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Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research


This paper describes the development of two versions of an NGSS-aligned principles of engineering design unit for use in middle schools. By employing a narrative framework that can help students to connect more deeply with the human contexts and consequences of the engineering design process, our goal was to enhance students’ cognitive and emotional engagement in the learning of engineering design concepts. We first detail the design of an initial version of the unit, titled The Survivorama, which used narrative to enrich a primarily traditional, in-person teaching approach. We then describe the adapted version of the unit, titled the Molasses Disaster, and the modifications we made to the stories and transmedia story elements that facilitated the creation of a fully remote version of the unit. To investigate questions related to the effectiveness of the remote curriculum in sustaining student engagement in the remote context, we carried out a mixed-methods study that looked at (1) teachers’ characterizations of the effect of the curriculum on student engagement and (2) student learning outcomes as measured by performance assessment tasks. Qualitative analysis of teacher interviews supported the notion that teachers found both versions of the curriculum to be highly engaging for their students, though with some important caveats regarding younger students and students who were less literate. Quantitative analysis comparing 2019 and 2020 student response data for students in the 2019 nontreatment, 2019 treatment, and 2020 treatment groups found statistically significant differences in the pattern of responses for both problem-solving and conceptual drawing performance assessment tasks. The pattern of responses supported the inference that student engagement was similar for students in both the 2019 in-person context and the 2020 remote context, and that both differed significantly from the 2019 nontreatment group.


transmedia storytelling, middle school engineering, imaginative education





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