Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 705–720 | Cite as

High School Student Perceptions of the Utility of the Engineering Design Process: Creating Opportunities to Engage in Engineering Practices and Apply Math and Science Content

  • Leema BerlandEmail author
  • Rebecca Steingut
  • Pat Ko


Research and policy documents increasingly advocate for incorporating engineering design into K-12 classrooms in order to accomplish two goals: (1) provide an opportunity to engage with science content in a motivating real-world context; and (2) introduce students to the field of engineering. The present study uses multiple qualitative data sources (i.e., interviews, artifact analysis) in order to examine the ways in which engaging in engineering design can support students in participating in engineering practices and applying math and science knowledge. This study suggests that students better understand and value those aspects of engineering design that are more qualitative (i.e., interviewing users, generating multiple possible solutions) than the more quantitative aspects of design which create opportunities for students to integrate traditional math and science content into their design work (i.e., modeling or systematically choosing between possible design solutions). Recommendations for curriculum design and implementation are discussed.


Engineering education Engineering design STEM integration K-12 education 



The authors would like to thank everyone on the UTeachEngineering project team for their invaluable support on this work. The project was funded by National Science Foundation grant DUE-0831811 to the UTeachEngineering project at The University of Texas at Austin. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NSF. An early version of this work was presented at AERA, 2013.


  1. Anderson JR, Farrell R, Sauers R (1984) Learning to program in LISP. Cogn Sci 8(2):87–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atman CJ, Cardella ME, Turns J, Adams R (2005) Comparing freshman and senior engineering design processes: an in-depth follow-up study. Des Stud 4(26):325–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ball LJ, Ormerod TC (1995) Structured and opportunistic processing in design: a critical discussion. Int J Hum Comput Stud 43(1):131–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ball LJ, Evans JSBT, Dennis I, Ormerod TC (1997) Problem-solving strategies and expertise in engineering design. Think Reason 3(4):247–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barab SA, Hay KE, Barnett M, Squire K (2000) Virtual solar system project: building understanding through model building. J Res Sci Teach 37:719–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barnett M (2005) Engaging inner city students in learning through designing remote operated vehicles. J Sci Educ Technol 14(1):87–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berland LK (2013) Designing for STEM Integration. J Pre-Coll Eng Educ. doi: 10.7771/2157-9288.1078
  8. Crismond DP, Adams RS (2012) The informed design teaching and learning matrix. J Eng Educ 101(4):738–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daly SR, Adams RS, Bodner GM (2012) What does it mean to design? A qualitative investigation of design professionals’ experiences. J Eng Educ 101(2):187–219. doi: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2012.tb00048.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dorst K, Cross N (2001) Creativity in the design process: co-evolution of problem–solution. Des Stud 22(5):425–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dow SP, Glassco A, Kass J, Schwarz M, Schwartz DL, Klemmer SR (2010) Parallel prototyping leads to better design results, more divergence, and increased self-efficacy. ACM Trans Comput Hum Interact 17(4):1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dym C (1999) Learning engineering: design, languages, and experiences. J Eng Educ 88(2):145–148Google Scholar
  13. Edelson DC (2001) Learning-for-use: a framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. J Res Sci Teach 38(3):355–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fortus D, Dershimer RC, Krajcik JS, Marx RW, Mamlok-Naaman R (2004) Design-based science and student learning. J Res Sci Teach 41(10):1081–1110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fontana A, Frey JH (2000) The interview: from structured questions to negotiated text. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) Handbook of qualitative research, vol 2. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, pp 645–672Google Scholar
  16. Galbraith P (2012) Models of modelling: genres, purposes or perspectives. J Math Model Appl 1(5):3–16Google Scholar
  17. Guerra L, Allen D, Berland L, Crawford R, Farmer C (2012) A unique approach to characterizing the engineering design process. Presented at the American Society for Engineering Education, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar
  18. Harel I, Papert S (1992) Software design as a learning environment. In: Balestri D, Ehrmann S, Ferguson D (eds) Learning to design, designing to learn: using technology to transform the curriculum. Taylor and Francis, Washington, pp 35–70Google Scholar
  19. Hmelo CE, Holton DL, Kolodner JL (2000) Designing to learn about complex systems. J Learn Sci 9(3):247–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jin Y, Chusilp P (2006) Study of mental iteration in different design situations. Des Stud 27(1):25–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jonassen D, Strobel J, Lee CB (2006) Everyday problem solving in engineering: lessons for engineering educators. J Eng Educ 95(2):139–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Julie C (2002) Making relevance relevant in mathematics teacher education. In: Proceedings of the second international conference on the teaching of mathematics at the undergraduate levelGoogle Scholar
  23. Kanter DE (2010) Doing the project and learning the content: designing project-based science curricula for meaningful understanding. Sci Educ 94(3):525–551Google Scholar
  24. Klein SS, Harris AH (2007) A user’s guide to the legacy cycle. J Educ Hum Dev 1(1):1–16Google Scholar
  25. Kuhn L, Kenyon LO, Reiser BJ (2006) Fostering scientific argumentation by creating a need for students to attend to each other’s claims and evidence. In: Barab S, Hay K, Hickey D (eds) Proceedings of the seventh international conference of the learning sciences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc, Mahwah, pp 370–375Google Scholar
  26. Kvale S, Brinkmann S (2008) InterViews: learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing, 2nd edn. SAGE, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  27. Lattuca LR, Terenzini PT, Volkwein JF (2006) Engineering Change: a study of the impact of EC2000. Retrieved from the ABET, Inc.
  28. Maher M, Tang H–H (2003) Co-evolution as a computational and cognitive model of design. Res Eng Des 14(1):47–64Google Scholar
  29. Miles MB, Huberman AM (1994) Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  30. National Academy of Engineers & National Research Council (2009) In: Katehi L, Feder M (eds) Engineering in K-12 education: understanding the status and improving the prospects. National Academies Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  31. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers (2010) Common core state standards for mathematics. Washington, DC.
  32. National Research Council (2012) A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. The National Academies Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  33. Newstetter WC, McCracken WM (2001) Novice conceptions of design: implications for the design of learning environments. In: Eastman C, McCracken M, Newstetter W (eds) Design knowing and learning: cognition in design education, 1st edn. Elsevier Science, Kidlington, pp 63–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pahl G, Badke-Schaub P, Frankenberger E (1999) Resume of 12 years interdisciplinary empirical studies of engineering design in Germany. Des Stud 20(5):481–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Perlow L, Bailyn L (1997) The senseless submergence of difference: engineers, their work, and their careers. In: Barley SR, Orr JE (eds) Between craft and science: technical work in U.S. settings. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, pp 63–77Google Scholar
  36. Prevost AC, Nathan MJ, Atwood AK, Phelps LA (2011) STEM integration in a pre-college course in digital electronics: analysis of the enacted curriculum. In: Proceedings of the 119th Annual American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Conference, Vancouver, BC, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  37. Purcell AT, Gero JS (1996) Design and other types of fixation. Des Stud 17(4):363–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sadler P, Coyle H, 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
  39. Sheppard S, Jenison R, Agogino A, Brereton M, Bocciarelli L, Dally J et al (1997) Examples of freshman design education. Int J Eng Educ 13(4):248–261Google Scholar
  40. Smith RP, Tjandra P (1998) Experimental observation of iteration in engineering design. Res Eng Des 10(2):107–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stohlmann M, Moore TJ, Roehrig GH (2012) Considerations for teaching integrated STEM education. J Pre-Coll Eng Educ Res (J-PEER) 2(1):4Google Scholar
  42. Tate D, Chandler JR, Fontenot AD, Talkmitt S (2010) Matching pedagogical intent with engineering design process models for precollege education. Artif Intell Eng Des Anal Manuf 24:379–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tran NA, Nathan MJ (2010) Pre-college engineering studies: an investigation of the relationship between pre-college engineering studies and student achievement in science and mathematics. J Eng Educ 99(2):143–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ullman DG, Dietterich TG, Stauffer LA (1988) A model of the mechanical design process based on empirical data. Artif Intell Eng Des Manuf 2(1):33–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yang MC (2005) A study of prototypes, design activity, and design outcome. Des Stud 26(6):649–669CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Wisconsin at MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations