A Three-Part Analysis of Elementary Students' Encounters with Texts, Artifacts, and Engineering Design Processes

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Vanderhoof, Carmen
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 27, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Greg Kelly, Dissertation Advisor
  • Greg Kelly, Committee Chair
  • Bill Carlsen, Committee Member
  • Richard Alan Duschl, Committee Member
  • Susan G Strauss, Outside Member
  • Christine Cunningham, Special Member
  • Engineering Education
  • STEM integration
  • Engineering Storybooks
  • Uncertainty
  • Engineering Drawings
  • Epistemic Practices
  • Multimodal Literacies
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Figured Worlds
  • Positioning
  • Affective Stance
  • Agency
Integrated STEM (iSTEM) curriculum is gaining momentum through research and policy-based recommendations. There are numerous potential advantages and challenges to introducing iSTEM to elementary students. The studies reported in this dissertation add new insights to existing iSTEM research by applying multiple methodological and theoretical perspectives on the moment-to-moment interactions and textual resources of six elementary engineering classrooms. This approach sets the context for students’ engagement in the engineering design process where students navigate design decisions using a variety of semiotic resources. The first study focuses on how the teachers facilitated encounters with texts and students’ shared experiences to create an authentic context for engineering design challenges. Drawing from the construct of figured worlds and affective stance patterns, the two storybooks and corresponding discussions in two third grade classrooms were analyzed to examine multiple pathways leading to students’ investment in the engineering problem space. The second study identifies and analyzes uncertainty encounters to illustrate how students engaging in a civil engineering design challenge positioned each other and their own ideas during collaborative decision-making processes using a multimodal social semiotics perspective. The third study explores how students use drawings as design tools in the context of production across two conditions: structured schematic diagrams using standard symbols to communicate a circuit design to an external audience compared to open-ended drawings of plant package designs featuring a higher variety of materials for an internal audience. Findings were organized according to four themes: (a) engagement pathways, (b) intersection of multiple literacy practices, (c) science concepts for engineering problems, and (d) participating in epistemic practices. Taken together, these studies generated evidence-based conclusions informing the design of inclusive and equitable learning environments applicable to a range of contexts. Among these recommendations are the incorporation of multiple representations and hybrid texts to set the context for the design challenge and ways to structure the work at different phases in line with multimodal pedagogy practices, how to create opportunities for students to relate to and affiliate with science and engineering, how to support students with collaborative decision-making, and how design artifacts can be used as formative assessment tools.