Ingenuity Lab: Making and Engineering through Design Challenges at a Science Center

Jennifer Wang
ASEE (2013)


Many engineers attribute their careers to early interest in STEM. Interest, not performance, has been shown to be a greater predictor of choosing to concentrate in STEM. However, schools often neglect the engineering component of STEM. Consequently, extracurriculars such as science centers must play key roles in influencing children by fostering interest in engineering. Taking advantage of the popular tinkering and Do-It-Yourself Maker movement, increasingly more science centers are offering engineering and maker programs. But are they empowering visitors to engineer? This paper details the study of the Ingenuity Lab, an engineering maker space at the Lawrence Hall of Science. The space is open to drop-in visitors on weekends, serving mostly family groups with ages ranging from infant to elderly. The majority of children are between the ages of four and ten. A monthly open-ended engineering design challenge and theme is presented to visitors, along with materials consisting of low-cost consumables and/or reusable electronics. Visitors design, build, and test solutions to the challenges. In particular, this study aims to assess the program’s impact on its visitors with regards to visitors’ perceptions of engineering and identity with engineering, as well as visitors’ confidence in and agency to do engineering. Three challenges over three months were studied via visitor number and time tracking and post- surveys. Across the challenges, families engaged in and recognized their own engineering behaviors through the refinement of their design solutions, perceiving engineering as accessible. Many parents hoped to pursue such activities at home and return to the engineering space. Design guidelines resulting from the findings are allowing for multiple paths and solutions; utilizing a variety of everyday accessible materials; offering challenges that are achievable within the timeframe; fostering multiple iterations of refinement; and supporting collaboration through varying levels of open-endedness.