You are here:

Engineering design activities and conceptual change in middle school science

, University of Virginia, United States

University of Virginia . Awarded


The purpose of this research was to investigate the impact of engineering design classroom activities on conceptual change in science, and on attitudes toward and knowledge about engineering. Students were given a situated learning context and a rationale for learning science in an active, inquiry-based method, and worked in small collaborative groups.

One eighth-grade physical science teacher and her students participated in a unit on heat transfer and thermal energy. One class served as the control while two others received variations of an engineering design treatment. Data were gathered from teacher and student entrance and exit interviews, audio recordings of student dialog during group work, video recordings and observations of all classes, pre- and posttests on science content and engineering attitudes, and artifacts and all assignments completed by students.

Qualitative and quantitative data were collected concurrently, but analysis took place in two phases. Qualitative data were analyzed in an ongoing manner so that the researcher could explore emerging theories and trends as the study progressed. These results were compared to and combined with the results of the quantitative data analysis. Analysis of the data was carried out in the interpretive framework of analytic induction.

Findings indicated that students overwhelmingly possessed alternative conceptions about heat transfer, thermal energy, and engineering prior to the interventions. While all three classes made statistically significant gains in their knowledge about heat and energy, students in the engineering design class with the targeted demonstrations made the most significant gains over the other two other classes. Engineering attitudes changed significantly in the two classes that received the engineering design intervention. Implications from this study can inform teachers' use of engineering design activities in science classrooms. These implications are: (1) Alternative conceptions will persist when not specifically addressed. (2) Engineering design activities are not enough to promote conceptual change. (3) A middle school teacher can successfully implement an engineering design-based curriculum in a science class. (4) Results may also be of interest to science curriculum developers and engineering educators involved in developing engineering outreach curricula for middle school students.


Schnittka, C.G. Engineering design activities and conceptual change in middle school science. Ph.D. thesis, University of Virginia. Retrieved July 18, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

For copies of dissertations and theses: (800) 521-0600/(734) 761-4700 or