Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 580–601 | Cite as

Elementary Students’ Learning of Materials Science Practices Through Instruction Based on Engineering Design Tasks

  • Kristen Bethke Wendell
  • Hee-Sun Lee


Materials science, which entails the practices of selecting, testing, and characterizing materials, is an important discipline within the study of matter. This paper examines how third grade students’ materials science performance changes over the course of instruction based on an engineering design challenge. We conducted a case study of nine students who participated in engineering design-based science instruction with the goal of constructing a stable, quiet, thermally comfortable model house. The learning outcome of materials science practices was assessed by clinical interviews conducted before and after the instruction, and the learning process was assessed by students’ workbooks completed during the instruction. The interviews included two materials selection tasks for designing a sturdy stepstool and an insulated pet habitat. Results indicate that: (1) students significantly improved on both materials selection tasks, (2) their gains were significantly positively associated with the degree of completion of their workbooks, and (3) students who were highly engaged with the workbook’s reflective record-keeping tasks showed the greatest improvement on the interviews. These findings suggest the important role workbooks can play in facilitating elementary students’ learning of science through authentic activity such as engineering design.


Design-based science Elementary science Design decisions Science workbooks Clinical interviews Properties of materials 



This study was funded by National Science Foundation Grant DRL-0633952 but does not necessarily represent the policies or positions of the NSF. We would like to thank the readers and reviewers who have offered helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We also wish to thank the students who took part in the study and their teacher, who generously devoted time and energy to the project and enthusiastically taught two new science units in her classroom in 1 year.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education and Center for Engineering Education and OutreachTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of EducationTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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