Engineering Perspectives of Grade 7 Students in Canada
Spencer, Mary Elizabeth
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Many high school students are unable to consider engineering as an undergraduate program of study because they have not taken the prerequisite courses required for university entrance. In order to provide the opportunity for capable students to pursue an engineering degree and subsequently enter the engineering profession, they should be more aware of the profession of engineering prior to entering high school to enable them to select appropriate courses from the very start of their post elementary education. The focus of this study is to understand how students in grade 7 perceive the profession of engineering in two example regions across Canada. Recent literature suggests that action is underway in some areas of the United States in order to create awareness and encourage students to pursue an engineering program. These initiatives range from integrating engineering concepts into the K-12 curriculum to providing outreach and design challenge opportunities outside of school. In Canada, such initiatives are only present in isolated cases, with limited reach and impact. To better understand the perspectives on engineering of pre-high school students in Canada, grade 7 students were provided with surveys incorporating a variety of questions pertaining to the engineering profession. All questions were open ended in order to promote individualized answers from the students. Survey questions were analyzed with NVIVO software to determine common themes in the understanding and perception of engineering from the perspective of the students. After the completion of the survey, select students in each location were interviewed in order to further explore their perception of the engineering profession. The questions asked during these interviews built on the themes of the written survey. In general, it was found that participants had varied and mostly inaccurate perception of what engineers do, and lacked a clear understanding of the profession. After analyzing the data, the subsequent suggested recommendations are to develop a better public perception of the engineering profession, develop programs to help teachers better relate math and science to engineering in school, and to consider further investigation of best practices from the United States and how they might be implemented in Canada.