The search for K–12 engineering education curricula turned up a wide variety of products from many different sources. Each curriculum had its own personality, and no two were completely alike in mission, content, format, or pedagogy. To deal with this complexity, Prof. Welty developed a “beads-and-threads” model (Figure 4-1) that enabled us to analyze the curricula in a systematic way using a manageable set of key variables.
The beads represent the “packaging” in which the engineering content of the curriculum is delivered to students. Most of the curricular materials used interesting technologies to package content into manageable chunks. For example, “The Infinity Project” focused on technologies likely to be of interest to students, such as the Internet and cell phones, digital video and movie special effects, and electronic music. Other developers organized materials around hands-on learning activities familiar to and popular with many students and teachers. For example, the middle school program of “Project Lead the Way,” Gateway to Technology, includes activities for making and testing CO2-powered dragsters, magnetic-levitation vehicles, water-bottle rockets, model rockets, and Rube Goldberg devices.
The content of several curricula was organized around the design process. For example, the “Design and Discovery” curriculum, by Intel Corporation, features lessons and learning activities for identifying problems, gathering information, brainstorming solutions, drawing plans, making models, building prototypes, and making presentations. Prominent local or regional industries, such as Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., were used as examples in interdisciplinary thematic units in the “Children Designing and Engineering” materials, developed at The College of New Jersey. The material in one curriculum, “Engineering is Elementary,” was organized around traditional fields of engineering (e.g., civil, environmental, electrical, agricultural, and mechanical engineering).
In the conceptual model, the threads, which run through the beads, represent the core concepts and basic skills a curriculum is designed to impart, independent of the particular packaging. Three threads, mathematics, science, and technology, represent domain knowledge in these subjects that is used in engineering design. A fourth thread represents the engineering design process. The design thread incorporates a number of spe-