Document Type

Conference Proceeding


2004 Annual Conference

Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference

First Page


Last Page


Conference Title

2004 Annual Conference

Conference Date

June 20-23, 2004


Salt Lake City, Utah


Thomas Edison was a noted engineer while Jean Piaget made his fame in children’s educational psychology. Piaget’s “cognitive constructivism” has been adopted in many early childhood programs, but it also applies to engineering education and its “hands-on” approach, especially in laboratories and project-based courses. The direction of education dramatically shifted when Jean Piaget developed a child-centered developmental learning theory. According to his theory, children construct knowledge about their world through their active involvement in experiences that are meaningful for them in order to provide an ideal learning environment. A Piagetian classroom is filled with authentic activities designed to challenge students so they can construct knowledge at their own developmental pace.

Creating constructivist learning environments where students construct their own meaning is not an easy task. Learners need opportunities to learn in a constructivist manner to effectively connect new ideas to existing schema. Educators must empower students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers, experience the world’s richness, and challenge them to understand the world’s complexities. Classroom instruction is frequently centered on delivering the content to students instead of facilitating student inquiry during the learning process. Although many of the principles of constructivism offer promise in the development of successful learning environments, practical applications are often hard to incorporate into the common constraints of the school environment.1

With the recent emphasis on “learner-centered” education in engineering education, a deeper understanding and application of Piaget’s work is in order. The purpose of this paper is to present a model of an engineering/education collaborative program that is built on Piagetian principles and attempts to outreach to K-12 students to build their enthusiasm for engineering and science. Thus, this paper will describe how Piaget’s work was continued by Seymour Papert who then introduced the idea of “constructionism” and how that concept applies to engineering education in the Toying With TechnologySM Program at Iowa State University ( A comparison of Piaget’s pedagogy and Edison’s work will demonstrate why this pedagogy has application in engineering.


This is a conference proceeding from Proceeding of the ASEE Annual Conference (2004): 1. Posted with permission.

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American Society for Engineering Education



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