Children spend most of their time in out-of-school settings. As a result, informal learning settings can play a significant role in children’s learning development. Museums and science centers are informal settings that are intentionally designed to promote learning and interest development. Learning in these settings is highly participant structured. Participants’ interaction with each other and exhibits can direct their learning and understanding of the presented topics. Also, studies show that these settings are where children begin to develop competencies, skills, knowledge and problem-solving processes that support participation in STEM-related careers. For example, many engineering exhibits have been designed for children to promote their engineering skills and practices as well as their understanding of engineering careers.
One engineering practice is troubleshooting; trouble-shooting is a practice used in many aspects of engineering work, including design, analysis and programming. We situate this study in the engineering design literature as the task that our participants engaged in was an engineering design task. The research literature suggests that expert engineers engage in diagnostic troubleshooting which includes focusing on problematic areas of the potential solutions, defining the cause of a problem, and proposing ways of fixing it. However, beginning designers tend to be unfocused and uncritical when looking at the performance of their prototype which would lead to a poor and flawed design. In this study, we focused on children’s engagement in troubleshooting throughout an engineering design activity. Previous studies have referred to children as natural engineers who take similar engineering process as experts. Hence, in this study, we examined ways children engage in troubleshooting and compared them with what previous studies showed about the ways expert and beginner engineers troubleshoot their designs. To do so, we asked 7-11 years old children with their caregivers to design a pneumatic ball run using pneumatic pistons in 30 minutes. The video data of 10 cases were then analyzed using an a priori codebook. We found that the children were mostly engaged in troubleshooting after testing the whole or segments of the ball run. Troubleshooting was observed very often due to the immediate feedback they received (i.e., falling the ball means a problem). In addition, while examples of children acting like beginner engineers were observed, most of the cases were involved in diagnostic troubleshooting.
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