Engineering design processes in seventh-grade classrooms: bridging the engineering education gap

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This paper reports on some findings from the first year of a three-year longitudinal study, in which seventh to ninth-graders were introduced to engineering education. Specifically, the paper addresses students’ responses to an initial design activity involving bridge construction, which was implemented at the end of seventh grade. This paper also addresses how students created their bridge designs and applied these in their bridge constructions; their reflections on their designs; their reflections on why the bridge failed to support increased weights during the testing process; and their suggestions on ways in which they would improve their bridge designs. The present findings include identification of six, increasingly sophisticated levels of illustrated bridge designs, with designs improving between the classroom and homework activities of two focus groups of students. Students’ responses to the classroom activity revealed a number of iterative design processes, where the problem goals, including constraints, served as monitoring factors for students’ generation of ideas, design thinking and construction of an effective bridge.