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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
Lead the Way,” addresses basic geometry in some detail in conjunction with the exploration of the modeling of solids using computer-aided design software. In this curriculum, students identify geometric shapes (e.g., ellipses, triangles, polygons), calculate surface area and volume, use Cartesian coordinates, and use addition and subtraction to create geometric shapes.
One strategy for increasing the mathematics content in some curricula was to include mathematical concepts in supplementary materials as enrichment activities. This approach might be characterized as a thread along the outside of the beads. The peripheral placement of the thread indicates that enrichment activities are optional, rather than integral to the unit but complement or extend instruction.
This approach was found in materials associated with projects in “Children Designing and Engineering,” “Models and Designs,” “Material World Modules,” and “A World in Motion.” For example, in an “extension activity” in “Models and Designs,” students are asked to determine how long it took them to make an electrical device called a “hum dinger” (e.g., fastest time, slowest time, average time, total time). In an optional mathematics assignment in the Gliders unit of “A World in Motion,” students determine the mathematical properties of different wing shapes (e.g., area, mean chord length, aspect ratio). At the high school level, the “Materials World Modules” invites teachers to engage students in using the formula for Young’s modulus to determine the deflection of a fishing pole made out of drinking straws.
Mathematics is a dominant thread in “The Infinity Project” and “Building Math.” The latter is designed to teach students how principles learned in middle school algebra can be used in the context of engineering challenges. For example, in the Amazon Mission unit, students design an insulated carrier for transporting malaria medicine, a filtration system for removing mercury from water, and an intervention plan for containing the spread of a flu virus. Like most of the other curricula reviewed, “Building Math” also requires that students collect data, make graphs, and interpret patterns, related to, for example, the insulating properties of materials; the flow of water through holes of different sizes; the deflection of materials based on their length, thickness, and shape; and the effect of angles on the speed of an object sliding down a string. A major goal of the “Building Math” curriculum is to teach students that engineers use mathematics to minimize guesswork in designing solutions to problems.
“The Infinity Project” is one of the few initiatives in which advanced algebra and trigonometry are introduced in engineering contexts. This curriculum encourages students to uncover, examine, and apply basic