In rare cases, systems and systems thinking are used to analyze the reasons a technology fails. One example is a module on Reverse Engineering in “Designing for Tomorrow.” This module begins with a case study of failures associated with the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Through a simplified form of reverse engineering, the students, in theory, discover that the accident was caused by systems breakdowns in the NASA organization, as well as a failure in the space shuttle technology.
We were not surprised that the reasons for including engineering content in these curricula are as diverse as the materials themselves. It is surprising, however, that teaching engineering is not always a first-order objective. In most cases, the primary reason for including engineering is to enhance the study of science, mathematics, or both subjects. For example, the “Building Math” program uses examples from engineering to demonstrate “how math is used as a discipline of study and a career path.” The materials in “A World in Motion” facilitate an “exploration of physical science while addressing essential mathematic and scientific concepts and skills.” The “Insights (Structures Unit)” provides “students with exciting science experiences that extend their natural fascination with the world and help them learn the science skills and concepts they will need in later schooling and in life.” Engineering materials in “The Infinity Project” provide “an innovative approach to applying fundamental science and mathematics concepts to solving contemporary engineering problems.”
The materials designed to intensify learning in math and science and other core-curriculum subjects capitalize on the hands-on, interdisciplinary nature of engineering. For example, the goal of “Children Designing and Engineering” is to “develop innovative and unique contextual learning units that challenge students to think, act and share.” Similarly, “Designing for Tomorrow” provides high school students with “high-quality interdisciplinary learning experiences that challenge them academically and develop their problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication skills.”
Sometimes the goal of enhancing the study of science and mathematics is more explicit. For example, Building Structures with Young Children makes “science the work and play of exploring materials and phenomena, while providing opportunities for children to learn from that experience.” The “Building Math” program uses the study of engineering to demonstrate “how math is used as a discipline of study and a career path … [through]