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The Impact of Productive Struggle Support on Student Mindset in a High School Technology and Engineering Class: A Case Study

Miller, Molly S. (2020) The Impact of Productive Struggle Support on Student Mindset in a High School Technology and Engineering Class: A Case Study. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The goal of preparing students for life after secondary school, regardless of future student plans, will require the development of critical thinking to face complex problems in life. One potential tool in preparing students for these challenges is the use of purposeful teacher support of student productive struggle in learning new skills and concepts. As iterative failure and improvement are essential parts of the engineering design process, it is important to explore supportive productive struggle in engineering coursework.
Social skills, perseverance, and learning strategies are part of the noncognitive factors that impact academic performance. One factor affecting student behavior and thinking is student mindset. Previous literature has shown that not only can fixed or growth mindset impact learning behaviors, mindsets are also capable of being altered through interventions. One missing piece of understanding mindsets is the role that challenging classroom experiences, such as working through significant struggle, have on the way students view their own intelligence. This action research case study aims to connect the research on supportive productive struggle with that of mindset, error attribution, and academic progression through lab tasks.
The study was conducted with high school engineering students who engaged in three productive struggle lab tasks based in the context of mechanical advantage in simple machines. Throughout the lab tasks, the teacher provided support while maintaining rigor, student-aligned thinking, and student-led solution attempts, which are essential in productive struggle. Data collected through pre- and post-task mindset assessments, journals of academic work alongside reflections, and focus student interviews was utilized to answer inquiry questions about the relationship between productive struggle support and student mindset, attribution of errors, and academic progression through tasks.
Data analysis revealed a statistically significant (p=0.05) change in mindset after supportive productive struggle. The data showed no consistent shifts in internal versus external error attribution across the tasks. Finally, the data suggest that supportive productive struggle experiences do increase student ability to make progress through challenges, including doing so with a more positive outlook on the experience. Additional rationale and discussion explains the findings as related to existing literature, researcher observations, and future implications.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Miller, Molly S.MSM123@pitt.eduMSM123
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAnsell,
Committee MemberKokka,
Committee MemberWarner,
Date: 7 July 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 April 2020
Approval Date: 7 July 2020
Submission Date: 14 May 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 137
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Instruction and Learning
Degree: EdD - Doctor of Education
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Error Attribution Failure Mindset Noncognitive Factors Productive Struggle Teacher Support
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2020 19:22
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2020 19:22


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