This project explores how classroom conversations can engage children in making sense of the problems that they are addressing and foregrounding ethics while making design decisions. To provide children with opportunities to engage in rich classroom conversations, the project team uses a community-based engineering curricular approach, where students address problems that affect their local school communities.
Inclusion of engineering design activities in elementary classrooms has become increasingly common, and teachers are becoming more comfortable with the basics of teaching engineering. There is now a need and an opportunity to understand different approaches teachers can take to support students to deepen their understanding of engineering design content knowledge and engineering practices. While many existing approaches to preK-12 engineering education emphasize problem solving and the development of engineering solutions, this project also explores how classroom conversations can engage children in making sense of the problems that they are addressing and foregrounding ethics while making design decisions. To provide children with opportunities to engage in rich classroom conversations, the project team uses a community-based engineering curricular approach, where students address problems that affect their local school communities. The discussion-focused, community-based engineering curricular approach has promise in providing opportunities for children to practice sense-making and decision-making skills and also develop a perspective of care as central to engineering design work.
To accomplish this project, the researchers extend an ongoing partnership with two elementary teachers to implement the discussion-rich community-based engineering curricular approach and collect video-recordings of the elementary students' engineering design conversations. The videos will be analyzed using discourse analysis to generate evidence-based theory on the characteristics and dynamics of classroom talk that support elementary students' knowledge construction in engineering design contexts, as well as theory on how teachers prompt them and elicit meaningful participation from all students. By providing additional resources and an intellectual framework for investigating and prompting meaningful disciplinary discourse in engineering design, the project will support the two partner teachers to apprentice eight of their colleagues over three years into the work of community-based engineering and design talk. This collaboration will develop resources that will support teachers and students to engage in more caring, ethical discourse around design. Specifically, the project team will create an online video library of design talk resources for grade 1-6 classroom teachers. The Design Talk website will enable elementary teachers to see distinctly different kinds of classroom conversations that make elementary engineering a site for students not just to build products, but also to build knowledge.