This report details changes in the US education system that are intended to integrate engineering in the K–12 curriculum, and it considers the implications of those changes for the teacher workforce. Although it is not possible to say with certainty how many elementary and secondary teachers currently are providing their students with experience and engagement with engineering concepts and practices, moving forward it seems highly likely that more K–12 educators will need some level of engineering literacy and engineering-related pedagogical knowledge. In addition, the different goals for K–12 engineering education suggest different levels and types of preparation for many K–12 teachers of engineering. (As a reminder, the committee is using the term “teacher of engineering” to refer to any elementary or subject-matter secondary teacher who spends some portion of the school day providing engineering instruction.)
The engineering education research field has established high-level standards for programs that provide professional development for K–12 teachers of engineering. Beyond this general guidance, however, little is known about the factors most likely to lead to the effective preparation of such teachers. In addition, there are relatively few opportunities, especially at the preservice level, for K–12 educators to develop the knowledge and skills needed to teach engineering, which raises questions about the capacity of the US education system to meet the potential demand for K–12 teachers of engineering. Furthermore, there is a lack of research on the impacts of different kinds of
preparation for K–12 teachers of engineering, in terms of student outcomes, to gauge the effectiveness and merits of various approaches and programs. Addressing the capacity concern, in turn, highlights the roles and importance of elements of the larger education system.
This chapter presents the committee’s conclusions and recommendations and is based on the data and analysis in the rest of the report. The chapter is intentionally brief, discussing only the most critical issues and opportunities. The order of its four sections, which address context, preparation, systems factors, and research, is not intended to suggest prioritization of any suggestions over others. Every recommendation calls for action by one or more stakeholders, all of whom have roles to play in helping strengthen the preparation of K–12 teachers of engineering.
Many factors are contributing to an expanded focus on engineering in K–12 STEM education in the United States. These include widespread calls for a STEM-literate workforce; concerns about the country’s international competitiveness; the growing presence of K–12 STEM curricula that incorporate engineering concepts and practices; and the availability and adoption by states of K–12 standards with engineering learning goals for students.
Federal efforts to determine the size of the workforce of K–12 teachers of engineering are hindered by shortcomings in a key survey instrument, the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS). As discussed in chapter 4, one of three engineering-related “main teaching assignments” in the survey (“Construction trades, engineering, or science technologies [including computer-aided design and drafting]”) includes engineering but also other subjects, which could result in an overestimate of the size of the workforce.
At the same time, other aspects of the survey might lead to an underestimate of the workforce. For instance, because the instrument discourages educators from selecting subjects that are not their main assignment, those who teach one or more engineering classes but whose main assignment is in a different subject may not consider themselves to be teachers of engineering. The survey is also unlikely to count secondary science teachers who are introducing their students to engineering design projects in keeping with the Framework for K–12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards, as well as elementary teachers who tend to be subject-matter generalists. Given the nascent state of K–12 engineering education in the United States, the vast majority of teachers of engineering are likely to be teaching engineering less than full-time. This population likely is not captured by NTPS, so the survey data may reflect a significant underestimate of K–12 educators teaching at least some engineering.
Data reviewed by the committee suggest that there are very few preservice programs preparing K–12 teachers of engineering (or science educators who are knowledgeable enough about engineering to successfully introduce it to their students). As spelled out in chapter 4, one source of teachers of engineering is teacher preparation programs in technology education. However, not all of these programs engage their students in engineering coursework, and the number of graduates is small and has been declining for at least the last two decades. Other preservice programs, such as the UTeach initiative, produce a very small number of graduates with engineering degrees, and nearly all of those graduates end up teaching science or mathematics,
not engineering. The committee could find no reliable information about the extent to which science teacher education programs engage their students in engineering content, practices, and pedagogy. Based on our own expertise and knowledge in this area, however, we conclude that very few such programs incorporate engineering in a meaningful way.
The goals of K–12 engineering education vary, and this variation has implications for the preparation of educators. A basic understanding of engineering—engineering literacy—is important for all K–12 teachers of engineering and should include both subject-matter knowledge and engineering-specific pedagogical content knowledge. A subset of K–12 teachers of engineering will need to have greater familiarity with engineering concepts and practices as well as more extensive knowledge of relevant science and mathematics to serve students who require deeper learning experiences in engineering in order to pursue certain college or career goals.
Increasing the number, skill level, and confidence of K–12 teachers of engineering in the United States is a complex challenge that will require attending to multiple elements of the education system. Two components of the system are of special significance in the context of teacher professional learning: postsecondary institutions and state departments of education. Given the extent of the changes required, the need to coordinate across multiple components of the education system, and that system’s current limited capacity to prepare K–12 teachers of engineering, meaningful improvements in the availability and quality of teacher learning opportunities should be expected to occur incrementally over many years, a decade or more.
As this report makes abundantly clear, the evidence base that might inform effective approaches to preparing K–12 teachers of engineering is thin and
uneven. This situation is due to the relative newness of engineering education in the K–12 landscape as well as the challenges inherent to conducting high-quality research in education. The committee was struck by the fact that the promising expansion of engineering instruction across the K–12 grades presents a significant opportunity to learn from the experiences of those who designed these initiatives as well as the teachers spearheading them. Research we describe, for example, demonstrates clearly that teachers learn a great deal about student ideas and the potential of various instructional approaches and materials as they experiment with implementing engineering in their classrooms.
The statement of task charged the committee with examining issues related to the preparation of K–12 teachers of engineering, a new, evolving, and important segment of the US STEM education workforce. As we hope this report makes clear, there is considerable potential value in engaging K–12 students in the concepts, practices, and habits of mind of engineering. Ideally, teachers who provide that engagement, whether from a foundation of engineering, technology education, science, or some other subject, should be engineering literate. They should also have the pedagogical content knowledge to guide students through the challenges and rewards of using the engineering design process and in the appropriate application of concepts and practices from science and mathematics. Findings from high-quality research in education should inform the professional learning of these educators.
For reasons both historical and structural, the current situation is far from this ideal. As this report points out, there are almost no postsecondary programs educating prospective K–12 teachers of engineering, and state mechanisms for recognizing prospective teachers’ engineering knowledge, where they exist, vary widely. There are a number of K–12 engineering professional learning initiatives in the United States, some of which have reached considerable scale. Most of these efforts are small, however, and
not grounded in evidence from research. In short, there are few professional pathways for those hoping to become K–12 teachers of engineering.
If this report can do one thing, we hope it will be to alert constituencies with a stake in US STEM education to the mismatch between the need for engineering-literate K–12 teachers and the education system’s lack of capacity to meet this need. The situation is far from hopeless, but meaningful improvement will require action on multiple fronts, as this chapter proposes. The potential benefits for students and the nation are significant.
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