEE frontiers in education conference, Boston, MA, November 2002Google Scholar
  26. Kolodner JL, Camp PJ, Crismond D, Fasse B, Gray J, Holbrook J, Puntambekar S, Ryan M (2003) Problem-based learning meets case-based reasoning in the middle-school science classroom: putting learning by design™ into practice. J Learn Sci 12(4):495–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lasky D, Yoon SA (2011) Making space for the act of making: creativity in the engineering design classroom. Sci Educ 20(1):34–43Google Scholar
  28. Lewis T (2006) Design and inquiry: bases for an accommodation between science and technology education in the curriculum? J Res Sci Teach 43(3):255–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewis T (2009) Creativity in technology education: providing children with glimpses of their inventive potential. Int J Technol Des Educ 19(3):255–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2010) Technology/engineering concept and skill progressions. Massachusetts DOE, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  31. McKenna A, Agogino A (1998) A web-based instructional module for teaching middle school students engineering design with simple machines. J Eng Educ 87(4):437–444Google Scholar
  32. McTaggart R (1991) Principles for participatory action research. Adult Educ Q 41(3):168–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Minogue J, Gail Jones M (2006) Haptics in education: exploring an untapped sensory modality. Rev Educ Res 76(3):317–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mordock K, Krasny ME (2001) Participatory action research: a theoretical and practical framework for EE. J Environ Educ 32(3):15–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morris W (2006) Creativity—its place in education. Available online:
  36. National Assessment Governing Board (2010) Technology and engineering literacy framework for the 2014 national assessment of educational progress. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  37. National Research Council (2000) Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: a guide for teaching and learning. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  38. National Research Council (2011) A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  39. National Science Education Standards (1996) National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  40. Penner DE, Lehrer R, Schauble L (1998) From physical models to biomechanics: a design-based modeling approach. J Learn Sci 7(3&4):429–449Google Scholar
  41. Puntambekar S, Kolodner JL (2005) Toward implementing distributed scaffolding: helping students learn science by design. J Res Sci Teach 42(2):185–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reiser BJ (2004) Scaffolding complex learning: the mechanisms of structuring and problematizing student work. J Learn Sci 13(3):273–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sadler PM, Coyle HP, Schwartz M (2000) Engineering competitions in the middle school classroom: key elements in developing effective design challenges. J Learn Sci 9(3):299–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schwarz CV, Reiser BJ, Davis EA, Kenyon L, Acher A, Fortus D, Krajcik J (2009a) Developing a learning progression for scientific modeling: making scientific modeling accessible and meaningful for learners. J Res Sci Teach 46(6):632–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schwarz C, Reiser B, Fortus D, Shwartz Y, Acher A, Davis B, Hug B (2009b). Models: defining a learning progression for scientific modeling. Paper presented at the Learning Progression in Science (LeaPS) conference, Iowa City, IA, USAGoogle Scholar
  46. Shuman LJ, Besterfield-Sacre M, McGourty J (2005) The ABET “professional skills”—can they be taught? Can they be assessed? J Eng Educ 94(1):41–55Google Scholar
  47. Tang X, Coffey JE, Elby A, Levin D (2010) The scientific method and scientific inquiry: tensions in teaching and learning. Sci Educ 94(1):29–47Google Scholar
  48. Turkle S (2008) Falling for science, objects in mind. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  49. Van Driel JH, Verloop N (1999) Teachers’ knowledge of models and modelling in science. Int J Sci Educ 21(11):1141–1153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Van Driel JH, Verloop N (2002) Experienced teachers’ knowledge of teaching and learning of models and modelling in science education. Int J Sci Educ 24(12):1255–1272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Whyte WF (1989) Advancing scientific knowledge through participatory action research. Sociol Forum 4(3):367–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zohar A (2006) The nature and development of teachers’ metastrategic knowledge in the context of teaching higher-order thinking. J Learn Sci 15(3):331–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science TeachingWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael
  2. 2.Research and EvaluationBoston Museum of ScienceBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations