Understanding how high school students approach systems design

Molly H. Goldstein, Corey T. Schimpf

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Systems thinking is described as the cognition a person uses in the solution and design of large-scale complex systems, often requiring hypothetical and holistic approach. Engineering and systems thinking are commonly part of a K-12 education, particularly in high school. Because systems engineering is a complex process to undertake, it is increasingly difficult to understand how secondary students approach a systems design problem. This work-in-progress presents an exploratory approach for understanding how and to what degree high school students considered multiple systems in an engineering design project in order to develop categories of students for further inquiry. Students (n = 22) completed a systems engineering design task, The Solar Urban Design, in which they worked to optimize solar gains of high-rise buildings in both winter and summer months within Energy3D as a part of their engineering science classroom. Energy3D is a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) rich design tool with construction and analysis capabilities. As students design in Energy3D, a log of all of their design actions and results from analyses are logged. In addition, students took reflective notes within Energy3D during and after designing. We computed percentile ranks for the students' design performance for each of the required design elements (i.e. high rise 1 and high rise 2) for each of the required seasons (i.e. winter and summer). We investigated the degree to which students optimized only one of the buildings or one of the seasons versus how they used a systems engineering approach to incorporate all elements of the complete system as a summation of each of their four percentile ranks. We looked at their reflections to better qualitatively understand their design process. Results suggest different patterns in the ways that students address systems engineering problems. Draft paper results will discuss student vignettes in order to illustrate the differing cases of students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1465
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020


  • Design
  • K-12
  • Systems engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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