Discourse analysis of middle school students' explanations during a final design review (fundamental)

Jenny P. Quintana-Cifuentes, Senay Purzer, Molly H. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Recent reform efforts in K-12 education, in the United States and globally, have necessitated further research on design learning among K-12 students. One of the key competencies necessary for design and solving problems is the ability to fluently transition between concrete aspects of a problem (such as artifacts and problem context) and abstract concepts such as scientific and mathematical principles. While such fluency is difficult even for adult learners, contemporary studies show that young children can transition between abstract and concrete ideas and can effectively make trade-off decisions. The purpose of this study is to understand how students make these connections as they defend their trade-off decisions and final design solutions during a design review session. Using discourse analysis methods, we analyzed interviews between nine middle school students and two external judges that occurred during a final design review session. We used the Legitimation Code Theory to study semantic gravity (their trade-offs decisions are highly depending on the context or students empirical reasoning) and semantic density (transitions between specific design criterion and multiple trade-offs) in student explanations. This study confirms the importance of eliciting student ideas with targeted questions and helping students make fluent transitions between concrete aspects of a solution and abstract concepts while balancing design trade-offs. We argue that such dialogue is necessary for students to develop a deep understanding of disciplinary core concepts and successful design solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years, ASEE 2019 - Tampa, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2019Jun 19 2019


  • Decision-making
  • Engineering design
  • Middle school
  • Semantic waves
  • Trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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