New academic standards at the state and national level call for integrating engineering design into the K-12 science curriculum. This is accomplished by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. As a result, engineering design experience is gradually becoming a vital component of K-12 education, especially at high school level. The process of initiating and completing an engineering design project requires students to engage both in analytical reasoning, active creation, and testing of solutions. One must ensure that engineering design projects are engaging for all students, particularly those from demographics that are underserved, underperforming, or underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Well-crafted engineering design projects can increase students’ interest in STEM and their self-efficacy in solving engineering problems.
The K-12 Aerospace Academy program site at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), funded through NASA and private foundations, is focused towards promoting STEM literacy, pre¬pare and encourage students, especially underserved and underrepresented populations within the region, to pursue science and engineering careers. As part of this program, eighty-one (81) high school students participated in a week-long residential summer academy, engaging them in thirty-six (36) hours of an engineering design project activity that culminated into a highly exuberant competition.
The goals of the engineering design activities were to (i) improve students’ competence in science and engineering, (ii) nurture students’ enthusiasm for science and engineering, and (iii) create student interest in research or other science and engineering-related careers. Throughout the week, students working in teams of 3-4, implemented the engineering design method as they worked towards building the most efficient wind turbine in the group. Student teams conducted experiments to investigate impact of blade pitch angle, blade shape, blade configuration, and blade area on wind turbine’s power output.
Prior to working on the engineering design project, the students participated in a field trip to a large-scale wind farm owned by Amazon, located close to ECSU campus. This trip helped students see how the topics they are learning are relevant in the real world. Learner-centered experiences in a real-world context greatly increases students’ engagement, enthusiasm, and achievement. Later, in the classroom students reviewed animations, videos, and other learning material on wind energy and wind turbine information available on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) website. This was followed by a brainstorming session and technical discussion on wind turbines. Daily log entries of project activities and student reflections were recorded in an engineering notebook.
Project evaluation data was gathered through Student Feedback Survey, Dimensions of Success (DoS) Observation tool, student interviews, and pre/post topic efficacy survey. The data collected was cross-tabulated to look for the difference in interest before and after the project activities. Where appropriate, inferential statistics (t-test) was used to see if mean differences were significant. The results showed engineering design activities had a positive impact on attitude towards STEM learning and careers. Integration of engineering design principles, project-based learning, and project implementation and evaluation results will be discussed in the paper.
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