Integrating Engineering Design with Science and Language Arts within Context of the Next Generation Science Standards

Science teaching is often neglected in favor of other subjects such as math and language arts at the elementary level because science is not a subject that is generally tested at the elementary level (Deniz & Akerson, 2013). Science instruction is generally limited to 1-2 hours per week at the elementary grades. In the NGSS the engineering design is raised to the same level as scientific inquiry and included as a vital element of science education (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Addition of engineering in the NGSS adds another layer of complexity to finding enough time to teach science. Therefore, science and engineering should be meaningfully integrated with language arts and/or math if we want elementary students to have extended exposure to science and engineering.

Romance and Vitale (2001) found that in elementary classrooms where typical literacy instruction was replaced by a two-hour block that focused on in-depth science instruction that included math, reading and language arts skills such as content area reading, hands-on activities, reading science print, journal writing, students had higher growth in science knowledge, reading comprehension and attitudes and self-confidence toward reading and science. It has been shown that in elementary classrooms (K-5) time for science is generally less than for most curriculum subjects, particularly language arts topics because elementary teachers are commonly literacy specialists (Pratt, 2007), yet there are important parallels in language and science literacy that can help teachers use interdisciplinary instruction and content area reading to teach science as well as reading skills (Baker & Saul, 1994; Casteel & Isom, 1994; Rivard, 1994; Yore, Pimm & Tuan, 2007). These parallels include metacognition, critical thinking, and communication. Combining science with literacy (including reading) instruction in the elementary grades can help improve children’s literacy and science understandings and ensure there is sufficient time spent on science as well as literacy instruction (Romance & Vitale, 1992). Compared to National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are more explicit about the role of reading and writing as fundamental to the practice of science and engineering (Cervetti, Pearson, Greenleaf, & Moje, 2013).

We consider this integrated approach as novel because it primarily aims to provide three-dimensional learning experience as specified in the NGSS to elementary students while meaningfully integrating engineering, science, reading, and writing through real life engineering design problems. In this workshop, we will provide a practical example of how we integrated science content, and reading and writing tasks across an engineering design activity at the elementary level. We implemented this engineering design challenge with both elementary teachers (Deniz, Yesilyurt, Kaya, & Trabia, 2017) and elementary students (Deniz, Kaya, & Yesilyurt, in press). The activities that are described here take about 12-15 hours of instructional time. We will engage the participants in a shortened version of this activity in the workshop for two hours.

Learning Objectives:
1. Participants will be able to design a solution to a real-life engineering design problem based on specified design criteria.
2. Participants will be able to compare multiple solutions to an engineering design problem based on how well each design meets the design criteria.
3. Participants will learn how to integrate science content, and reading and writing tasks within an engineering design activity.

Engineering Design Activity: Constructing Soda Can Crushers

We will engage the participants in the engineering design process whose steps are listed below. Even though the steps are listed in a linear fashion, our engineer design model is circular and participants are free to go back to previous phases. We were not able to include the figure depicting our engineering design model in the proposal because the workshop submission system does not accept figures.

1. Identify the problem (5 minutes)
2. Needs analysis (10 minutes)
3. Imagine (15 minutes)
4. Paper prototype (20 minutes)
5. Construct (40 minutes)
6. Test (15 minutes)
7. Improve (15 minutes)

We will ask our participants to design a solution to a real-life problem (how to efficiently store soda cans for recycling purposes). This engineering design challenge will involve participants in constructing soda can crushers to save space when collecting soda cans for recycling purposes. Participants will go through the entire engineering design process similar to real engineers. They will conduct a small needs analysis by asking people around them whether they would purchase a soda can crusher, what qualities they are looking for in a soda can crusher, and how much money they would spend on a soda can crusher. They will also search for the commercially available soda can crushers in the market. Participants in groups of 3 or 4 will design soda crushers on paper first, and then they will construct, test, and improve their designs by considering criteria such as ease of use, reliability, portability, aesthetics, and storage space needed. Each phase of the engineering design process will be accompanied by reading children’s books that are relevant to this particular phase. After groups finalize their designs, each group will write a script and shoot a 2 or 3 minutes long video commercial for their product. Participants all together will watch the video commercials one by one and make a decision whether they would buy the product in the video commercial by considering the criteria mentioned above. Finally, students will write a report by comparing and contrasting their designs to others in light of the five criteria: ease of use, reliability, portability, aesthetics, and storage space needed. This integrated approach allows teachers to address the NGSS K-5 Engineering Design Performance Expectations while making reading and writing as integral part of the engineering design process.
This integrated approach has also natural connections to K-PS2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interaction. Each soda can crusher is either operated by a push or pull force. Students will start to appreciate the inverse relationship between the force needed to crush the soda can and the length of the lever applying the push or pull force. Students will start to use mathematics and computational thinking in describing the relationship between the force needed to crush the soda can and the length of the lever applying the force. This integrated curriculum also naturally lends itself to addressing Common Core Elementary Math Standards (Operations & Algebraic Thinking, Measurement & Data, and Geometry). For example, students can draw scaled bar graphs to represent their needs analysis data with several categories. One bar graph might represent the number of people who said “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” to the question “Do you need a soda can crusher?” This integrated curriculum also gives students ample opportunity with practicing measurement skills while building their soda can crushers.

The books that are listed below are matched with at least one phase of the engineering design model. These books will be read and then participants will be asked to reflect on their own engineering design experience by comparing and constructing the stories in the books with their own experiences.

Designing Dandelions and Engineering Elephants: These books give a general idea about what engineers can or cannot do and engineering design process. They will be read at the beginning of the engineering design process.

Coppernickel The Invention: It tells the story of how two friends design a machine or tool for picking up high-hanging elderberries. It conveys the idea that a simple design idea can be more effective than seemingly elaborate design ideas. It can be read during imagination or paper prototype phase of the engineering design process.

The Most Magnificent Thing: It tells the story of how a girl struggles to construct a scooter which has a special part to carry a pet dog. This book will be read at the beginning of the construction phase.

The Ten Birds: This book describes how ten birds come up with ten different ideas to cross a river while there is an existing bridge connecting two sides of the river. It conveys the idea that there are many alternative ways to solve a problem. This book can be read during test and/or improve phases.

The engineering design model that we used in this specific engineering design challenge can be used in addressing other engineering design problems. Science content that can be integrated with the engineering design challenge can vary with the selection of a different engineering design problem. However, similar reading and writings tasks can be done even if a different engineering design problem is chosen.

Participants will be asked to answer the following the questions at the end of the workshop:
1. To what extent the workshop was helpful in helping you to teach engineering design process at the elementary level?
2. To what extent the workshop was helpful in helping you to integrate science, engineering, and language arts?

The engineering design activity that is described in this proposal is developed with support from a National Science Foundation grant titled “Developing Integrated Elementary Science, Engineering, and Language Arts Curricula Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.” Workshop presenters are Principal Investigator of this grant and two Graduate Assistants supported by the grant. We recently shared this particular engineering design activity at NARST 2017 meeting (Deniz, Yesilyurt, Kaya, & Trabia, 2017; Deniz, Yesilyurt, & Kaya, 2017) and NSTA’s Science & Children journal (Deniz, Kaya, & Yesilyurt, in press; Deniz, Yesilyurt, & Kaya, accepted with revisions).

Availability of the Presenters:
All the resources that will be used in the workshop will be shared with the participants in a Google Drive folder. Presenters contact information (e-mails and office phone numbers) will be shared with the participants.

Target Audience:
ASTE members who are interested in elementary science and engineering curriculum development and ASTE members who are teaching elementary science teaching methods courses are primary audience of this workshop.
This workshop will be delivered free of charge. Maximum 30 participants will be accepted. We will provide the materials.