appropriate to their designs as they need them, rather than imposing them from the beginning of the activity (Roth, 2001). Representations are particularly effective in collaborative situations (Arias et al., 2000). One of the benefits of design activities is that thinking and acting become inextricably connected. In fact, with continued iterations, designs become “tools to think with” (Roth, 1996).
The reviews of the literature by the commissioned authors show that, although schoolchildren do not naturally use drawings and representations effectively in the design process, some classroom practices can have a positive impact on the way they use them. Allowing young children to play with the construction materials they will use can lead to better design drawings, particularly when children also participate in a discussion of how their drawings will be used. Comparing drawings done before and after design can help determine the usefulness of the initial drawing (Claire, 1991; Pace and Larson, 1992).
Drawing and representing are useful methods of eliciting nascent ideas, but design representations tend to be highly specific and do not easily lead to abstraction or transference to other situations (Gick and Holyoak, 1980). Nevertheless, repeated experiences related to a single complex concept can encourage abstraction, and students’ representations do evolve and improve over the course of the dynamic design process (Spiro et al., 1991). Iterations of a full design cycle can improve learning and challenge students to “translate experiential knowledge into abstract rational form” (Hill and Smith, 1998).
For young children, a preliminary to drawing may be investigation and exploration of materials. In one study, lower elementary students were allowed to play with a limited selection of materials and explore their possibilities before being asked to draw and then make a figure from those materials (Samuel, 1991). To support their drawings, they were supplied with notes about the materials and instructions, such as drawing top and side views rather than perspective views.
Another study (Fleer, 1999) in which children who were asked to draw designs of forts they had constructed led to an interesting observation about plan-view versus side-view drawings. The point of view tended to correlate with the drawing position of the child. If the fort was on the desk, the drawing tended to be a side view; it the model was on the floor, the drawing tended to be a plan view.
For young students who may not know what engineering is, contextualizing their design activity by using simple, familiar objects can be productive.