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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Research in Engineering and Technology Education


National Center for Engineering and Technology Education

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A comparative study was conducted to compare two approaches to engineering design curriculum between different schools (inter-school) and between two curricular approaches, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPIC High) (inter-curricular). The researchers collected curriculum materials, including handouts, lesson plans, guides, presentation files, design descriptions, problem statements, and support guides. The researchers conducted observations in the classrooms to collect qualitative indicators of engineering/technology reasoning, collect data on the nature of students‟ questions, how students define problems, and operate within the constraints of a design problem.

Observational studies were conducted with students participating in Project Lead the Way and with students participating in Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS). Study participants were asked to work through an ill-defined problem, in this case the problem of creating a new playground for an elementary school. The data from these protocols were analyzed using a coding process; a list of universal technical mental processes (Halfin, 1973) and a computer program OPTEMP (Hill, 1997) to record frequency and time of each mental process employed by the students. The data were used to identify common cognitive strategies employed by the students and to determine where students placed greatest emphasis during the observation period.

General findings indicated that participants in the EPICS-High program were in general more solution-driven problem solvers, while the Project Lead the Way participants were generally problem-driven as defined by Kruger & Cross (2006). Although the participants in both groups had completed advanced courses in mathematics; mathematics was rarely employed (less than 3%) to describe constraints of the problem or predict results of proposed solutions. Over half of the students became fixated at some point on the provided picture. (Smith, Ward, & Schumacher, 1993). This study provides important insight about how students solve ill-defined problems, providing vital information for technology education as it seeks to implement engineering design.


This report made publicly available by the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (NCETE).

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