If supporters of improvements in K–12 STEM education (e.g., federal agencies, business and industry, foundations) champion these guidelines, they could have a rapid, positive effect on the development of K–12 engineering curricula that would be based on a more focused and more representative idea of the practice of engineering. Guidelines could provide a framework for assessment development in engineering as well as lay the groundwork for the possible development of content standards. If guidelines were incorporated into in-service and pre-service teacher education, prospective and current teachers would be prepared to create lesson plans that incorporate engineering principles. The same guidelines could be a useful resource for educators in informal education settings.
RECOMMENDATION 2. The U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies with interest in engineering research and education should fund the development of guidelines for K–12 engineering instructional materials. Development should be overseen by an organization with expertise in K–12 education policy in concert with the engineering community. Other partners should include mathematics, science, technology education, social studies, and English-language-arts teacher professional societies; curriculum development and teacher professional development experts; and organizations representing informal and after-school education. Funding should be sufficient for an initial, intense development effort that lasts for one year or less, and additional support should be provided for periodic revisions as more research data become available about learning and teaching engineering on the K–12 level.
The committee suggests that the guidelines be made available online and periodically revised as data become available on the impact of engineering education on student learning in engineering as well as in science, mathematics, and technology; improvements in technological literacy; awareness and interest in engineering as a career option; and how students develop design ideas and practices over time.
Because guidelines would not have the same standing as standards, teachers, developers of instructional materials, and others may not follow them unless they are required to do so by funding agencies, state law, or local policy. In addition, if guidelines are, or are perceived to be, leading to a silo approach to K–12 engineering education, they could arouse resistance to the integration of engineering material and ideas into mathematics, science, and technology education.
Developing consensus on core concepts, skills, and dispositions in K–12 engineering education and creating guidelines for the development of instructional materials will be important steps toward more consistent and higher quality K–12 engineering education. However, the committee believes that continuous improvement will require ongoing research to answer fundamental questions about how young people learn and understand engineering. This was an important point in the research-related recommendations in Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects (NAE and NRC, 2009). We endorse those recommendations, urge that their relevance to the infusion and mapping approaches described in this report be considered, and suggest that they be expanded.