Journal of STEM Teacher Education


A comparative study was conducted to compare two approaches to engineering design curriculum across different schools (inter-school) and across two curricula Project Lead the Way and Engineering Projects in Community Service (inter-curricula). The researchers collected curricula material 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 protocol studies were conducted on students participating in Project Lead the Way curriculum programs and with students participating in Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS). Students 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 accurately record frequency and time of each mental process employed by the students. The data from the protocol results were used to identify common cognitive strategies employed by the students to determine where these students placed greatest emphasis throughout the observational protocol. General findings indicated that participants in the EPICS-High program were more solution-driven problem solvers, where the Project Lead the Way participants were generally problem-driven as defined by Kruger & Cross (2006). Additionally, the participants in both groups had completed advanced courses in mathematics, very little mathematics was 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.