Exploring Young Children’s Understanding About the Concept of Volume Through Engineering Design in a STEM Activity: A Case Study

  • Do-Yong ParkEmail author
  • Mi-Hwa Park
  • Alan B. Bates


This case study explores young children’s understanding and application of the concept of volume through the practices of engineering design in a STEM activity. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, engineering stands out as a challenging area to implement. In addition, most early engineering education research centers on curriculum and instruction rather than students’ understanding and application of models and content knowledge to a design project (Johri and Olds, Journal of Engineering Education, 100(1):151–185, 2011). For this study, we created a play-based STEM activity which helps students understand and apply the concept of volume in creating clay boats through the practices of engineering design. Three students voluntarily participated in this study. Data sources included interviews, photocopies of boats, and observation field notes which were analyzed using a comprehensive cross-case analysis. Findings indicate that the common pattern is rather intuitive when students define engineering problems using different criteria. Also, students’ solutions to engineering problems are associated with their experiential ideas of reality. How students express their understanding of volume is correlated to the way of their structuring volume. Lastly, students understand the concept of volume gradually while going through the practices of engineering design. Implications are discussed in terms of how engineering education contributes to students’ understanding of volume.


Engineering design Engineering education STEM Young children Volume 


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Copyright information

© Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Teaching and LearningIllinois State UniversityNormalUSA
  2. 2.Department of Early Childhood and Elementary EducationMurray State UniversityMurrayUSA

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