7586 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Todd Hutner
  2. Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
  4. University of Texas at Austin
  1. Richard Crawford
  2. Professor
  4. University of Texas at Austin
  1. Stephanie RIvale
  2. http://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanierivale
  3. Research Associate
  5. University of Texas at Austin, Center for STEM Education
  1. Victor Sampson
  2. https://education.utexas.edu/faculty/victor_sampson
  3. Associate Professor of STEM Education
  5. University of Texas at Austin, Center for STEM Education

Arguing by design: The development of an instructional model for engineering ...

NSF Awards: 1607916

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

The aim of this project is to develop and research a new instructional framework for integrating engineering into middle school science classes. Via a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin and the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) in Round Rock Texas, the Argument-Driven Engineering (ADE) instructional framework was developed and four units piloted in the 8th grade science classes of two middle schools in RRISD. Each unit engages students in engineering through a sequence of activities that will give them an opportunity to: (a) engage in engineering design that explicitly incorporates scientific core ideas and mathematical principles; (b) use evidence-based argumentation to propose and critique design solutions; and (c) participate in team and individual sense-making through discourse and writing. With an emphasis on recommendations from the 2008 Changing the Conversation study and to help encourage future engineering interest and broaden participation, all four units explicitly show how engineers change the world and make it a better place. In response to the four middle school NGSS standards, students collaboratively propose, support, build, critique, revise, and communicate solutions to engineering challenges that ask them to design 1) a passive vaccine storage device, 2) a hand warmer for the homeless, 3) a highway crash safety barrier and 4) a biodiversity monitoring device. 

This video will showcase the ADE instructional framework to teachers and provide information on the research being conducted regarding student learning of engineering and science. 

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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (14 posts)
  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 13, 2018 | 09:27 p.m.

    Hi Everyone,


    Welcome and thank you for taking time to watch our video on Argument-Driven Engineering (ADE). This is just a snapshot of the larger collaboration between the Center for STEM Education at UT Austin and Round Rock ISD, in Round Rock, Texas. Before kicking off the conversation around our video, we want to acknowledge the work of our collaborators who are not featured in the video. Our full team includes the 6 individuals featured in the video, as well as Melissa Brophy-Plasencio, Stacy Dinkins, Rachel Gonzalez, Jill Gregory, Kenneth Gustafson, Melinda Schermerhorn, and Karen Sommerhauser, all from Round Rock ISD, and Christina Baze, Hannah Brooks, and Lawrence Chu, from the Center for STEM Education. Most importantly, we want to thank the student participants who exceeded our wildest expectations with their designs. We were consistently amazed by their work.


    After you watch the video, we would be interested to hear your thoughts about the following:


    1. All of our ADE design challenges focus on how engineering can improve the lives of others. We have also designed the ADE instructional model so it can be integrated into an existing science curriculum rather than designing it for an elective course or after school program. Our goal is increase access to opportunities to learn about engineering and to help make the teaching and learning of engineering more meaningful and relevant for culturally and linguistically diverse groups of students. We would like to hear about what others are doing to increase access to and participation in engineering for students who are often denied access to engineering or find it cold and unwelcoming.


    2. Next year, students in two middle schools will participate in four (4) ADE units. We plan to collect more data about how students’ attitudes and how their use of disciplinary core ideas and engineering practices during design challenges change over time as they participate in these four units. Are there additional avenues of research that others might find interesting/useful?


    3. For teachers who are interested in teaching an ADE unit in their classroom, what questions do you have about this new approach and how can we help you learn more about it?


     If you are interested in learning more about the ADE project, please visit: https://stemcenter.utexas.edu/projects/ade/


    If you want to know more about the many projects going on at the Center for STEM Education, please visit: https://stemcenter.utexas.edu/


    If you want to know more about the innovative instruction occurring in Round Rock ISD, please visit: https://roundrockisd.org/


    You can also follow the Center for STEM Education and Round Rock ISD on Facebook and Twitter. The Center for STEM Education is @UTSTEMCenter on Facebook and @UTSTEMCenter on Twitter. Round Rock ISD is @RRISD on Facebook and is @RoundRockISD on Twitter.


    Thanks for viewing our video, and we hope you enjoy learning about our project!

  • Icon for: Mark Windschitl

    Mark Windschitl

    May 14, 2018 | 11:53 a.m.

    Todd and colleagues, I really liked how the students seemed engaged in thoughtful planning and argument, before and during the construction. How is this form of argument different from argument as used in science? The same? For example, how are claims made and what "counts" as a claim? Is there a way for groups of students to respond to arguments made by others? OK, I know this is too many questions, but do your student ever return to their original claims after the materials/construction is tested and have a follow-up conversation?

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Christina Baze
  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 14, 2018 | 04:49 p.m.

    Hi Mark,


    Thanks for the kind words. Our initial evidence is that students are very much engaged in and thoughtful about the design challenges. In response to your questions, I will answer the third and fourth questions, and then defer to Vic Sampson (who is more of an expert at argumentation than I am) on the first two.


    Regarding if there are ways for students to respond to arguments made by others, the answer is yes. There are three points when students must respond to arguments made by others. The first is after a group selects a concept to build. On a whiteboard, each group presents an argument where they specify their design choices and the related science informing their design. Then, students participate in an argumentation gallery walk, where half the students in a group view and provide feedback to other groups' arguments while the remaining half of reach group stays at their own board to answer question and gather feedback. After multiple build-test-revise iterations, a second argument board is created where students make claims regarding the effectiveness of their design. Again, students participate in an argumentation gallery walk. Finally, students must write an individual report on the design process. After completion of the first draft, the report goes out for peer review to other students in the class.


    Regarding if students return to their original claims after testing, the answer is sort of. They are not prompted by our instructional framework to do so, so there is not a formal structure for them to do that (a teacher can add that if they want). At the same time, when revising their designs the students often will reevaluate some of their notions on what would and would not work while they consider revisions. Also, the second argument board requires that students make connections between their final design and the scientific principles underlying their design. This often requires them to reevaluate their original claims.

  • Icon for: Mayra Mendez-Pinero

    Mayra Mendez-Pinero

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 14, 2018 | 12:43 p.m.

    Hi, have you seen ADE used within college level classes? It looks like it could be very applicable to engineering courses.

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Christina Baze
  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 14, 2018 | 04:52 p.m.

    Hi Mayra,


    Thanks for watching our video. That is a great question. As of now, we have not. However, at multiple points during our work, we have mentioned how this would work well within undergraduate engineering classes. We still have one more year on our current project, so our focus right now is on that. I think one of our next steps is to look at this at the undergraduate level.


    I am wondering what stood out to you as potentially useful for undergraduate students?

  • Icon for: Lisa Lynn

    Lisa Lynn

    May 14, 2018 | 02:09 p.m.

    Just today I have been thinking about the different forms argumentation can take, trying to think outside the box as to what can be an argument, and it's great to see this example of engineering as argumentation!

    For attitude measures, are you using interest and self-efficacy? Others? Interest in an engineering career or major? With science, we often see students' interest decline right around this age, but I wonder what their interest in engineering looks like, since they probably know very little about it before the program.

  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 14, 2018 | 05:03 p.m.



    I am glad that our video sparked some ideas for you regarding what forms argumentation can take. I also think it helps students see both similarities and differences in the norms around arguments in different STEM disciplines.

    That is a great question on our attitudes. For our attitude measure, we adopted a scale developed by Goodwin (see reference below). We will measure three attitude constructs: Identity (e.g. my family sees me as an engineer); Interest/Self-Efficacy (e.g. I am good at engineering); and Societal Contributions (e.g. engineers work to improve society). Informally up to this point, I think you are right about their knowledge of engineering. I think most students think of engineers as people who work in a high paying job. Beyond that, not much else. In order to broaden participation, we made sure to focus on how engineers improve the lives of others. So, hopefully, this will lead to students developing positive attitudes, especially for those students who are traditionally underrepresented in Engineering.


    Godwin, A. (2016). The Development of a Measure of Engineering Identity.  Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 2016. 10.18260/p.26122.

  • Icon for: Kevin Brown

    Kevin Brown

    Associate Director
    May 14, 2018 | 04:44 p.m.

    What great activities to spur interest in STEM! I’m wondering if you were motivated in part by research showing that women in particular are more likely to show interest in STEM if there is a “social” component to learning and, if so, do you expect to see any differential effects of participating in the ADE program (I did notice that most if not all of the students in the video are women)? Also, since this is a subject not normally taught in middle school, can you speak to the challenges of implementing ADE in schools that are less resourced than your pilot site?

  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 14, 2018 | 05:44 p.m.

    Hi Kevin,


    Thanks for stopping by our video. Our work was motivated by the research you mention. Specifically, we relied heavily on the Changing the Conversation report (see below for full citation). The authors of that report recommend highlighting the role engineering (and other STEM subjects) play in improving the lives of others. One of our design challenges asks students to use what they know about exothermic chemical reactions to design a hand-warmer for homeless individuals. Prior to generating concepts, we ask students to watch a video on the problem of homelessness that provides a respectful treatment of homelessness as a societal problem. After watching the video, one student in one of the classes we worked with asked why we spend so much on developing new video games instead of helping those in need.


    As for the challenges of implementing ADE in schools that are less resourced, that is a great question. We will be presenting a paper at the upcoming ASEE conference on just that topic. Titled "Tension's arising when teaching scientific disciplinary core ideas via engineering practices," we identify several tensions that we encountered, including the resource tension. The paper will be available on June 27, and can be found at this link: Tensions Paper If you want it sooner, please email me.

    Without giving away the entire paper, we did identify a tension regarding the resources, even under our ideal conditions. We did out best to write design challenges that can use materials can be recycled. For example, two of the four design challenges our team developed require different sized plastic water bottles. Our cooperating teachers asked students to bring in water bottles that could be used during the design challenge. Another material common across our design challenges is cardboard. Many schools have paper delivered by the case, and so the box the paper comes in can easily be used for our design challenges.


    As we move toward broader dissemination of our design challenges, we are also looking at ways to substitute materials. In the video, you will notice students testing a highway crash safety barrier using a motion track, cart and force probe system. We have begun testing using PVC pipe cut in half lengthwise and a lacrosse ball as substitutes for the track and cart. This way, we can give teachers options at different price points for the design challenges.


    That being said, there is a significant cost associated with the resources that we cannot just ignore. For us, the biggest issue was to ensure that there were enough of every material so students did have a full range of choice. This meant purchasing materials that we knew students would not use. This means we had to purchase materials that would not be consumed.


    As for hints for teachers at less resourced schools,  I would recommend extending the project out so that they can be more discerning in their materials purchases. This might mean having students turn in a "materials purchase form" a few days before they are actually able to build. Then, the teacher can have them work on other topics while they wait for the materials to arrive. Once the materials arrive, the teacher can return to the design challenge. While this might not be ideal, the materials purchase form will give a more accurate count of how much of each material is going to be needed.

  • Icon for: Megan McKinley

    Megan McKinley

    Doctoral Student
    May 14, 2018 | 06:28 p.m.

    Hello, Todd and colleagues. I very much enjoyed your video-- the message of using engineering to make the world a better place deeply resonates with me.


    It’s wonderful that you have partnered with middle school teachers and their students in this project. What did these partnerships look like? How were teachers and students involved in the process of design and revision of your engineering units?

  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 15, 2018 | 03:54 p.m.

    Hi Megan,


    We are glad you enjoyed the video and that our focus on making the world a better place is resonating with you.


    The partnership with Round Rock ISD has been great. Our project has benefited in a number of ways from the contribution of teachers and students we are working with. First, instead of writing design challenges and then requiring our teachers to implement them, we first met with the teachers and asked them to give us feedback on potential design challenges. For example, we were writing a design challenge for NGSS standard MS-LS2-5: Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. We presented our teachers with three options that we would further develop: (1) design an air quality monitoring device; (2) design a cell-phone microscope; and, (3) design a water quality meter. Our teachers felt that none of these options really required students to use their knowledge of biodiversity as to solve the challenge. So, we went back to the drawing board. I think that our teachers appreciated our willingness to trust their professional judgement and to reevaluate our ideas.


    The students helped quite a bit as well during piloting the design challenges, as they pointed out places for improvement. My favorite instance of this occurred when we piloted the design challenge to build a hand-warmer for homeless individuals. Our initial constraints said students could not have a cost to build over $10. One students raised his hand and ask why not just go buy 10 hand-warmers from the grocery store, because they only cost $1 to buy. Everyone in the class had a good laugh, but we also realized our constraints were not realistic to the actual problem--so we adjusted the constraint to be under $1.


    The process for developing our framework and the contributions of our district partner is presented in much greater detail in another paper we will be presenting at ASEE. Our paper is titled "An Instructional Framework for Integrating Engineering into Middle School Science Classrooms" and can be found at this link: ADE Instructional Framework. The paper will be available June 27, but if you would like a copy sooner, please email me.


    The above also gets at the nature of partnership. It is still growing, but there is a strong foundation because we all share a few set of core values. First, the researchers, teachers, and district administrators all share a desire to provide students with high-quality learning experiences. Second, we all recognize the professionalism and expertise that all members of our groups bring to the project. This is best exemplified by a paper about one of our design challenges  that will be coming out in Science Scope later this year. There are 16 authors on the paper, 7 from UT Austin and 9 from Round Rock ISD. This is important, because all 16 of us made important contributions to that paper. Third, there is flexibility on all of our parts. For UT researchers, this means that we might have to be flexible about when a unit is taught, or be ok with our teachers making small changes to the framework because that change will benefit the students. For the teachers, this means sometimes doing things that benefit the research, such as using class time for students to complete the attitude instruments.

  • Icon for: Rebecca Batchelor

    Rebecca Batchelor

    SOARS Program Director
    May 18, 2018 | 07:04 a.m.

    Great video, and I really like the concepts behind engaging students in STEM by solving real world problems, and through what seems like a very team-based process. It is great to see you measuring the changes in the student's attitudes and self-identity - do you have any sense about whether these changes are long lasting? 

    I am also interested in the discussion about resources, as I know this is a huge challenge for teachers everywhere, especially in more under-resourced areas. Are there ways to make the resources fully reuseable so class sets could be boxed up and moved between schools or over multiple years? (I have a daughter in elementary school and was surprised to see that their science units nearly all functioned in this way). 


  • Icon for: Todd Hutner

    Todd Hutner

    Lead Presenter
    Assistant Director for Research-Practice Partnerships
    May 18, 2018 | 03:53 p.m.



    Thank you for the kind words about solving realistic problems. Your concern about the resources was a concern that we have had throughout our process. We have done our best to mitigate the resources issue in a number of ways. First, the methods to test designs all require permanent equipment, so that can be shared across teachers. In the video, students are using a track, ramp and force sensor to test their crash barrier. That can be shared among teachers. Second, we have done our best to include consumables that are cheap and easier to collect if necessary. Two of our design challenges give students the option to use plastic water bottles. Teachers can ask students to bring in plastic water bottles to class starting a week before the design challenge.

    During our work, we realized that when students are given choice in their designs it necessitates that their materials are not reusable. In our design challenges, students can choose the size, shape, and amount of all the materials they use as long as the design meets the criteria and constraint set out by the challenge. This means cutting materials into unique shapes that makes it difficult to reuse. While the ability to purchase all of the materials once and then to use them for several years would be great, that would necessitate restricting the choices of students when they are engaged in the design process. We viewed this as a trade off--the more reusable the materials were, the less choice students had in their design. So, we chose to give students more choice while recognizing that might increase the year-to-year cost of each design challenge.

  • Icon for: Meetal Shah

    Meetal Shah

    Graduate Student
    May 21, 2018 | 07:59 a.m.

    Thank you or sharing your project overview with us and for garnering more interest in STEM based subjects through your activities. Do you intend to use any outcome measures (science or math) to see if the argument based approach is also lending itself to student gains in learning? Also, would you be able speak more about the validity evidence you may have collected to support your measures?

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