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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
Engineering to start 100 academies of engineering under the auspices of the National Academy Foundation.
As yet, there is no clear description of the knowledge and skills needed to teach engineering to children. Nor do states license or certify teachers of engineering the way they do teachers of science, mathematics, technology, and other subjects. Most instructors who teach engineering in middle and high schools have a background in technology education;6 a smaller number have backgrounds in science education; and an even smaller number have backgrounds in engineering. Because engineering is a developing area of content for K–12 schools, professional training for teachers in this field is still in its infancy.
Teacher “content knowledge” can be thought of as having three dimensions. First, teachers must know the subject they are teaching, in this case engineering, and its organizing principles. Second, they must have curricular knowledge, that is, an understanding of the materials and programs available to deliver the content. Third, they must have pedagogical content knowledge, which has been defined as “that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding” (Shulman, 1987).
Building on Shulman’s work, Ball et al. (2008) have identified subcategories of subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical-content knowledge that reflect the specialized understanding unique to teaching. First, teachers must have “knowledge of content and students,” which means they must be able to predict what students will find interesting, motivating, and difficult and to interpret students’ incomplete thinking. Second, teachers need “knowledge of content and teaching,” which implies they must be able to sequence particular content for instruction, for example, or evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various representations of specific ideas.
To get a better understanding of how teachers acquire knowledge and skills to teach engineering to K–12 students, the committee looked into a number of programs that provide pre-service and in-service professional-development programs. Two committee workshops, in October 2007 and February 2008, were substantially devoted to this topic and are summarized in what follows.
For example, 67 percent of teachers delivering the Project Lead the Way curriculum have a teaching certificate in technology education (R. Grimsely, PLTW, personal communication, June 16, 2009).