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Summary A lthough Kâ12 engineering education has received little attention from most Americans, including educators and policy makers, it has slowly been making its way into U.S. Kâ12 classrooms. Today, several dozen different engineering programs and curricula are offered in school districts around the country, and thousands of teachers have attended professional development sessions to teach engineering-related coursework. In the past 15 years, several million Kâ12 students have experienced some formal engineering education. The presence of engineering in Kâ12 classrooms is an important phe- nomenon, not because of the number of students impacted, which is still small relative to other school subjects, but because of the implications of engineering education for the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education more broadly. Speciï¬cally, as elabo- rated in the full report, Kâ12 engineering education may improve student learning and achievement in science and mathematics; increase awareness of engineering and the work of engineers; boost youth interest in pursuing engineering as a career; and increase the technological literacy of all students. The committee believes engineering education may even act as a catalyst for a more interconnected and effective Kâ12 STEM education system in the United States. Achieving the latter outcome will require signiï¬cant rethink- ing of what STEM education can and should be. 1
2 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION In recent years, educators and policy makers have come to a consensus that the teaching of STEM subjects in U.S. schools must be improved. The focus on STEM topics is closely related to concerns about U.S. competitive- ness in the global economy and about the development of a workforce with the knowledge and skills to address technical and technological issues. To date, most efforts to improve STEM education have been concentrated on mathematics and science, but an increasing number of states and school districts have been adding technology education to the mix, and a smaller but signiï¬cant number have added engineering. In contrast to science, mathematics, and even technology education, all of which have established learning standards and a long history in the Kâ12 curriculum, the teaching of engineering in elementary and secondary schools is still very much a work in progress. Not only have no learning standards been developed, little is available in the way of guidance for teacher profes- sional development, and no national or state-level assessments of student accomplishment have been developed. In addition, no single organization or central clearinghouse collects information on Kâ12 engineering education. Thus a number of basic questions remain unanswered. How is engi- neering taught in grades Kâ12? What types of instructional materials and curricula have been used? How does engineering education âinteractâ with other STEM subjects? In particular, how has Kâ12 engineering instruction incorporated science, technology, and mathematics concepts, and how has it used these subjects as a context for exploring engineering concepts? Con- versely, how has engineering been used as a context for exploring science, technology, and mathematics concepts? And what impact have various initia- tives had? Have they, for instance, improved student achievement in science or mathematics or stimulated interest among students in pursuing careers in engineering? In 2006 the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council Center for Education established the Committee on Kâ12 Engi- neering Education to begin to address these and other questions. Over a period of two years, the committee held ï¬ve face-to-face meetings, two of which accompanied information-gathering workshops. The commit- tee also commissioned an analysis of existing Kâ12 engineering curricula; conducted reviews of the literature on areas of conceptual learning related to engineering, the development of engineering skills, and the impact of Kâ12 engineering education initiatives; and collected preliminary infor- mation about a few pre-college engineering education programs in other countries.
SUMMARY 3 The goal of the project was to provide carefully reasoned guidance to key stakeholders regarding the creation and implementation of Kâ12 engineer- ing curricula and instructional practices, focusing especially on the connec- tions among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The project had these speciï¬c objectives: Survey the landscape of current and past efforts to implement engineering-related Kâ12 instructional materials and curricula in the United States and other nations; Review evidence related to the impact of these initiatives, to the extent such information is available; Describe the ways in which Kâ12 engineering content has incor- porated science, technology, and mathematics concepts, used these subjects as context to explore engineering concepts, or used engi- neering as a context to explore science, technology, and mathematics concepts; and Report on the intended learning outcomes of Kâ12 engineering education initiatives, taking into account student age, curriculum focus (e.g., science vs. technology education), program orientation (e.g., general education vs. career/vocational education), and other factors. In meeting the goal and objectives, the project focused on three key issues and three related guiding questions: There are multiple perspectives about the purpose and place of engineering in the Kâ12 classroom. These points of view lead to emphases on very different outcomes. QUESTION: What are real- istic and appropriate learning outcomes for engineering education in Kâ12? There has not been a careful analysis of engineering education within a Kâ12 environment that looks at possible subject intersec- tions. QUESTION: How might engineering education complement the learning objectives of other content areas, particularly science, technology, and mathematics, and how might these other content areas complement learning objectives in engineering education? There has been little if any serious consideration of the systemic changes in the U.S. education system that might be required to enhance Kâ12 engineering education. QUESTION: What educa-
4 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION tional policies, programs, and practice at the local, state, and federal levels might permit meaningful inclusion of engineering at the Kâ12 level in the United States? The committee believes this report will be of special interest to indi- viduals and groups interested in improving the quality of Kâ12 STEM edu- cation in this country. But engineering educators, policy makers, employers, and others concerned about the development of the countryâs technical workforce will also ï¬nd much to ponder. The report should prove useful to advocates for greater public understanding of engineering, as well as to those working to boost citizensâ technological and scientiï¬c literacy. Finally, for educational researchers and cognitive scientists, the document exposes a rich set of questions related to how and under what conditions students come to understand engineering. GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR Kâ12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION The speciï¬cs of how engineering is taught vary from school district to school district, and what takes place in classrooms in the name of engineer- ing education does not always align with generally accepted ideas about the discipline and practice of engineering. This is not to suggest that Kâ12 students should be treated like little engineers, but when a school subject is taught for which there is a professional counterpart, there should be a conceptual connection to post-secondary studies and to the practice of that subject in the real world. The committee set forth three general principles for Kâ12 engineering education. Principle 1. Kâ12 engineering education should emphasize engineering design. The design process, the engineering approach to identifying and solving problems, is (1) highly iterative; (2) open to the idea that a problem may have many possible solutions; (3) a meaningful context for learning scientiï¬c, mathematical, and technological concepts; and (4) a stimulus to systems thinking, modeling, and analysis. In all of these ways, engineering design is a potentially useful pedagogical strategy.
SUMMARY 5 Principle 2. Kâ12 engineering education should incorporate important and developmentally appropriate mathematics, science, and technology knowledge and skills. Certain science concepts as well as the use of scientiï¬c inquiry methods can support engineering design activities. Similarly, certain mathemati- cal concepts and computational methods can support engineering design, especially in service of analysis and modeling. Technology and technology concepts can illustrate the outcomes of engineering design, provide oppor- tunities for âreverse engineeringâ activities, and encourage the consideration of social, environmental, and other impacts of engineering design decisions. Testing and measurement technologies, such as thermometers and oscillo- scopes; software for data acquisition and management; computational and visualization tools, such as graphing calculators and CAD/CAM (i.e., com- puter design) programs; and the Internet should be used, as appropriate, to support engineering design, particularly at the high school level. Principle 3. Kâ12 engineering education should promote engineering habits of mind. Engineering âhabits of mindâ1 align with what many believe are essential skills for citizens in the 21st century.2 These include (1) systems thinking, (2) creativity, (3) optimism, (4) collaboration, (5) communication, and (6) attention to ethical considerations. Systems thinking equips students to recognize essential interconnections in the technological world and to appre- ciate that systems may have unexpected effects that cannot be predicted from the behavior of individual subsystems. Creativity is inherent in the engineer- ing design process. Optimism reï¬ects a world view in which possibilities and opportunities can be found in every challenge and an understanding that every technology can be improved. Engineering is a âteam sportâ; collabora- tion leverages the perspectives, knowledge, and capabilities of team members to address a design challenge. Communication is essential to effective col- laboration, to understanding the particular wants and needs of a âcustomer,â and to explaining and justifying the ï¬nal design solution. Ethical consider- ations draw attention to the impacts of engineering on people and the envi- ronment; ethical considerations include possible unintended consequences 1The committee has adopted the term âhabits of mind,â as used by the American Asso- ciation for the Advancement of Science in Science for All Americans (1990), to refer to the values, attitudes, and thinking skills associated with engineering. 2See, for example, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, www.21stcenturyskills.org.
6 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION of a technology, the potential disproportionate advantages or disadvantages of a technology for certain groups or individuals, and other issues. These principles, particularly Principle 3, should be considered aspira- tional rather than a reï¬ection of what is present in current Kâ12 engineering education efforts or, indeed, in post-secondary engineering education. THE SCOPE OF Kâ12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION No reliable data are available on the precise number of U.S. Kâ12 stu- dents who have been exposed to engineering-related coursework. With a few notable exceptions, the ï¬rst formal Kâ12 engineering programs in the United States emerged in the early 1990s. Since that time, fewer than 6 million stu- dents have had some kind of formal engineering education. By comparison, the estimated enrollment for grades pre-Kâ12 for U.S. public and private schools in 2008 was nearly 56 million. No reliable data are available on the number of teachers involved in Kâ12 engineering education. The committee estimates that only about 18,000 teachers have received pre- or in-service professional development training to teach engineering-related coursework. The relatively small number of curricular and teacher professional development initiatives for Kâ12 engi- neering education were developed independently, often have different goals, and vary in how they treat engineering concepts, engineering design, and relationships among engineering and the other STEM subjects. Although engineering education represents a relatively small slice of the Kâ12 educational pie, activity in this arena has increased signiï¬cantly, from almost no curricula or programs 15 years ago to several dozen today. The future of Kâ12 engineering education will depend, at least in part, on whether it continues to be taught as a separate subject or whether engineer- ing becomes a catalyst for more interconnected STEM education. IMPACTS OF Kâ12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION A variety of claims have been made for the beneï¬ts of teaching engineer- ing to Kâ12 students, ranging from improved performance in related sub- jects, such as science and mathematics, and increased technological literacy to improvements in school attendance and retention, a better understanding of what engineers do, and an increase in the number of students who pursue careers in engineering. Only limited reliable data are available to support these claims. The most intriguing possible beneï¬t of Kâ12 engineering edu-
SUMMARY 7 cation relates to improved student learning and achievement in mathematics and science, but even here, the paucity and small size of studies and their uneven quality cannot support unqualiï¬ed claims of impact. For engineering education to become a mainstream component of Kâ12 education, there will have to be much more, and much higher quality, outcomes-based data. RECOMMENDATION 1. Foundations and federal agencies with an interest in Kâ12 engineering education should support long-term research to con- ï¬rm and reï¬ne the ï¬ndings of earlier studies of the impacts of engineering education on student learning in STEM subjects, student engagement and retention, understanding of engineering, career aspirations, and technologi- cal literacy. RECOMMENDATION 2. Funders of new efforts to develop and implement curricula for Kâ12 engineering education should include a research compo- nent that will provide a basis for analyzing how design ideas and practices develop in students over time and determining the classroom conditions necessary to support this development. After a solid analytic foundation has been established, a rigorous evaluation should be undertaken to determine what works and why. THE NATURE OF Kâ12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION Based on extensive reviews of the research literature and curricular materials, the committee concluded that there is no widely accepted vision of what Kâ12 engineering education should include or accomplish. This lack of consensus reï¬ects the ad hoc development of educational materials in engineering and that no major effort has been made to deï¬ne the content of Kâ12 engineering in a rigorous way. Curriculum Content The committeeâs review of curricula revealed that engineering design, the central activity of engineering, is predominant in most Kâ12 curricular and professional development programs. The treatment of key ideas in engineering, many closely related to engineering design, is much more uneven and, in some cases, suggests a lack of understanding on the part of curriculum developers. These shortcomings may be the result, at least in part, of the absence of a clear description of which engineering knowledge,
8 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION skills, and habits of mind are most important, how they relate to and build on one another, and how and when (i.e., at what age) they should be intro- duced to students. In fact, it seems that no one has attempted to specify age- appropriate learning progressions in a rigorous or systematic way; this lack of speciï¬city or consensus on learning outcomes and progressions goes a long way toward explaining the variability and unevenness in the curricula. Curriculum Connections Although there are a number of natural connections between engi- neering and the three other STEM subjects, existing curricula in Kâ12 engineering education do not fully explore them. For example, scientiï¬c investigation and engineering design are closely related activities that can be mutually reinforcing. Most curricula include some instances in which this connection is exploited (e.g., using scientiï¬c inquiry to generate data that can inform engineering design decisions or using engineering design to provide contextualized opportunities for science learning), but the connection is not systematically emphasized to improve learning in both domains. One option, which was evident in several of the curricula we reviewed, is to use engineer- ing as a pedagogical strategy for science laboratory activities. Similarly, mathematical analysis and modeling are essential to engineer- ing design, but very few curricula or professional development initiatives reviewed by the committee used mathematics in ways that support modeling and analysis. The committee believes that Kâ12 engineering can contribute to improvements in studentsâ performance and understanding of certain mathematical concepts and skills. RECOMMENDATION 3. The National Science Foundation and/or U.S. Department of Education should fund research to determine how science inquiry and mathematical reasoning can be connected to engineering design in Kâ12 curricula and teacher professional development. The research should cover the following speciï¬c areas: the most important concepts, skills, and habits of mind in science and mathematics that can be taught effectively using an engineering design approach; the circumstances under which students learn important science and mathematics concepts, skills, and habits of mind through an
SUMMARY 9 engineering-design approach as well or better than through science or mathematics instruction; how engineering design can be used as a pedagogical strategy in science and mathematics instruction; and the implications for professional development of using engineering design as a pedagogical tool for supporting science and mathematics learning. Finally, our review of curricula showed that technology in Kâ12 engi- neering education has primarily been used to illustrate the products of engineering and to provide a context for thinking about engineering design. There were few examples of engineering being used to elucidate ideas related to other aspects of technological literacy, such as the nature and history of technology and the cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions of technology development. Professional Development Programs Compared with professional development opportunities for teaching other STEM subjects, the opportunities for engineering are few and far between. Nearly all in-service initiatives are associated with a few existing curricula, and many do not have one or more of the characteristics (e.g., activities that last for at least one week, ongoing in-classroom or online sup- port following formal training, and opportunities for continuing education) that have been proven to promote teacher learning. The committee found no pre-service initiatives that are likely to con- tribute signiï¬cantly to the supply of qualiï¬ed engineering teachers in the near future. Indeed, the âqualiï¬cationsâ for engineering educators at the Kâ12 level have not even been described. Graduates from a handful of teacher prepara- tion programs have strong backgrounds in STEM subjects, including engi- neering, but few if any of them teach engineering classes in Kâ12 schools. RECOMMENDATION 4. The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), through its Division of Kâ12 and Pre-College Education, should begin a national dialogue on preparing Kâ12 engineering teachers to address the very different needs and circumstances of elementary and secondary teachers and the pros and cons of establishing a formal credentialing pro- cess. Participants in the dialogue should include leaders in Kâ12 teacher education in mathematics, science, and technology; schools of education
10 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION and engineering; state departments of education; teacher licensing and cer- tiï¬cation groups; and STEM program accreditors. ASEE should consult with the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education, which has conducted research on this topic. Diversity The lack of diversity in post-secondary engineering education and the engineering workforce in the United States is well documented. Based on evaluation data, analysis of curriculum materials, anecdotal reports, and per- sonal observation, the committee concluded that lack of diversity is probably an issue for Kâ12 engineering education as well. This problem is manifested in two ways. First, the number of girls and underrepresented minorities who participate in Kâ12 engineering education initiatives is well below their numbers in the general population. Second, with a few exceptions, curricular materials do not portray engineering in ways that seem likely to excite the interest of students from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For Kâ12 engineering education to yield the many beneï¬ts its supporters claim, access and participation will have to be expanded considerably. RECOMMENDATION 5. Given the demographic trends in the United States and the challenges of attracting girls, African Americans, Hispanics, and some Asian subpopulations to engineering studies, Kâ12 engineering cur- ricula should be developed with special attention to features which appeal to students from these underrepresented groups, and programs that promote Kâ12 engineering education should be strategic in their outreach to these populations. Both curriculum developers and outreach organizations should take advantage of recent market research that suggests effective ways of com- municating about engineering to the public. POLICY AND PROGRAM ISSUES Although many unanswered questions about Kâ12 engineering educa- tion remain, engineering is being taught in Kâ12 schools around the country, and it appears that the trend is upward. Thus it is imperative that we begin to think about ways to guide and support engineering education in the future. An underlying question for policy makers is how engineering concepts, skills, and habits of mind should be introduced into the school curriculum. There are at least three optionsâad hoc infusion, stand-alone courses, and
SUMMARY 11 interconnected STEM education. These options vary in terms of ease of implementation: Ad hoc infusion, or introduction, of engineering ideas and activi- ties (i.e., design projects) into existing science, mathematics, and technology curricula is the most direct and least complicated option, because implementation requires no signiï¬cant changes in school structure. The main requirements would be (1) willingness on the part of teachers and (2) access to instructional materials. Ideally, teachers would also have a modicum of engineering pedagogical content knowledge to deliver the new material effectively. The ad hoc option is probably most useful for providing an introductory exposure to engineering ideas rather than a deep understanding of engineering principles and skills. Stand-alone courses for engineering, an option required for imple- menting many of the curricula reviewed for this project, presents considerably more challenges for teachers and schools. In high schools, the new material could be offered as an elective. If that is not possible, it would either have to replace existing classes or content, perhaps a science or technology course, or the school day would have to be reconï¬gured, perhaps lengthened, to accommodate a new course(s) without eliminating existing curricular material. Stand-alone courses would also require teacher professional devel- opment and approval of the program at various levels. This option has the potential advantage of providing a more in-depth exposure to engineering. Fully integrated STEM education, that is, using engineering concepts and skills to leverage the natural connections between STEM subjects, would almost certainly require changes in the structure and practices of schools. Research would be necessary to develop and test curricula, assessments, and approaches to teacher professional development. New integrated STEM programs or âpilot schoolsâ might be established to test changes before they are widely adopted. These three options, as well as others that are not described here, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the committee believes that implementation should be ï¬exible, because no single approach is likely to be acceptable or feasible in every district or school.
12 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION Whichever options are implemented, planners must take into account the âtechnical coreâ of education, that is, what happens in the classroom between the teacher, the student, and the content. One way to access the tech- nical core is to work toward âcoherenceâ by creating educational systems with standards, curricula, professional development, and student assessments and school leadership that supports the need for change. RECOMMENDATION 6. Philanthropic foundations or federal agencies with an interest in STEM education and school reform should fund research to identify models of implementation for Kâ12 engineering education that embody the principles of coherence and can guide decision making that will work for widely variable American school systems. The research should explicitly address school populations that do not currently have access to engineering studies. The need for qualiï¬ed teachers to teach engineering in Kâ12 classrooms raises a number of policy and program issues. The current ad hoc approach of mostly in-service training may not be adequate to train enough teachers, if Kâ12 engineering continues to grow. A variety of traditional and alterna- tive mechanisms should be evaluated as part of the initiative suggested in Recommendation 4. INTEGRATED STEM EDUCATION During the course of this project, the committee focused increasingly on the potential of using engineering education as a catalyst for improving STEM education in general, about which serious concerns have been raised among policy makers, educators, and industry managers. So far, the role of either technology education or engineering education has rarely been men- tioned in these concerns. The STEM acronym is more often used as short- hand for science or mathematics education; even references to science and mathematics tend to be âsiloed,â that is, treated largely as separate entities. In other words, as STEM education is currently structured and implemented in U.S. classrooms, it does not reï¬ect the natural connections among the four subjects, which are reï¬ected in the real world of research and technology development. The committee believes the âsiloedâ teaching of STEM subjects has impeded efforts to increase student interest and improve performance in
SUMMARY 13 science and mathematics. It also inhibits the development of technological and scientiï¬c literacy, which are essential to informed citizens in the 21st century. The committee believes that increasing the visibility of technology and, especially, engineering in STEM education in ways that address the interconnections in STEM teaching and learning could be extremely impor- tant. Ideally, all Kâ12 students in the United States should have the option of experiencing some form of formal engineering studies. We are a long way from that situation now. In the committeeâs vision for STEM education in U.S. Kâ12 schools, all students who graduate high school will have a level of STEM literacy sufï¬cient to (1) ensure their successful employment, post-secondary educa- tion, or both, and (2) prepare them to be competent, capable citizens in our technology-dependent, democratic society. Because of the natural connec- tions of engineering education to science, mathematics, and technology, it might serve as a catalyst for achieving this vision. The committee was not asked to determine the qualities that characterize a STEM-literate person, but this would be a worthwhile exercise for a future study. RECOMMENDATION 7. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education should support research to characterize, or deï¬ne, âSTEM literacy.â Researchers should consider not only core knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but also the âbig ideasâ that link the four subject areas. Pursuing the goal of STEM literacy in Kâ12 schools will require a para- digm shift by students, teachers, administrators, textbook publishers, and policy makers, as well as by the many scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians involved in Kâ12 education. However, the committee believes that, as a result of that shift, students would be better prepared for life in the 21st century and would have the tools they need to make informed career decisions or pursue post-secondary education. In addition, integrated STEM education could improve teaching and learning in all four STEM subjects by forcing a reevaluation of the currently excessive expectations for STEM teachers and students. The committee is not suggesting a âdumbing- downâ process. On the contrary, this is a call for more in-depth knowledge in fewer key STEM areas and for more time to be devoted to the development of a wider range of STEM skills, such as engineering design and scientiï¬c inquiry.
14 ENGINEERING IN Kâ12 EDUCATION Meaningful improvements in the learning and teaching of engineeringâ and movement toward integrated STEM educationâwill not come easily or quickly. Progress will be measured in decades, rather than months or years. The necessary changes will only happen with a sustained commit- ment of ï¬nancial resources, the support of policy makers and other leaders, and the efforts of many individuals in and outside Kâ12 schools. Despite these challenges, the committee is hopeful, the potential for enriching and improving Kâ12 STEM education is real, and engineering education can be the catalyst.