name of their organization to the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA).
In contrast, the “E,” engineering education, has only recently begun to make its way into the K–12 classroom. According to a recent estimate, some 5 million K–12 students have taken part in formal engineering curricula since the early 1990s (NAE and NRC, 2009). Although this is a small number compared with the roughly 56 million students enrolled annually in K–12 schools (DOEd, 2008), it indicates that STEM education is expanding beyond science and mathematics. K–12 students are also being exposed to engineering in informal settings—such as after-school programs and visits to informal-education institutions, such as museums and science centers. For example, some 160,000 students ages 6 to 18 participated in engineering-related design competitions through the FIRST program (FIRST, 2009).
Developers of engineering curricula, informal and after-school engineering programs, engineering professional societies, a number of engineering schools and companies, and a growing cadre of education researchers and teachers believe engineering education offers K–12 students a number of benefits, including stimulating interest and improving achievement in mathematics and science, developing engineering design skills, increasing technological literacy, improving the understanding of engineering and the work of engineers, and attracting young people to careers in engineering.
Evidence of these benefits is slim so far, in large part because few rigorous impact studies have been conducted. However, as was noted in Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects, the data are strongest for the potential positive impact of engineering on the learning of mathematics and science (NAE and NRC, 2009). In fact, the report found that enhancing the study of science and mathematics for all students—the “mainline”—was the most common objective of existing K–12 engineering curricula. Only a few had as their primary purpose preparing students to pursue careers in engineering or other technical fields, often referred to as the engineering or STEM “pipeline.”1
However, K–12 engineering education is being taught in the absence of content standards to define what students should know and be able to do, even though standards have been a major element in education reform in the United States for more than 20 years. Existing standards in other subjects, such as science and technology education, do include connections to engineering, but there are no separate, comprehensive, grade-by-grade standards for engineering in K–12 education.
Engineering has been defined as design under constraints (Wulf, 1998), and the most fundamental of these constraints is the laws of nature. Engineers designing a solution to a particular problem must, for example, take into account how physical objects behave in motion. Other constraints include time, money, available materials, ergonomics, environmental regulations, manufacturability, reparability, and political considerations.
Engineers design with the goal of meeting human needs and wants. Design is an iterative process that begins with the identification of a problem and ends with a solution that takes into
It is probably more accurate to describe the track followed by STEM students as “pathways,” since there are multiple routes into and out of careers. However, for the purposes of contrasting the general-education and engineering-preparation purposes of K–12 engineering education, the committee has chosen to use the mainline-pipeline metaphor.