Epistemic tools in engineering design for K-12 education

Gregory J. Kelly, Christine M. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Engineering design provides unique ways to include epistemic tools to support collaborative sense-making, reasoning with evidence, and assessing knowledge. Engineering design processes often require students to apply science concepts to solve problems. We draw from five engineering curricular units that engaged students in specific epistemic practices of engineering: constructing models and prototypes, making trade-offs between criteria and constraints, and communicating through uses of conventionalized verbal, written, and symbolic models. Through analysis of curriculum products, student artifacts, and classroom discourse, we show how engaging in such practices requires the use of epistemic tools that shape, and are shaped by, the knowledge construction work of the members of the classrooms. The epistemic tools foster creating, sharing, and assessing knowledge claims. Six principles of practice for education demonstrate how such tools can be educative. These principles evince how epistemic tools support goal-directed, concerted activity that can support the learning of disciplinary knowledge and practice and offer the potential to increase student agency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1080-1111
Number of pages32
JournalScience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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