In this mixed-methods study we investigate teachers’ reflections on students’ design failures after teaching Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum over two years. The following questions guide this work:
1. How do students respond to design failures during instruction?
2. How do teachers respond to students when students’ designs fail?
3. Are teachers more, less, or equally comfortable supporting students when students’ designs fail during the second versus the first year of instruction?
4. Are they more, less, or equally comfortable using words like fail or failure (i.e., fail words)?
5. To what extent does the EiE curriculum support students in learning from failure or persevering in the face of setbacks?
This work builds on arguments in the literature that failure, a normative aspect of engineering practice, should receive explicit attention in pre-college engineering education, and that it is essential for students to have opportunities to learn from failure and practice perseverance. Finally, it builds upon our recent research that has addressed teacher perspectives on fail words, student responses to design failures, and teacher responses to students whose designs fail.
This study includes quantitative and qualitative analysis of post-year-2 survey data from 74 upper elementary teachers (response rate: 99%) participating in a multi-state research project. The survey used an ecosystem rating scale with an embedded 10-point Likert scale of comfort level to address Questions 3 and 4, above. A separate 10-point Likert scale of importance level addressed Question 5. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics for non-parametric data. Additionally, some survey respondents (26% of 78) shared additional statements for Questions 3 and 4. A subset of ten teachers participated in post-year-2 interviews. Thirty-minute to one-hour (on average) interviews were semi-structured in format, audio-recorded, and transcribed; these explicitly addressed Questions 1 through 5. Qualitative survey questions and interview transcripts were analyzed using iterative qualitative methods.
Interviewees shared a similar range of student responses to design failure as were reported in the authors’ previous work from year one. Interviewees’ reactions to student design failures were also consistent. Beyond these patterns, interviewees indicated that their comfort level using fail words was consistent or, more often, increased. Survey analysis showed a significantly higher comfort level with supporting students whose designs failed and with using fail words for Year 2 as compared to Year 1. Interviews revealed that although the range of student reactions to design failures was similar, the reactions of particular students were not what teachers would have predicted. Interviewees also shared broad messages about failure (e.g., it's okay to fail) with students, and cited consistent or increased comfort with the use of fail words when they normalized the word in the context of engineering. All participants reported that the EiE curriculum created opportunities for students to learn from failure and persevere in the face of setbacks – more so than curricula where the curriculum is either scaffolded to their needs or does not emphasize improvement.
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