evaluations, and unpublished documents such as dissertations (Svihla et al., unpublished).
Overall, the review turned up limited evidence for many of the benefits predicted or claimed for K–12 engineering education. This does not mean that the benefits do not exist, but it does confirm that relatively few well-designed, carefully executed studies have been conducted on this subject. This issue is discussed in greater detail at the end of this chapter and in Chapter 6.
One of the claims most often made about K–12 engineering education is that it improves learning and achievement in science and mathematics. This is a particularly compelling claim because, for the past two decades, many concerted efforts have been made to improve K–12 science and mathematics education in the United States. By most accounts those efforts have had relatively unimpressive results (Box 3-2).
How might engineering education improve learning in science and mathematics? In theory, if students are taught science and mathematics concepts and skills while solving engineering or engineering-like problems, they will be able to grasp these concepts and learn these skills more easily and retain them better, because the engineering design approach can provide real-world context to what are otherwise very abstract concepts.
Preliminary evidence supports this theory. For example, students who took courses developed by “Project Lead the Way” (PLTW) scored significantly higher on science and mathematics in the NAEP than students in a random, stratified comparison group (Bottoms and Anthony, 2005; Bottoms and Uhn, 2007). Research using a state achievement test as the basis of comparison has found more mixed results. PLTW students from schools serving a high proportion of low-income families showed less improvement in mathematics scores from grade 8 to 10 and no statistical difference in science achievement scores over that period, compared with a control group (Tran and Nathan, In press). And PLTW students attending schools serving predominantly affluent families exhibited small gains in mathematics achievement but no improvement in science achievement, compared with a control sample (Tran and Nathan, In press).
Students who had taken the “Engineering Our Future New Jersey” course, which is offered in 32 elementary, middle, and high schools in the state, demonstrated significant improvements in scores on both science and