The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Exploring Young Children’s Understanding About the Concept of Volume Through Engineering Design in a STEM Activity: A Case Study

Partners' Institution
University of Peloponnese
Year of publication
Educational stage
Secondary Level
Journal name
International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education volume
Thematic Area
STEAM intervention (teaching strategies, evaluation...), Students’ Difficulties
Offering STEM activity in young children’s classrooms is critical as it offers opportunities to have fun and excited play time as well as to learn and apply problem-solving skills. These national reform documents espouse the idea of promoting young children’s authentic science learning. However, there is a great dearth of studies on how young children understand concepts through STEM learning, specifically focusing on engineering design.
The purpose of this study was to explore young children’s under- standing of the concepts of volume through the practices of engineering design in an engineering-focused STEM activity.
To appropriately teach the STEM activity, this study attends to two key ideas including the concept of volume and the practice of engineering design. The term Bengineering in this study is defined as Bany engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems). However, the term Bengineering design is a conundrum for STEM educators. Volume is generally defined as the amount of space occupied by an object as measured in cubic units.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
There are some procedures that are described in this paper. The first one is the defining and delimiting engineering problems. The second is the young children's understanding about volume.

The study was conducted with a purposeful sampling design. A qualitative study "typically" focuses in depth on relatively small samples. A qualitative design was suitable for this study because of its content matter, which lies in the realm of understandings, and experiences and thus requires adequate contextualization. This study was also best accomplished through the case study methodology because of our interest in individual children and their problem-solving processes and because this subject matter is best explained through intensive and holistic description.

The evaluation took place in a school in a midsoze city, the Midwestern USA. Three children (aged 6 -7) participated to the evaluation. For the study, they developed a play-based and hands-on STEM activity that allowed students to define engineering problems, design solutions, and optimize the design solution to create a clay boat that maximizes its volume. Each student was given a fixed and equal amount of clay (weighing 50 g). After a couple of trials through designing, testing, and redesigning their boats, the students evaluated which design best met the criteria to carry the most pennies.
The experiment had three phases. At every phase, teacher were making a lesson of "defining and delimiting engineering problems (20 min)" and then the children construct and re-construct their clay boats.
In the context of evaluation, interviews were conducted to understand each individual student’s expe- riences, perceptions, and interpretations.

Results & Conclusions
This study found that engineering abilities in young children can be referred to as emergent engineering. That is, young children may not possess prior knowledge or correct concepts to approach how to solve problems but rather it emerges from a number of interactions with the components of the problems through multiple trial- errors. They understand the concept of volume correctly but not fully while going through the practices of engineering design. This finding becomes meaningful, though limited cases were studied, amidst little research reported on engineering education in K-12.
Building on children’s positive experiences can give rise to a mindset toward engineering education that could lay a solid foundation for future studies in science and engineering. Hence, providing children with engineering-focused STEM learning experiences during the early years of school can increase the possibility of developing a firm foundation for later engineering education.
Point of Strength
The main point of this work is that the children not only listen to some theoretical basis about how to define the volume, but also design and construct clay boats that can float on water.
By this way, they understand the meaning of the volume.
Engineering design, Engineering education, STEM, Young children, Volume
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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