Exploring Problem-Based Learning for Middle School Design and Engineering Education in Digital Fabrication Laboratories

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Monica M. Chan
Paulo Blikstein


This is a research study of design and engineering classes that use a problem-based learning (PBL) approach in digital fabrication makerspaces in two middle schools. In these studies, teachers employ a PBL approach and provide an ill-structured problem scenario to facilitate design and engineering lessons in the FabLab (fabrication laboratory). Students in each school tackled different challenges that they defined for themselves in groups. This study provides examples of student-student interactions separated into key themes—defining specifications with teammates, personal exploration, and communication about discoveries. This study also provides examples of teacher-student interactions, and themes include demonstrations with tangible objects, discussing prototype failure, and managing behavioral issues. The purpose of this study is to provide insights about PBL in a nontraditional, technology-rich FabLab environment.

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