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Zipping to STEM: Integrating Engineering Design in Middle School Science


This 3-year ITEST project focuses on integrating engineering design concepts and practices in the middle school physical sciences curriculum. The goal is to increase students’ interest in STEM and expand their access to opportunities to experience integrated STEM activities. Our work focused on middle school students as research shows that interest in STEM decreases through middle school. The planned intervention is based on existing theory and research on motivation, as well as the emerging body of literature on integrated STEM instruction. Research shows that relevance is essential to student engagement in science and mathematics. Engaging students in engineering activities where they solve real world problems motivates them to learn science and mathematics, and helps them see the relevance to their everyday lives. Increasing middle school students’ interest in science in particular is a strong predictor of later STEM career pursuit.

The curriculum was designed around the Soap Box Derby Mini-Cars that includes the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software, virtual and physical wind tunnel testing, and 3D printing. Eighth-grade middle school science teachers participated in a one-week professional development workshop to learn the software and how to integrate engineering into the force and motion curriculum. They also engaged in ongoing professional development leading up to the learning unit. The students were engaged in using technology (CAD Software, Virtual wind tunnel) to design and test a shell for a mini model car, while learning science concepts of forces and motion. This curriculum is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards in terms of the focus on integrating engineering practices in the science curriculum.

A quasi-experimental pre-test post-test group comparison design was applied to assess the impact of the intervention on students’ understanding of engineering design concepts (measured by an engineering concept test with 13 multiple choice items and 2 open ended design tasks), understanding of force and motion concepts (measured by a science concept test), interest in STEM (assessed by the S-STEM survey), and interest in STEM careers (also assessed by the S-STEM survey).

In this poster session, we will share key findings from the research. We will also share lessons learned from implementing a STEM program across multiple classrooms in a large urban district.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Number: DRL-1513205).

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