Facilitating Engineering Conversations with Students

Initiating and sustaining productive and meaningful conversations with students, as they are building, not only offers insight into their learning, but also contributes to a culture of feedback in the classroom. Good questions can open the door for students to articulate their thinking, actively engage in problem solving, and build resilience.

Anytime students are building or iterating on their robot design, educators and students together must be cognizant of three main ideas:

  • Where am I going? – Do students understand the goal of the challenge or task they are working on?
  • How am I doing? – Can students verbalize, or otherwise explain, what they are building or changing on their robot and why?
  • Where to next? OR How can I improve? – Are students aware of what the next steps are, or what they are working towards as they build or iterate on their robot? If students have accomplished the initial build, can they think of ways to improve their robot design or group collaboration?

Classroom conversations between teachers and students are a great way to monitor student progress, while giving students an opportunity to explain their thinking and learning, and make deeper connections to the content and concepts that they are working on. Educators can have a variety of goals when initiating conversations. Being aware of the goal of the conversation can help all involved – whether a whole class, a group of students, or an individual student – engage in a positive and productive process of learning from and with one another.

The following table offers common educator goals related to engineering, and some examples of questions or prompts that can be used to facilitate conversations toward that goal.

Engineering Goals

Conversation Prompts

Clarification, or assessing surface level understanding

  • Can you explain what you’re working on?
  • What do you mean by ____?
  • How does/will _____ help your robot complete/win the challenge/goal?
  • Can you explain the goal of the build/challenge for me?
  • How will the robot function within the challenge/task/game?

Initiating engineering talk

  • Can you tell me about your design?
  • What are you working on?
  • How do you think this iteration will solve the problem?
  • How did you arrive at this design?

Maintaining focus on problem solving

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • What are the criteria (goals)?
  • What are our constraints (limits)?
  • What have you learned from your previous attempts?
  • How can you use that information in your next solution?

Getting unstuck & focusing on failure points

  • Does this idea seem to be working? How can you tell?
  • What else might you try?
  • What is working well here? What can you fix?
  • What do you notice others trying?

Increasing effective collaboration

  • How did you group decide on this?
  • Have you heard from everyone in your group?
  • What could you do to work together more successfully?
  • Does everyone agree with this idea?
  • Can everyone explain the thinking behind this idea/design?

Making sense of testing

  • Does your robot accomplish the task/solve the problem? Why or why not?
  • What did you notice when you tested this?
  • What happened when you tested your design?
  • How will you know if your change is effective? What will you look for when you test your robot this time?
  • How are you using testing data to inform your decisions about iteration?

Considering trade offs

  • What do you think is the most important criteria (goal)? Why?
  • What trade offs might you need to make? How will you decide if a trade off is worthwhile?

Improving and growth mindset

  • Which design best meets our goals?
  • How could you make this even better?
  • What do you need in order to improve your design?
  • What ideas can you borrow from others in the class to make your design even better?
  • What is something you learned from your project when it did not work?

Using the engineering notebook

  • How are you documenting your design changes?
  • Can you show me what data you are basing your design decision on?
  • How has your engineering notebook helped you?

For more information, help, and tips, check out the many resources at VEX Professional Development Plus

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