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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
topic—gliders—to just 46 pages on the huge topic of biotechnology. To ensure that patterns would be identified and meaningful conclusions drawn, the committee reviewed roughly equal numbers of curricula for each major K–12 grade band (i.e., elementary, middle, and high school).
Because of limitations on time and funding, as well as practical difficulties in locating some more obscure products, this curriculum review cannot be considered comprehensive. Nevertheless, the committee believes nearly all major initiatives and many less-prominent ones are included, thus providing a reasonable overview of the current state of K–12 engineering education in the United States. We are aware that there are individual courses not part of larger curricula that address engineering concepts and skills to varying degrees. These courses, typically developed and taught by technology educators, are not treated in our analysis, however.
To bound the analysis, the committee developed criteria to guide the selection of curricula that reflect the committee’s consensus that design is the distinguishing characteristic of engineering. To be included in the study, therefore, curricula had to meet the following specifications:
The curriculum must engage students in the engineering-design process or require that students analyze past solutions to engineering-design problems.
The curriculum must explore certain concepts (e.g., systems, constraints, analysis, modeling, optimization) that are central to engineering thinking.
The curriculum must include meaningful instances of mathematics, science, and technology.
The curriculum must present engineering as relevant to individuals, society at large, or both.
The curriculum must be of sufficient scale, maturity, and rigor to justify the time and resources required to conduct an analysis.2
Specifically, each initiative had to be designed to be used by people and organizations outside the group responsible for its initial development. It also had to include at least one salient piece that had undergone field testing and subsequent revision and was no longer identified as a “draft.” Finally, during the development of the initiative, it had to include some form of review of the initial concept, pilot or field testing, iterations based on feedback, an external evaluation, or a combination of these.