Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction


Special and Early Childhood Education

Major Advisor

Deb Carter, Ph.D.

Major Advisor

Julianne Wenner, Ph.D.


Sara Hagenah, Ph.D.


Juli Pool, Ph.D.


Peer interactions are a significant part of school experiences and influence children’s adjustment to school, however preschool students with and at-risk for disabilities are found to display a unique trajectory of social development, often requiring intentional instruction in social skills. A variety of interventions have been designed to support these students; however, they target foundational skills such as inviting peers to play and taking turns with materials, leaving a gap in the research on more complex social skills such as collaboration and joint problem-solving. The engineering design process (EDP) is a cyclical method that students follow to collectively build a solution to a problem. Engineering encompasses hands-on activity, inquiry, teamwork, and other instructional practices that develop students’ collaboration and problem-solving skills. Given that preschool students with or at-risk for disabilities require further support in social skills such as collaboration and problem-solving, and engineering activities provide naturally embedded opportunities for collaboration, students’ engagement in the EDP working along with peers is a gap in the research that needs to be explored. The purpose of this study was to explore the nature of social interactions that take place between preschool students with diverse social-emotional skills when engaging in engineering activities using a qualitative single case study design. Thirteen preschool students and one preschool teacher participated in this study wherein four engineering activities were implemented in the classroom over a four-week period. Analysis of video clips of student participation in the four activities as well as teacher interviews revealed two distinct patterns of social interactions among students: a) collaboration: wherein students assigned responsibilities to each other and completed the activities in small groups; and b) “baby steps” towards collaboration: wherein students needing teacher support worked intermittently with peers. A third emergent finding concerns the nature of materials provided during these activities and the possibilities those provided for students to work together. The importance of these engineering activities in providing the platform for students with diverse needs to work together and engage in authentic peer interactions is discussed. Implications of these findings and recommendations for future research including how students with disabilities can access and meaningfully participate in similar inquiry-driven activities as well as the teacher’s role in supporting their participation is discussed.