Community-Based Engineering Design Challenges for Adolescent English Learners

This study is based on a theoretical model that embeds engineering design within social, cultural, and linguistic activity, seeking to understand (a) how adolescent English learners draw from various linguistic, representational, and social resources as they work toward solving community-based engineering design challenges; (b) the problems they face in working on the challenges and how they seek to overcome those problems; and (c) adolescents' willingness to conceptualize themselves as future engineers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1222566
Funding Period: 
Monday, October 1, 2012 to Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Full Description: 

The purpose of this exploratory study is to conduct in-depth ethnographic studies in Latino neighborhoods, documenting the funds of knowledge, social networks, and linguistic and representational repertoires that are available in the adolescents' online and offline communities. This study is based on a theoretical model that embeds engineering design within social, cultural, and linguistic activity, seeking to understand (a) how adolescent English learners draw from various linguistic, representational, and social resources as they work toward solving community-based engineering design challenges; (b) the problems they face in working on the challenges and how they seek to overcome those problems; and (c) adolescents' willingness to conceptualize themselves as future engineers before and after participating in the project.

The ethnographic research is being conducted over the course of three years. The first year includes a pilot study in which approximately four Latino adolescents from the same community identify an engineering design project and work toward implementing it. Upon completion of the pilot project, the advisory committee reviews the data collection instruments, the observation and interview techniques, and the data analysis methods. Year two includes a scaled-up version of the ethnography, in which two groups of five to seven adolescents identify a need in their respective communities and spend the remainder of the school year addressing that need through an engineering design. Student participants are members of both the MESA and Upward Bound programs which target ethnically diverse adolescents. In all, up to 18 participants (4 in the first year and 14 in the second year) are selected through a combination of direct recruitment and peer recommendations.

This study will generate frameworks for understanding the types of social resources and the types of literacy practices that are relevant to engineering processes. The knowledge generated in this study is essential for creating future curricular materials and professional development models that will enhance engineering education for culturally diverse students.