Science on Tap to focus on advancing children's understanding of engineering concepts

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University engineering education professors Monica Cardella and Ṣenay Purzer will headline this week's with a talk on efforts and successes in exposing students in younger grades to engineering concepts.

The lecture, titled "Engineering at Home, Schools, Museums and Beyond," is at 6 p.m. Thursday (March 13) in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. This month's Science on Tap, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is sponsored by the School of Engineering Education, College of Engineering and Discovery Park.

"This Science on Tap talk will present research on engineering education at the preschool to fourth-grade level and provide our vision of how children can engage in engineering learning," said Cardella, director of Informal Learning Environments Research for the Purdue-led Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE).

"We will leave the audience with tools and strategies to promote engineering in K-12 schools, help their own children learn about engineering or promote engineering learning in their interactions with children outside of school."

Senay Purzer 
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Purzer, director of Assessment Research at INSPIRE, said there are new opportunities for understanding what engineers do and new opportunities for students to make informed decisions for pursuing engineering careers.

"There is growing interest at the national level for students to develop sound understandings of engineering practices such as design, optimization and balancing trade-offs," Purzer said. "In addition, it is becoming increasingly common for engineering to be taught in K-12 classrooms."

The number of students choosing engineering as a career path, however, has consistently slipped in the last decades, hindering this nation's global competitiveness. Engineering also continues to be a disproportionately dominated by men.

"To complicate concerns, recent data reveal waning student interest in engineering and general science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as early as second and third grades," Purzer said.

In response, Purdue's School of Engineering Education and INSPIRE, the university's P-12 engineering education research institute, were created to find answers to these issues.

Established in 2006, INSPIRE focuses both on increasing the presence of engineering in the formal P-12 curriculum and on ways children learn about engineering outside of school settings, ultimately preparing a greater number of diverse students for study in engineering.

"Our research shows that the earlier the better in introducing engineering concepts into elementary (and preschool) classrooms and out-of-school programs," Purzer said.

Monica Cardella 
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Added Cardella, "We also must continue to recognize the critical role that parents play in supporting their children's learning, and we must understand parents' perspectives on the inclusion of engineering in precollege classrooms."

INSPIRE is led by David Radcliffe, the Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and an epistemology professor of engineering education.

Cardella, also an affiliate of the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, is studying how children learn about engineering through interactions with parents and in other informal learning environments. She also conducts research on design thinking across the lifespan as well as engineers' mathematical thinking. Cardella received her bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Puget Sound and her master's and doctoral degrees in industrial engineering from the University of Washington.

Purzer's research focuses on assessment of student learning. She also conducts research on design thinking and engineering creativity. Purzer earned her master's and doctoral degrees in science education from Arizona State University and has a bachelor's degree in physics education and in engineering

Science on Tap, led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years. 

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