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The purpose of this correlational research study was to determine if students’ academic success was correlated with: (a) the student change in achievement during an engineering design challenge; and (b) student change in mental motivation toward solving problems and critical thinking during an engineering design challenge. Multiple experimental studies have shown engineering design challenges increase student achievement and attitude toward learning, but conflicting evidence surrounded the impact on higher and lower academically achieving students.

A high school classroom was chosen in which elements of engineering design were purposefully taught. Eleventh-grade student participants represented a diverse set of academic backgrounds (measured by grade point average [GPA]). Participants were measured in terms of achievement and mental motivation at three time points.

Longitudinal multilevel modeling techniques were employed to identify significant predictors in achievement growth and mental motivation growth during the school year. Student achievement was significantly correlated with science GPA, but not math or communication GPA. Changes in achievement score over time are not significantly correlated with science, math, or communication. Mental motivation was measured by five subscales. Mental focus was correlated with math and science GPA. Mental focus increases over time were negatively correlated with science GPA, which indicated that the initial score differential (between higher and lower science GPA students) was decreased over time. Learning orientation and cognitive integrity were not correlated with GPA. Creative problem solving was correlated with science GPA, but gains over time were not correlated with GPA. Scholarly rigor was correlated with science GPA, but change over time was not correlated with GPA.

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