This research addresses the STEM learning and teaching environment for high school students through their understanding of engineering design. The purpose of this exploratory research was to clarify engineering design as a construct and perform empirical preparatory research on a STEM learning experience for high school students. This three year project tested high school student engineering design thinking with that of experts by addressing the following question: How does high school student engineering design thinking compare to that of experts in terms of engineering design performance and knowledge?
Fifty-nine participants from four states were asked to think out loud in a three hour design challenge. Verbal protocol analysis was conducted as the students engaged in the engineering design process. The area of focus for this paper was time allocations across essential elements of the design process. This research may help to uncover the elusive cognitive thought processes employed by students as they practice engineering design thinking and will inform curriculum developers and teachers planning classroom strategies to improve high school students’ understanding of engineering.