Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Effect on Pupils' Science Performance and Problem-Solving Ability through Lego: An Engineering Design-Based Modeling Approach

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Effect on Pupils' Science Performance and Problem-Solving Ability through Lego: An Engineering Design-Based Modeling Approach

Article excerpt


Many studies have addressed the need to enhance K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, in which engineering has been prominently recognized as an important recommended component for children from early childhood through high school (e.g., Brophy, Klein, Portsmore & Rogers, 2008; Bybee, 2011; Carr, Bennett & Strobel, 2012). Moreover, researchers have also argued that engineering design (an inquiry-based pedagogical strategy that learning across disciplines) should be an important component of the precollege education of all youths (e.g., Diefes-Dux, 2015; Mentzer, Huffman & Thayer, 2014) because engineering design can provide students with an effective approach to tackle open-ended problems. Previous research has found engineering design to be a supportive context for science learning, and designing functional artifacts may ground children's exploration of scientific concepts (Bethke Wendell & Rogers, 2013). However, it is evident that the "E" of STEM has been virtually ignored in most elementary schools in China. Science courses lack any engineering design principles, and the students obtain discrete engineering knowledge unsystematically (Wang, 2014).

On the other hand, proponents of game-based learning suggest that educational games induce a positive experience that may be harnessed for learning (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey & Boyle, 2012). Game-based learning may encourage students to acquire knowledge and offer a rich context that allows students to reinforce and consolidate their knowledge through practice. Lego bricks, as a set of toys based on design technique, are in line with the cognitive characteristics of students and provide a good game-based learning tool for engineering education. A number of studies have explored the effectiveness of engineering design to improve science learning by using Lego. Most of these studies focused on various aspects of problem solving, such as problem-solving attitude and problem-solving strategies (Hussain, Lindh & Shukur, 2006; Sullivan, 2008; Bethke Wendell & Rogers, 2013). Indeed, researchers have indicated the importance of students' problem-solving abilities in using engineering design, which may help students better recognize the utility of knowledge learned in the classroom for solving real-world problems (Fortus, Krajcik, Dershimer, Marx & Mamlok-Naaman, 2005). However, there are few studies focusing on the problem-solving ability and few of the studies have been empirically validated or experimentally verified. In this regard, we note that more research is needed to determine the efficacy of the engineering design-based approach and to examine whether it contributes to science learning for a wider range of students.

In this study, we proposed an engineering design-based modeling approach to provide a new instructional strategy in the science learning. During the research, we used control and experimental groups to investigate whether engineering design-based learning changed elementary student problem-solving abilities and science knowledge. Our experimental results show that engineering design-based learning can effectively improve students' problem-solving abilities as well as science performance. The remainder of this paper presents a brief discussion of the application of engineering design, the model used in this study. The research design and analytical methods are provided in the third section, followed by results, discussion, and conclusions.

Engineering design

The theoretical foundation underpinning this study adheres to the constructionism theory (Papert, 1980): Children construct knowledge and build on their background knowledge. Papert emphasizes that students learn most effectively when they actively produce tangible artifacts with manipulative materials in the real world. Engineering design provides a way for students to gain a deeper understanding through "learning by making," which is considered an important tenet of constructivism (Williams, Ma, Prejean, Ford & Lai, 2007). …

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