Comparing two approaches to engineering design in the 7th grade science classroom

Molly H. Goldstein, Sharifah A. Omar, Şenay Purzer, Robin S. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In schools, design projects can be implemented at a variety of ways and with varying degrees of resources from teachers and schools. However, little work has been done on the differences between student learning outcomes and the type of design projects. This study compares two design projects implemented in 7th grade classrooms (n=677) at two different schools to explain affordances of each approach based on differences in project authenticity, scale, and depth of context in supporting student learning outcomes. The main data sources were an engineering science test and a design reasoning elicitation problem, administered at each school before and after the design project. To understand the relationship between students' science learning gains and school implementation, we conducted a sign test to compare between-group differences and a Mann Whitney Test to compare within-group differences. Then, we performed a content analysis to examine students' design reasoning and a two-way contingency table analysis to understand if a student's school implementation was related to the changes in design trade-off reasoning. Students at both schools exhibited statistically significant but small gains on their engineering science test scores. While students at the school with a more interdisciplinary, more authentic design project had higher scores on the engineering science test, students at the school with a smaller scale implementation discussed more trade-off factors in their design reasoning elicitation problem. These findings suggest that differences in project implementation appear to be associated with different learning outcomes, and there are potential benefits to both authenticity and simplicity in design projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-397
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Middle school
  • Rationale
  • Science integration
  • Trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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