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A laser-cutting-centered STEM course for improving engineering problem-solving skills of high school students in China

Academic Editor: Stephen Xu

Abstract / Introduction Full Text(HTML) Figure(12) / Table(9) Related Papers Cited by
  • STEM (science, technology, engineer, mathematics) education and engineering education are receiving an increasing amount of interest worldwide, but related research on the influence of STEM courses on students' engineering problem solving in China is scarce. Considering the rapid prototyping function of laser-cutting tools, this study was conducted to develop a STEM course based on laser cutting and to explore how the course affected high school students' engineering problem-solving abilities. A 9-week curriculum was implemented in a science, technology, and fabricating club of a high school in Zhejiang, China. The data were collected by pretest and posttest questionnaires and presentations of group assignments. The results were as follows. First, when presented with an engineering problem, the students demonstrated problem-solving abilities because they followed principles of engineering design, such as sketching, modeling and modifying. Second, while completing the assignment, the students proposed solutions with comprehensive factors in many aspects. They showed high-level thinking, such as consideration of the background, limiting conditions, and multidisciplinary knowledge, and they used technological tools to complete the task. However, some students ignored the assessment and redesign of their solutions. Further research could use a larger sample from different grades and explore how a STEM course combined with technology tools could influence students' high-level thinking skills.

    Mathematics Subject Classification: Article.


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  • Figure 1.  Engineering problem-solving capability model (Revised from English [14])

    Figure 2.  The relationship of Curriculum Guidelines and 6E

    Figure 3.  Teaching models

    Figure 4.  Echo of a "problem-solving" target of the high school stage in the Outline of Curriculum Guidelines for Integrated Practice in Primary and Secondary Schools

    Figure 5.  Pictures of the work of Group 1

    Figure 6.  Pictures of the work of Group 2

    Figure 7.  Pictures of the work of Group 4

    Figure 8.  Pictures of the work of Group 5

    Figure 9.  Picture of the work of Group 6

    Figure 10.  Bubble map for the second open-ended question about a typhoon forecasting device

    Figure (a).  Answers to the first open-ended question in Chinese

    Figure (b).  Answers to the second open-ended question in Chinese in Chinese

    Table 1.  Course framework and class allocation

    Unit Typical pictures Involved discipline & Teaching content
    Week 1
    Laser Cutting Entry: "My label"

    Knowledge of laser cutting and laser-cutting techniques (S/T);
    Introduction to computer-aided design (T);
    Polygon drawing (M);
    A demonstration of logo imprinting (T);
    Importance of size (M);
    Week 2
    From 2D to 3D: "Dice and Piggy Tank"
    Ancient Chinese culture (S);
    Preliminary design (M) of space geometry and plane two-dimensional unfolding diagram;
    Week 3
    From 2D to 3D: "Phone Stand"
    Knowledge applications such as rotation and symmetry (M);
    Simple mathematical knowledge, such as the angle of a triangle (M);
    Application of dimension-matching relationships (M);
    Understanding the stitching structure (E);
    Week 4
    Structural Design: "Roly-poly"

    360° ring isometric arrangement (M);
    Determination of the center of gravity and its design and application (S);
    Arc design (S/T);
    Week 5
    Comprehensive task: The combination of electronic programming – "Halloween Pumpkin Lights"

    Explanation of the use of electronic modules (T);
    Completion of an engineering design (E) with this theme;
    Halloween-related culture
    Week 6
    Comprehensive task: Mechanical design and design sharing - "stretch claws"

    Parallelogram in mechanical design application—flat linkage (M/E);
    Introduction and application of telescopic claws with a cutting-fork structure (E);
    Week 7 & week 8
    Group work: "The dormitory renovation plan – design a bed and a table for yourself"
    Engineering design process and meaning of each link:
    clear questions, design, modeling, test evaluation (E)
    Importance of building models and testing;
    Team cooperation;
    Week 9
    Reporting on assignment
    Sharing and testing
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    Table 2.  Example of the implementation of the teaching process

    Week 2 From 2D to 3D: "Dice and Piggy Tank"
    Teaching objectives:
        1)  learn the concept of the structure of the crucible and understand that the structure is part of the ancient Chinese traditional culture;
        2)  learn three-dimensional conversion with objects based on cubes;
        3)  learn about applications with dimensional fit;
        4)  explore designs of simple stitching structures with peers; and
        5)  learn to sketch with dimensions.
    Teaching links Activity
    Situational Creation The teacher introduces the ancient Chinese structure. By design, ancient Chinese wood furniture is a type of non-excessive material that can achieve structural stability and earthquake resistance. It all depends on a structure, i.e., slugs. Next, the teacher displays a picture of the structure of tenon and mortise and introduces this type of plug-in structure.
    Problem scoping Teacher: We can use the most basic style of this structure today to learn simple wood connections by using a pair of dice made by the teacher as a model. Student: Explores the structure of the slugs and determines the eye and the hoe. When exploring the type of relationship between the hoe and the eye, the two can be tightly connected to one piece. Thus, it is the relationship between the protruding part and the recessed part in the dice.
    Scenario creation Teacher: Leads students to determine the relationship between the mortise and tenon and introduces the concept of pore size. Simultaneously, the students are instructed to implement a design plan to mark the size difference for the tight fit of the mortise and tenon. Student: Sketches and designs using a computer.
    Design & construct Student: Uses the design file to practice with a laser cutter to see he or she can write out a dice in its entirety.
    Assessing the design Student: Thinks and asks questions about semifinished products that cannot be stitched together. Teacher: Guides the design of the problems, which allows everyone to discuss together. The edge of the dice is spelled together in a two-dimensional plan. What is the relationship between the raised and sunken edges?
    Redesigning Student: Redraws the design and performs an evaluation. Teacher: Sets up the exercise tasks after class, i.e., beautify the creative shape and create a cube-based storage tank.
    Adopting The student use the complete dice and the piggy tank to explain their work.
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    Table 3.  Data collection tools

    Evaluators Contents Tools
    Teacher & students Students' higher-level thinking ability Opening questions in pretest and posttest (Appendix A)
    Students' performance in engineering problem-solving ability Students' project outcome score
    Students' work report recording
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    Table 4.  Scoring criteria

    Level ○  Understanding and application of knowledge
    ○  Embodiment of the scientific nature of knowledge
    ○  Cooperation of materials and tools
    ○  Exploration of practice and scenario conception
    ○  Integrity of structural design
    ○  Feasibility of a solution
    ○  Functional design of project
    ○  Functional diversity
    ○  Design innovation
    0 - Failure to meet requirements Lack of consideration of actual size, proportion, and human relationship Incomplete structure and design Function is either not implemented or incomplete
    1- pass Consideration of the overall size and spatial layout but a lack of consideration of the size of different structures Structure is simple imitation Single function, no new design
    2 - satisfactory Consideration of the man–machine relationship, such as table, chair, and bed cabinet with appropriate height and size ratios Consideration of the structural cooperation of different homes, feasible but conditional scheme, and less consideration of the dormitory environment Multifunctional, with many aspects of dormitory life being considered;
    3 - excellent Consideration of the basis of human–machine relationship and dormitory space layout, the design of structures such as slugs and activity doors, or the combination of complex mechanical structures and electronic technologies in the design intent Work exhibits a high degree of completeness and a detailed structural design Functional considerations are more comprehensive, and the design is innovative compared with the current dormitory; the design is innovative and proposes different programs of the design
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    Table 5.  Different importance order of the three assessment dimensions

    Importance order of three dimensions Researcher General technology teacher Senior students of the club
    (i) Understanding and application of knowledge,
    (ii) Exploring practice and scheme idea,
    (iii) Designing a functional project
    (i) (ii) (iii) (ii) (iii) (i) (iii) (ii) (i)
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    Table 6.  Scores for the six groups' work

    Dimensions Groups Researcher General technology teacher Senior students in club Mean score
    ○  Understanding and application of knowledge
    ○  Embodying the scientific nature of knowledge
    ○  Matching of materials and tools
    One 2 3 2 2.33
    Two 1 1 2 1.33
    Three 1 1 1 1.00
    Four 1 1 0 0.67
    Five 3 1 2 2.00
    Six 2 2 2 2.00
    Average 1.56
    ○  Exploring practice and scenario conception
    ○  Integrity of structural design
    ○  Feasibility of a solution
    One 3 3 2 2.67
    Two 1 2 2 1.67
    Three 0 0 2 0.67
    Four 0 1 2 1.00
    Five 3 2 2 2.33
    Six 2 2 3 2.33
    Average 1.78
    ○  Designing a functional project
    ○  Functional diversity
    ○  Design innovation
    One 3 3 2 2.67
    Two 2 2 2 2.00
    Three 2 1 3 2.00
    Four 2 2 3 2.33
    Five 2 2 2 2.00
    Six 3 2 3 2.67
    Average 2.28
     | Show Table
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    Table 7.  Coding from six groups' final oral report

    Dimensions Corresponding Expressions
    1. Scope of the problem
    ○  Make clear goals
    G1: The door will not be blocked, the table can still be put there, and the corridor space is relatively large … thereby expanding storage space.
    G2: Combining a bed and a table is more convenient than a top-down relationship.
    G5: Large storage space, wardrobe, bookshelf.
    ○  Restrictions G2: If you consider mosquito nets, add a device.
    G3: Currently, the overall layout and other structures of dormitories are not considered.
    G4: Not allowed by the dormitory if motors are required.
    G5: The night is dark. We can install an LED lamp here.
    G6: Entire dormitory building requires renovation.
    ○  Feasibility G1: A part of the cupboard door could become a table turning over onto the bed. In addition, a big space in the cabinet remains.
    G3: We designed the whole dormitory renovation plan.
    G5: Install a lamp here … a door hinge.
    G6: The bathroom is on one of the three floors… the middle staircase connects the two floors… here is the ladder. Climbing up and down is better in this design compared with that design … the space utilization rate will be higher, a corner cabinet.
    ○  Background G1: You can sit directly in bed and do your homework.
    G2: You can step on the stairs without getting hurt… some students hate sleeping on the upper bunk.
    G4: The aisle would be too narrow when the lower bed is pulled out at night.
    G5: It will be safer here, with the handrails embedded in the wall… for privacy, there will be a curtain. If the curtain is pulled up, everyone has independent space.
    G6: We maintained the distance between the desk and chair.
    ○  Establish collaboration G1: My teammates told me that.
    G5: We divided the work. I did this part, and my teammates did other parts.
    2. Scenarios creation
    ○  Discussion
    G2: The height of the lower berth is problematic.
    G3: This is our initial idea.
    G4: The whole will always take up space.
    ○  Consider strategy G1: The cabinet under the bed can also save space.
    G4: A power-driven structure that requires constant power supply was a good idea but would be difficult in practice… the center of gravity and braking should also be considered when the bed turns.
    ○  Plan G2: Here are the wardrobes and tables. Consider movable beds. Consider expanding the height between the upper and lower berths.
    G6: Lifting table.
    3. Design & construct
    ○  Size
    G1: Length of the bed is 1.9 meters; we calculated the total length of the bedroom to be 3.3 meters.
    G2: Stairs are approximately 30 cm high.
    G5: Designed on a scale of 1:10.
    ○  CAD G5: We stitched them together to increase their strength.
    ○  Fabrication G5: The whole design is more than 2 m high.
    4. Design assessment
    ○  Inspect restrictions
    ○  Assess the model
    G3: Distance is inappropriate, and the first design was made with parts that, after inspection, cannot go together.
    5. redesign
    ○  Reflect on the first design
    ○  Interpret the Second Design
    ○  Remodel
    G1: This is our second complete design.
    G6: We made multiple parts, but they did not fit.
    Note: G1 represents statements of Group 1, G2 represents Group 2, and so forth.
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    Table 8.  Coding for open-ended questions

    Questions Responses First Classification Second Classification
    1) What are the key concerns of solving this task?

    2) Write a list of the three most critical concerns.
    Cost, cost-effectiveness, budget Cost (9) Defining the problem and scope (36)
    Cost problem
    Budget cost
    Safety, child protection measures Safety (4)
    Safety problem
    Safety issues: quality of the facilities must be guaranteed
    Fun, creative, fun projects Creativity (1)
    Good for your health Function (8)
    Types and arrangements of facilities
    Equipment selection, appearance, price
    Type of equipment
    Type and quantity of equipment
    Equipment style
    Facility materials
    Workers Human (1)
    Green chairs and fitness equipment are reasonably distributed Restrictions (7)
    Reasonable placement (location) of each piece of equipment
    Land area
    Site selection and planning
    Location of construction site
    Construction time Time (4)
    Time required
    Speed of construction
    Resident suggestions Users (2)
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    Table 9.  Frequency of answers between the pretest and the posttest

    Questions Corresponding dimensions Frequency in pretest Frequency in posttest
    1 What factors must be addressed to solve this task? Write a list of the three most critical questions. Problem scoping 36 38
    2 Explain the materials you expect to use and the facilities you expect to build (draw or briefly describe functions). Scenario creation 11 16
    3 Write a list of other factors that engineers must consider to accomplish this task. Assessing design & redesign 23 33
    4 In which areas of knowledge and skills do you require training? STEM knowledge 28 27
    5 Imagine the entire design process of creating a typhoon forecast device. Designing & constructing 20 33
    6 To complete such an authentic task, what objective conditions are required in addition to knowledge? Assessing design & redesign 15 21
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