Engineering in Pre-College Settings
349 pages

Vous pourrez modifier la taille du texte de cet ouvrage

Engineering in Pre-College Settings

Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus
349 pages

Vous pourrez modifier la taille du texte de cet ouvrage

Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus


In science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in pre-college, engineering is not the silent "e" anymore. There is an accelerated interest in teaching engineering in all grade levels. Structured engineering programs are emerging in schools as well as in out-of-school settings. Over the last ten years, the number of states in the US including engineering in their K-12 standards has tripled, and this trend will continue to grow with the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards.The interest in pre-college engineering education stems from three different motivations. First, from a workforce pipeline or pathway perspective, researchers and practitioners are interested in understanding precursors, influential and motivational factors, and the progression of engineering thinking. Second, from a general societal perspective, technological literacy and understanding of the role of engineering and technology is becoming increasingly important for the general populace, and it is more imperative to foster this understanding from a younger age. Third, from a STEM integration and education perspective, engineering processes are used as a context to teach science and math concepts. This book addresses each of these motivations and the diverse means used to engage with them.Designed to be a source of background and inspiration for researchers and practitioners alike, this volume includes contributions on policy, synthesis studies, and research studies to catalyze and inform current efforts to improve pre-college engineering education. The book explores teacher learning and practices, as well as how student learning occurs in both formal settings, such as classrooms, and informal settings, such as homes and museums. This volume also includes chapters on assessing design and creativity.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 novembre 2014
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781612493589
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2800€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


" />

Synthesizing Research, Policy, and Practices
Synthesizing Research, Policy, and Practices

Edited by
© Copyright 2014 by Purdue University. All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Engineering in pre-college settings : synthesizing research, policy, and practices / edited by Ş enay Purzer, Johannes Strobel, and Monica E. Cardella.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
 ISBN 978-1-55753-691-4 (hardback : alk. paper)—ISBN 978-1-61249-357-2 (epdf)—ISBN 978-1-61249-358-9 (epub) 1. Engineering--Study and teaching. I. Purzer, Senay, 1976- II. Strobel, Johannes, 1974- III. Cardella, Monica E.
 TA147.E54 2014
Greg Pearson
PART I. Current State of Engineering Education Research and Practice
The Rising Profile of STEM Literacy Through National Standards and Assessments
Cary Sneider and Ş enay Purzer
K–12 Engineering: The Missing Core Discipline
Ioannis Miaoulis
Implementation and Integration of Engineering in K–12 STEM Education
Tamara J. Moore, Micah S. Stohlmann, Hui-Hui Wang, Kristina M. Tank, Aran W. Glancy, and Gillian H. Roehrig
Engineering in Elementary Schools
Cathy P. Lachapelle and Christine M. Cunningham
Engineering Education in the Middle Grades
Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh and Christine G. Schnittka
Designing Engineering Experiences to Engage All Students
Christine M. Cunningham and Cathy P. Lachapelle
PART II. Research Studies with Teachers and Students
Embedding Elementary School Science Instruction in Engineering Design Problem Solving
Kristen Wendell, Amber Kendall, Merredith Portsmore, Christopher G. Wright, Linda Jarvin, and Chris Rogers
Teachers’ Concerns in Implementing Engineering into Elementary Classrooms and the Impact of Teacher Professional Development
Jeongmin Lee and Johannes Strobel
Bridges and Barriers to Constructing Conceptual Cohesion Across Modalities and Temporalities: Challenges of STEM Integration in the Pre-College Engineering Classroom
Candace A. Walkington, Mitchell J. Nathan, Matthew Wolfgram, Martha W. Alibali, and Rachaya Srisurichan
High School Pre-Engineering Curricula: Assessing Teacher Beliefs, Intended Curriculum, and Enacted Instruction
Amy C. Prevost, Mitchell J. Nathan, and L. Allen Phelps
PART III. Reviews and Synthesis of Research in Teacher Education
In-Service Teacher Professional Development in Engineering Education: Early Years
Heidi A. Diefes-Dux
High School Teacher Professional Development in Engineering: Research and Practice
Jenny L. Daugherty and Rodney L. Custer
Engineering in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Steve O’Brien, John Karsnitz, Suriza Van Der Sandt, Laura Bottomley, and Elizabeth Parry
PART IV. Assessing Design, Creativity, and Interest in Engineering
Assessing Design
Ming-Chien Hsu, Monica E. Cardella, and Ş enay Purzer
Creativity Assessment: A Necessary Criterion in K–12 Engineering Education
Eric L. Mann
Assessing Engineering Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors for Research and Program Evaluation Purposes
Monica E. Cardella, Noah Salzman , Ş enay Purzer, and Johannes Strobel
PART V. Engineering Beyond the Classroom
Engineering at Home
Brianna Dorie and Monica E. Cardella
Engineering Learning in Museums: Current Trends and Future Directions
Gina N. Svarovsky
P–12 Robotics Competitions: Building More than Just Robots—Building 21st-Century Thinking Skills
Anita G. Welch and Douglas Huffman
Engineering Kids’ Lives: The Art of Delivering Messages
Nancy Linde, Marisa Wolsky, and Tamecia Jones
PART VI. The Future of Pre-College Engineering Education
Looking Ahead
Monica E. Cardella , Ş enay Purzer, and Johannes Strobel
Greg Pearson
I have been involved for almost 15 years in projects related in one way or another to K-12 engineering education. Through my work at the National Academy of Engineering, I have come to know a great many engineers, engineering educators, K-12 educators, and education researchers. It is largely through these connections that I have developed an appreciation for the value of engineering “habits of mind” and for the opportunities engineering education can provide young learners by engaging them in activities that matter to them, their peers, families, communities, and the world at large. Although the potential value of K-12 engineering education is evident so, too, are the challenges. These range from macro issues of implementation at the level of schools, school districts, and states, to more micro concerns related to the delivery of instruction and the effective preparation of educators working both in classrooms and in free-choice learning environments.
Readers may fairly assume, given my affiliation, that I am an advocate of K-12 engineering education because I believe the United States needs to produce more engineers. Although there are some supporters of precollege engineering who do feel this way, I am not one of them. For one thing, there is virtually no evidence that K-12 engineering experiences directly cause students to enter college engineering programs. This is not to say such experiences cannot influence student attitudes and motivations regarding engineering. In addition, at the time of this writing, U.S. engineering enrollments are at their highest level in history. And data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that some 40 percent of individuals considered to be doing engineering work in the United States have degrees in disciplines other than engineering. Taken together, these facts suggest a value proposition for K-12 engineering education that goes beyond careers and the national imperative to sustain an innovation economy. To that end, I am an advocate of providing as many young people as possible opportunity to learn to think systematically, to identify and solve problems of significance, to accept failure as a part of their intellectual development, and to be comfortable in situations in which there are multiple possible outcomes. These traits describe engineering habits of mind but have potential utility in many areas of life beyond the practice of engineering.
The increasing use of the STEM acronym in public policy and education circles in the United States presents an opportunity, and some real dilemmas, for supporters of engineering education at the K-12 level. To the extent discussions of STEM can be turned toward the idea of connections between and among the four disciplines—versus the view of STEM as a set of largely distinct silos of content—the acronym provides an opening for considering how engineering can be a more meaningful part of students’ K-12 experiences. The authors of Chapter 3 correctly point out that STEM integration is not new. This is more true for integration involving mathematics and science than it is for engineering, however, which has been a meaningful component of U.S. precollege education for only the last two decades or so. The Next Generation Science Standards , which weave engineering design and a few key engineering concepts into science content and practices, provide a new lever for integration efforts involving the S and E of STEM. (It is worth noting that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics , which present the math education community’s current best thinking about the mathematical concepts and practices important for the development of K-12 students, provide very few overt opportunities for integration with other subject matter.) But as is made clear in several other chapters of this volume, doing integration well is not a trivial matter. A 2014 report from the National Academies on the topic of K-12 STEM integration points out that the practice will likely require new forms of professional development and teacher education; additional time for planning and collaboration among educators; and new ways of measuring student outcomes, among other challenges.
How proponents, practitioners, and even researchers of K-12 engineering education describe engineering—among themselves and to others—matters. It is particularly important that those who interact with students and parents use language that informs and engages. Stereotypes of the engineer as disconnected from the concerns of people and of engineering as principally involving the application of high-level mathematics and science have been a disservice to the profession and will be an impediment to the long-term success of K-12 engineering education. As the authors of Chapter 20 note, there are various resources that model more effective messaging: engineering as a creative pursuit, engineering as something that makes a difference to people and the world, engineering as a force that helps shape the future. More can and should be done to fine tune the available messages for different populations and purposes. Ultimately, there needs to be a broad shift in the conversation about engineering, including but extending well beyond the education community. Technology-focused industry, the engineering professional societies, undergraduate engineering programs, and science and technology centers need to play a significant role in this effort.
I commend the editors of this volume for producing such a comprehensive presentation of the many important dimensions of K-12 engineering education. Far from being the last word on the topic, I hope these chapters stimulate discussion, induce collaborations, and promote much-needed research on this still new but very promising development in the U.S. education system.
In August 2011, a group of faculty and staff from Purdue University organized a summit on P–12 engineering and design research funded by the Institute for P–12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE). The main goal of this summit was to improve the quality and coherence of research in engineering education. At that point neither the framework for science education nor the Next Generation Science Standards had been publicized or finalized. The P–12 Engineering and Design Education Research Summit (P–12 Summit) achieved two goals. The summit (1) brought together a diverse range of stakeholders committed to engineering education, such as researchers, teachers, and professionals engaged in informal education, and (2) supported dialogue to assess the current state of P–12 engineering education research and identify the needs of the engineering education research community. Many of the authors who contributed to this book attended that summit. Hence, this volume includes chapters that are written by a diverse group of scholars and educators, not just university faculty, who are at the frontiers of efforts in engineering education both in formal classroom and informal learning settings.
Our goal in organizing this volume is to disseminate research and practices in P–12 engineering education that is inclusive of diverse stakeholders and their diverse needs. The first two chapters provide a policy perspective and review trends that preceded current developments in highlighting engineering in pre-college settings. Chapters 3 , 4 , 5 , and 6 discuss principles underlying effective curriculum development and STEM integration through engineering. Chapters 7 , 8 , 9 , and 10 present research studies with rigorous methodologies and discuss the challenges of and supports for infusing engineering in P–12 classrooms. Chapters 11 , 12 , and 13 focus on teacher education and include a series of synthesis papers. There are also two chapters, 14 and 15 , that discuss assessment of design and creativity, which are integral components of engineering, and Chapter 16 provides a broader discussion of assessment in engineering education. Chapters 17 , 18 , 19 , and 20 present engineering learning that occurs beyond the classroom, at home or in museums. Finally, we conclude with a summary in Chapter 21 and provide recommendations for future research.
We, the editors, are excited about the diversity of practices, methods, and findings presented in this volume. The diverse backgrounds of the authors support our intent to reach diverse readers, some of whom may be interested in basic or applied research and others who may need to read a synthesis of these studies. Each of the chapters discusses an aspect of P–12 engineering education and provides recommendations on future efforts.
Ş enay Purzer, Johannes Strobel, and Monica E. Cardella
Current State of Engineering Education Research and Practice
Cary Sneider 1 and Ş enay Purzer 2
1 Portland State University, 2 Purdue University

This chapter recounts the history of education standards leading to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) movement. We begin with the chronology of key developments in the 1990s, then proceed to the early 21 st century when technology and engineering emerged as core subjects in several states, following the lead of Massachusetts. These movements have great promise for a gradual and sustainable transformation of the US education system, culminating in the Next Generation Science Standards, which aims to integrate all four STEM fields into the K-12 educational experience for all students .
In the past ten years in the United States there has been increasing discussion about replacing nation’s focus on science and mathematics education with a broader curriculum on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for all K–12 students. A number of educators credit Judith A. Ramaley, a former director of the Education and Human Resources Division at the National Science Foundation (NSF), for coining the term. Before she took that job in 2001, the label was SMET, which was used in requests for grant proposals by NSF. In addition to sounding better, the change was made as part of a policy shift at the agency to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning for all students, beginning in the earliest grades. Dr. Ramaley, who is now the president of Winona State University, notes that “STEM may be stitched across the banner, but what’s important is what’s occurring under the banner” (Cavanagh & Rotter, 2008).
To some extent science and mathematics teachers have always included elements of technology and engineering in their teaching so as to provide a real-world context for learning. For example, science teachers typically use the technology of rocketry to illustrate Newton’s laws, and mathematics teachers sometimes pose engineering problems so students can practice algebra or geometry skills. In other words, mathematics and science teachers have a tradition of using technology and engineering to support learning of mathematics and science so their students can become mathematically and scientifically literate. Still, the new emphasis on STEM represents a profound break with the past since it challenges teachers and students to work toward a new educational goal—to become literate in all four STEM subjects. In this chapter, we describe the historical development of STEM education policy and provide a framework defining STEM literacy.
The first part of the chapter describes the early history of national science education standards during the 1990s, which gave birth to the STEM movement. This section focuses on technology and engineering in these early standards documents, and on similarities and differences among the three major standards for mathematics, science, and technology. The second part of the chapter describes developments that occurred at the national level and that gave shape to the STEM movement. These movements have great promise for a gradual and sustainable transformation of our educational system. The final part of the chapter provides a clear and unambiguous definition of what it means to be “STEM literate,” tells the story of how technology and engineering came to be core subjects in Massachusetts, and ends with the promise of Next Generation Science Standards as a means for finally integrating all four STEM fields. The chronology of the key developments in STEM education is summarized in Table 1.1 .
Table 1.1 . STEM milestones

Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics was the first document to recommend “standards” for all students (NCTM, 1989).
AAAS Science for All Americans describes what all Americans should learn about science, technology, and the designed world by the time they graduate from grade 12 (AAAS, 1989).
NSTA Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science recommends restructuring the science curriculum so every subject is taught every year grades 6-12 (Aldridge, 1992).
AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy reflects the outcomes of Science for All Americans and in addition provides benchmarks for what students should learn by end of grade 2, 5, 8, and 12 (AAAS, 1993).
NRC National Science Education Standards describes what all students should know and be able to do in science by the end of grades 4, 8, and 12 (NRC, 1996).
ITEEA National Technology Education Standards describes what all students should learn about technology by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 (ITEEA, 2000, 2007).
NSF Introduces the acronym STEM to represent the four fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
AAAS publishes the Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume I, showing how concepts develop across grade levels (AAAS, 2001).
NAE Technically speaking: Why all Americans need to know more about technology presents a compelling case for technology education, and offers recommendations for implementation (Pearson & Young, 2002).
NRC Rising Above the Gathering Storm is a call to action for how students in the U.S. can catch up with students in other countries. Recommends more students take AP math and science courses (NRC, 2005).
NCTM Curriculum Focal Points for Kindergarten Through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence, describes what students should know and be able to do in mathematics at each grade level, up to and including 8th grade (NCTM, 2006).
AAAS publishes the Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume II (AAAS, 2007).
NAGB Science Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (Science NAEP) is the first national test of how students apply science in the context of technological design (NAGB, 2008).
NAE Engineering in K-12 Education reviews the existing state of K-12 engineering education in the U.S. including reviews of curriculum materials (NAE, 2010).
NAGB Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress is the first national test of technology and engineering literacy (NAGB, 2010).
NRC, A Framework for K-12 Science Education, elevates engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry as an educational goal for all students. (NRC, 2012)
NGSS Lead States, Next Generation Science Standards replaces previous science education standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013a, 2013b).
The first document to recommend K–12 standards was the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics , which was published by the National Council for the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in 1989. The document set out a bold vision that included not just arithmetic standards, but also a comprehensive agenda for what all students should know and be able to do in key mathematics fields. A number of derivative documents have since been developed, the most recent being Focal Points for Kindergarten Through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence (NCTM, 2006), which is a much shorter description of what all students should learn in mathematics at each grade level.
Mathematics standards have not referenced technology or engineering, except for occasional references to the use of digital technologies and computational thinking. However, technology and engineering have been major features of science standards, starting with publication of Science for All Americans by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1989). Although this report did not use the term “standards” and focused only on what students should know after 12 years of schooling, Science for All Americans served as the catalyst and model for all subsequent efforts to develop K–12 science standards. Chapter 3 in Science for All Americans focused on the “nature of technology,” its relationship to science, and ways in which new technologies are engineered. Chapter 8 focused on the “designed world,” including essential technological systems such as agriculture, medicine, and transportation. And Chapter 9 focused on the “mathematical world” and the importance of including mathematics in science teaching. In other words, Science for All Americans laid out, in some detail, the basic outlines of the STEM movement, at least as it applied to the transformation of science education.
A major limitation to Science for All Americans was that it provided little guidance for teachers and curriculum developers. Although it did a wonderful job of identifying the end-point of K–12 education, it offered no suggestions to achieve this. Consequently, the next job for the AAAS was to describe “benchmarks,” statements of knowledge or abilities that students would need to accomplish at different phases of their education to achieve the understandings and abilities described in Science for All Americans . This next document, Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), used the same chapter headings as the earlier document, but specified what all students should know and be able to do by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.
A later development of Benchmarks was an effort to “map” benchmarks from grade to grade, showing how lower level understandings and abilities related to higher level learning. These maps were published as the Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume 1 (AAAS, 2001), and Volume 2 (AAAS, 2007). This entire set of documents from the AAAS has been tremendously valuable to science teachers, curriculum developers, and teacher educators, because the documents provide a clear and comprehensive overview of what students should learn during their K–12 years of schooling and when they can be expected to learn it. The Atlas also provided a vivid picture of what STEM integration might look like, although the emphasis was still on the core science disciplines.
The early 1990s was an especially fertile time for rethinking the landscape of science education. One of the ideas that gained traction for a time was to restructure the middle and high school curriculum along the model used in the Soviet Union. In this model every science subject was taught every year from grades 6–12. This idea was embodied in Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science (Aldridge, 1992), which outlined how the key ideas in the sciences would build during the second half of every student’s schooling. The concept resulted in the development of new instructional materials that integrated the science disciplines, and many middle and high school science departments reorganized their courses of study accordingly. While the Scope, Sequence, and Coordination concept was eventually abandoned, it did serve to highlight the advantages of cross-disciplinary, or “integrated” curricula, which has recently been raised again in the context of integrating the four STEM disciplines.
One of the results of these pioneering efforts was to whet the appetites of science educators for a single set of “educational standards,” like those enjoyed by their colleagues in mathematics. Because the different approaches taken by the AAAS and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) created some confusion in the field, national leaders decided to unite these different approaches under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC is the operational arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which is highly respected for conducting thorough reviews of research in controversial areas and producing definitive consensus reports. The NRC convened committees on science education content, professional development, and assessment—involving more than 100 leading educators and scientists from throughout the United States over a period of about three years—and drafted the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996).
Although the AAAS Benchmarks and Atlas continued to be used by many educators because they so clearly described what students were expected to accomplish at different grade levels, the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) became the primary policy document referenced by most state standards and instructional materials that claimed to be “standards-based.” In addition to specifying the core content within the disciplines, the National Research Council (1996) presented standards for what students should know and be able to do with respect to scientific inquiry, technology, and science in social and personal perspectives. The document also put forward standards for the professional development of teachers, for assessment in science, and for the educational systems needed to deliver a content-based science education for all students.
The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) included science and technology standards but with an emphasis on (1) the connections between the natural and the designed worlds, and (2) the abilities related to the design process as a complement to the inquiry process. Content Standard E, science and technology, described what students should know and be able to do with respect to technology. The National Standards carefully distinguished technology from science.

As used in the Standards , the central distinguishing characteristic between science and technology is a difference in goal: The goal of science is to understand the natural world, and the goal of technology is to make modifications in the world to meet human needs. Technology as design is included in the Standards as parallel to science as inquiry. (NRC, 1996, p. 24)
In 2000, four years after the publication of science education standards, the International Technology Education Association (now the International Technology and Engineering Education Association, or ITEEA) published Standards for Technological Literacy . The ITEEA is the professional organization of technology teachers. The Standards for Technological Literacy laid out 20 standards for what all students should know and be able to do in order to become technologically literate. These included standards about the nature of technology, the relationship between technology and society, the processes of engineering design, and key technological systems, including energy, transportation, medicine, communications, manufacturing, and construction. The standards were broken down into benchmarks for grades K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12.
Although the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and other groups considered developing separate standards for engineering to match those in science, mathematics, and technology, no separate standards were ever developed. A report of a workshop on this question found that “although it is theoretically possible to develop standards for K–12 engineering education, it would be extremely difficult to ensure their usefulness and effective implementation” (NAE, 2010, p. 1).
Until the beginning of the standards movement, the term “literacy” had the restricted meaning of being able to read and write. Discussion of educational progress in a region or country often used the term “literacy rate” to mean the percentage of people who were able to read and write at an eighth-grade level. Because the ability to read and write is essential for all citizens, the definition of “literacy” was gradually expanded to refer to what everyone should know and be able to do in order to function in modern society—as opposed to the kind of knowledge required by people preparing for a specific profession or course of study. For example, it is now widely accepted that all students need to learn the fundamentals of algebra in high school, while only students aiming to major in technical fields in college would be expected to take a course in calculus.
Let’s first review the definitions of literacy associated with individual STEM subjects. The better we are able to describe what literacy means in each STEM area, the easier it will be to develop curricula and assessments that target what students need to learn. Drawing on several of the documents described in this paper and summarized in Table 1.1 , we propose the following definitions:

• Scientific literacy includes knowledge of the key facts, concepts, principles, laws, and theories of the science disciplines, as well as the ability to connect ideas across disciplines and apply them in new situations. It also includes the reasoning ability to support claims from evidence, to reflect on the nature of science and on one’s own thinking, and to participate productively with peers in scientific discussions (adapted from Michaels, Shouse, & Schweingruber, 2007).
• Technological literacy is the ability to use, understand, and make decisions about technology, where technology is broadly defined as all of the ways people modify the natural world to meet human needs or desires or to accomplish goals. The ability to learn quickly how to use and apply new technologies is especially important as the pace of technological change continues to quicken (adapted from ITEEA, 2007).
• Engineering literacy is the ability to solve problems and accomplish goals by applying the engineering design process—a systematic and often iterative approach to designing objects, processes, and systems to meet human needs and accomplish goals. Students who are able to apply the engineering design process to new situations know how to define a solvable problem, to generate and test potential solutions, and to modify the design by making tradeoffs among multiple considerations in order to reach an optimal solution. Engineering literacy also involves understanding the mutually supportive relationship between science and engineering, and the ways in which engineers respond to the interests and needs of society and in turn affect society and the environment by bringing about technological change (adapted from NAGB, 2010).
• Mathematical literacy involves understanding mathematical concepts, operations, and relations; proficiency in carrying out mathematical procedures flexibly, accurately and appropriately; a disposition to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile; and confidence in one’s own efficacy to use mathematics (adapted from CCSSO & NGA, 2010).
A person who is “STEM literate” is a person who has sufficient knowledge and skills in all four fields to participate and thrive in modern society with confidence and the capacity to use, manage, and evaluate the technologies prevalent in everyday life, as well as the capacity to understand scientific principles and technological processes necessary to solve problems, develop arguments, and make decisions.
Recognizing that there may be common themes among the standards for science, mathematics, and technology and with the argument that engineering education cannot be accomplished without a true integration of these subjects, Purzer and her colleagues analyzed the content of all three sets of national standards (mathematics, science, and technology) to identify their similarities (Chae, Purzer, & Cardella, 2010). Although each document used substantially different terminology and were organized differently, certain themes emerged ( Figure 1.1 ). Themes that were common to two of the three standards documents were as follows:

Figure 1.1. National standards documents and overlapping themes (NRC, 1996; ITEEA, 2007; NCTM, 2000).

• Environmental issues were found in both the science standards and the technology standards.
• Change and patterns were major themes of both the science and mathematics standards.
• Tools were essential features of both the mathematics standards and the technology standards.
Themes that were common to all three standards documents included processes, systems and models, and societal impacts. These common themes are listed in Table 1.2 and briefly described below.
Table 1.2 . Common themes in science, mathematics, and technology.
Discipline Processes Systems and models Societal impact through Science Scientific inquiry Scientific models Knowledge Technology Engineering design Technological models Tools Mathematics Problem solving Mathematical models Analysis
Processes . Each of the three national standards documents described not only content—what students are expected to know—but also processes or skills that are specific to each of the three fields. In science, the inquiry process was described as a means for asking and answering questions about the natural world. In technology, the engineering design process was described as the means for solving problems by modifying and creating technologies. And in mathematics, the desired process was the ability to use a variety of mathematical skills to solve problems.
Systems and Models . Each of the three documents discussed systems and models as a means for understanding, analyzing, and operating on the world. In science, students are expected to use scientific models to represent systems, such as ecosystems, the ocean-atmosphere system, or the human body system. The technology standards described the value of technological models from representations of simple machines, to scale models and prototypes, to dynamic and complex systems such as traffic flow on a superhighway. The mathematics standards referred to the use of various numerical, algebraic, and coordinate systems for creating mathematical models of real or imagined phenomena.
Societal Impacts . The science standards included a major section at each grade-level band about the societal impacts of science and technology, so that students gain the scientific knowledge they will need to understand and make decisions about such contemporary issues as health, environmental change, and natural disasters. Standards for technology emphasized the ways that new technological tools and devices affect society, and ways in which society, in turn, determines the new technologies that will be developed and that become widespread. The mathematics standards focused almost entirely on the utility of mathematics for analyzing data as a source of input when making decisions in everyday life.
To summarize, early efforts to develop national standards began with seminal documents in mathematics and science, followed a decade later by standards in technology. Figure 1.1 only includes standards in science, technology, and mathematics, which raises the question: What is the place of engineering in STEM? While these documents include attributes of engineering, no stand-alone engineering standards have been written, largely because there was no niche for them in the school curriculum. In fact, engineering later emerged as a means of integrating science, technology, and mathematics in the curriculum, and offered an escape from disciplinary silos. In the next section we look at what has happened to these standards as state leaders took up the challenge of developing STEM standards and assessments.
Unlike most countries in which the power to set educational policies is centralized at the national level, in the United States decision-making about what students should learn is vested in local school boards and responsibility for providing overall guidance and support is left up to the states. During the 1990s, state-level support took the form of educational standards and assessments for mathematics, English, social studies, and science. By 1999, 47 states had developed standards in science (Blank, Manise, & Brathwaite, 1999), and soon afterward all states developed science standards. A report on the influence of the National Science Education Standards indicated that both the Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Science Education Standards were influential in shaping state level standards (Hollweg & Hill, 2003).
In 2005, a group of professors and graduate fellows at the University of Connecticut proposed an engineering framework for a high school science course that aimed to “change the current paradigm of compartmentalized science content predominant in secondary schools throughout the nation” by promoting “the simultaneous teaching of multiple science disciplines in concert with mathematics while incorporating engineering concepts and designs” (Koehler, Faraclas, Sanchez, Latif, & Kazerounian, 2005, p. 4). Today we would call the idea an integrative STEM framework with a focus on engineering. As a step in developing their framework, the University of Connecticut team undertook a study of high school science standards in 49 states to determine the extent to which state standards would allow for such an integrated curriculum. That study found that most states had already included some form of technology standards within their science framework, but most of those documents focused on standards related to technology and society. Only 18 states, mostly in the northeast, had a deeper integration of engineering standards that included engineering design skills (Koehler et al., 2006).
Despite slow progress in integrating technology and engineering into state standards, strong support came from other directions. By 2003, the National Science Foundation had already supported more than 100 projects on engineering and/or technology in the science curriculum (Householder, 2007). And in 2004 the National Academy of Engineering published an influential report, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology (Pearson & Young, 2002), which made a compelling case that technology should be included as a core subject for every student . The following statement is illustrative of the arguments in the report:

As far into the future as our imaginations take us, we will face challenges that depend on the development and application of technology. Better health, more abundant food, more humane living and working conditions, cleaner air and water, more effective education, and scores of other improvements in the human condition are within our grasp. But none of these improvements are guaranteed, and many problems will arise that we cannot predict. To take full advantage of the benefits and to recognize, address, or even avoid the pitfalls of technology, Americans must become better stewards of technological change. (Pearson & Young, 2002, p. 12)
The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has maintained its support for engineering education throughout the decade by issuing a number of reports on technology and engineering education, including a survey and review of assessment instruments (Garmire & Pearson, 2006); a report on the status of K–12 technology and engineering education, with a review of instructional materials and educational research (Katehi, Pearson, & Feder, 2009); and a report on the potential and advisability of creating separate engineering standards (NAE, 2010).
Complementary to calls for the infusion of technology and engineering into the curriculum for all students, a number of urgent reports came out during the decade calling attention to the sorry state of technical education in the United States in contrast to other countries. An especially influential report from the National Research Council in 2005, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future , was a clarion call to action. According to the report,

An educated, innovative, motivated workforce—human capital—is the most precious resource of any country in this new, flat world. Yet there is widespread concern about our K–12 science and mathematics education system, the foundation of that human capital.
Students in the United States are not keeping up with their counterparts in other countries—in 2003, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment measured the performance of 15-year-olds in 49 industrialized countries and found that US students scored in the middle or in the bottom half of the group in three important ways: our students placed 16th in reading, 19th in science literacy, and 24th in mathematics.
After secondary school, fewer US students pursue science and engineering degrees than students in other countries. About 6% of our undergraduates study engineering; that percentage is the second lowest among developed countries. Engineering students make up about 12% of undergraduates in most of Europe, 20% in Singapore, and more than 40% in China. Students throughout much of the world see careers in science and engineering as the path to a better future. (NRC, 2005, pp. 30–31)
Surprisingly, Rising Above the Gathering Storm offered no recommendations for increasing technology and engineering education at the K–12 level, but only for strengthening our nation’s science and mathematics infrastructure by increasing the number of science and mathematics teachers and the number of students who take the Advanced Placement exams in mathematics and science each year. Nonetheless, the report called attention to the need to encourage more students to pursue engineering careers and provided a sufficient rationale for strengthening the STEM movement.
Despite support from major organizations, strong undercurrents retarded the integration of technology and engineering into mainstream educational programs throughout the decade. One of these undercurrents was the process whereby states developed their own unique standards. State committees assigned to develop standards typically consisted of science educators who were either unfamiliar with the STEM concept or hostile to integrating technology and engineering into the curriculum. Another problem was a series of blows to the US economy, which reduced focus and funding for education. Perhaps the most serious undercurrent, however, was a legislative initiative that ironically was intended to increase support for education.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2002, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required that every state adopt its own unique standards and corresponding state assessments for mathematics, English, social studies, and science. Many states were already working on these systems when the law was passed with the strong support of President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, certain provisions of the law tended to undermine its lofty purpose. For example, the law stipulated that students must be tested every year in mathematics and English from grades 3 through 8, and that test scores must improve by a certain amount every year (known as Annual Yearly Progress, or AYP). If a school failed to meet AYP targets, the administrators and teachers were subject to severe sanctions, including, in some cases, dismissal of the entire school staff.
While other provisions of the law were also problematic, the pressure to improve test scores has been the most serious objection to NCLB. At first many science educators were relieved that students would only be tested in English and mathematics, and that testing in science would be postponed a few years. That would allow teachers to continue using innovative and engaging methods, such as hands-on inquiry approaches, and in some cases technology and engineering, without the pressure of preparing students for standardized tests. However, it soon became apparent that increased pressure to have students perform well on mathematics and English tests meant that more of the school day would be devoted to those subjects and less to other subjects. According to a national survey (CEP, 2008), a large majority of schools substantially decreased the time spent on science for students in grades K–8, resulting in a reduction of time spent on science by about one third (CEP, 2008, Table 3, p. 5). In states where the decline in time spent on science was especially severe, elementary students performed poorly on the science component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Blank, 2013).
In 2001, Massachusetts became the first state to include the words “engineering” and “technology” in its state science standards, and to assess student learning in all four STEM fields. The Massachusetts Science and Technology Engineering Curriculum Framework specified what all students were expected to know and be able to do in science, technology, and engineering. As in most states, separate standards were written for mathematics. Since 2006, all eighth-grade students have been tested in English and mathematics, as well as in science, technology, and engineering, in a combined test. Starting in 2010, high school students could choose to take tests in biology, chemistry, physics, and technology-engineering, and they must pass at least one of these in order to graduate from high school. With those policy decisions Massachusetts became the first state to treat technology and engineering as equally important as the other core science subjects.
The Massachusetts technology-engineering initiative is now 10 years old and is becoming a mature educational system rather than just an “experiment” (Sneider & Brenninkmeyer, 2007). The effort to establish technology and engineering as a part of science has gone well beyond standards and assessments, although the road has not been smooth. A major force in support of the new effort has been Boston’s Museum of Science, which established the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) in 2004. The NCTL has developed instructional programs for the elementary, middle, and high school levels, aligned with the state’s standards, and has conducted professional development programs on how to use the materials in the classroom. The elementary program developed by the NCTL, Engineering is Elementary , has been especially successful in achieving widespread use in all 50 states (Museum of Science, 2011).
When the NCTL was first formed, it soon became apparent from discussions with teachers and administrators that few districts in the state knew how to implement the new standards. The new instructional materials were just starting to be developed; consequently teachers had few resources. As a first step, the NCTL staff developed a database of instructional programs that could be used to teach technology and engineering. A second strategy was to invite teams from 10 of the state’s approximately 350 school districts to spend a week together in the summer sharing ideas for how to implement the new standards. The first teams were already known to be “early adopters” of technology and engineering standards, so they had numerous ideas to share. Over the next two years, teams from an additional 40 districts joined the original group, so that the more experienced teams could share ideas for what worked and what methods to avoid. Although major funding for the project ended more than three years ago, contributions from individuals have enabled the NCTL to continue to evolve the program.
The Massachusetts story is proof of existence for successful systemic change. It illustrates that a state can transform its educational system if there is a strong commitment that is widely shared by state leaders. There is growing evidence that other states are following suit. In a recent study, Carr, Bennett, and Strobel (2012) found that as many as 34 states included engineering, technology, and design components in their content standards, although with varying emphasis.
A second significant development concerns the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” since it is the only test given to students in all states. Although NAEP does not publish test scores for individual students, its results are used as a gauge of student achievement in the different states. For the first time in 2009, 10% of the NAEP science assessment items asked students to apply their understanding of science to engineering design tasks. Student performance was reported on several of the test items so that interested parties can see what STEM assessment looks like and judge the current levels of student knowledge and skills in answering these kinds of questions.
More recently, an even more significant step has been taken with the development of the Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress . The NAEP Framework provides detailed assessment targets in three areas: (1) Design and Systems, which encompasses many of the core principles of engineering; (2) Information and Communications Technologies, including capabilities to use a wide range of digital tools; and (3) Technology and Society. This third area will assess students’ understanding of how technological change can affect both human society and the environment, and how the decisions that people make as individuals and as a society determine the future directions of technology. This latest addition to the NAEP suite of national tests means that US students will be tested on all four STEM areas beginning in 2014.
Many educators anticipate that, as a whole, our students will not perform well on the NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment, since many states do not even have standards related to technology and engineering, and even states that do may not have implementation systems such as those being developed in Massachusetts. However, being able to assess student knowledge and capabilities is a significant step in the right direction.
Perhaps the most important new development is the common core standards movement that is currently underway. Partly in response to persistently low scores on international tests of science and mathematics, and partly in recognition that standards in many states are not sufficient to provide clear targets for aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment, educational leaders have been open to the idea of adopting the same standards for all states. Common Core standards have been written for English Language Arts and mathematics, and 46 states have formally agreed to adopt them (CCSSO & NGA, 2010).
Common Core standards have a number of advantages, such as allowing states to pool their efforts in curriculum, assessment, and professional development and ensuring that a student who moves from one state to another is less likely to miss out on key content or skills. Common standards will also enable textbook writers to focus on the most important ideas for each grade without having to create separate textbooks for each state.
Science joined the common core movement in April 2013. Since it had been 15 years since the National Science Education Standards was published, it was time for a major revision. The work was done in two phases. In the first phase a committee of the National Research Council, consisting primarily of scientists, engineers, and educational researchers, developed a guiding document called A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2012), which included a chapter on the “Practices of Science and Engineering” and another chapter on “Technology, Engineering, and the Applications of Science.” Although in some respects this reflected the inclusion of technology and engineering in the earlier standards documents, this new document made clear distinctions between engineering and technology, and raised the prominence of engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. Furthermore, the document recommended integrating science and engineering practices with core ideas in the traditional science disciplines, as well as clear linkages with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts.
In phase two, the Framework was handed off to Achieve, Inc.—the group that developed the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. Achieve formed a committee of 41 members, consisting primarily of teachers, to manage development of the standards on behalf of and in coordination with state leadership teams. The first public draft was released on May 18, 2012, and a final version was released in April 2013.
The Next Generation Science Standards, which have already been adopted by a handful of states as this book goes to press, are remarkable in the extent to which they bring integrated STEM literacy into the mainstream of our nation’s K-12 educational system. As recommended by the Framework , engineering and technology both appear as a fourth discipline, along with physical science, life science, and Earth and space science. Furthermore, engineering is woven throughout the document, captured in a number of performance expectations that specify what students should know and be able to do at various stages of their K–12 experience. In addition to the practices of engineering design, there are frequent references to the crosscutting ideas that science and engineering are mutually supportive and that science, engineering, and technology have profound implications for society and the natural world. Connections to the Common Core State Standards in mathematics appear on nearly every page, completing the integration of the four STEM fields.
Naturally, standards do not by themselves transform an educational system. But they do provide the intellectual underpinnings on which new educational structures can be built. For the first time, engineering and technology have a seat at the table, alongside science and mathematics.
Although the rising profile of integrated STEM may seem to be a “new” development, this historical account illustrates that it builds on the efforts of a great many dedicated people over nearly a quarter of a century.
As 50 states and 16,000 school districts in the U.S. begin to adopt new STEM standards, we can look forward to much deeper engagement by our youth in learning to use and make decisions about new technological tools, and to apply their knowledge of mathematics and science to find innovative solutions to authentic engineering challenges, taking into account societal and environmental impacts. These changes in our educational system have great potential to improve our children’s chances for success in life and to enable more high school graduates to follow career pathways in STEM and eventually to apply what they learn in the STEM fields to tackle formidable global challenges.
Aldridge, B. G. (Ed.). (1992). Scope, sequence, and coordination of secondary school science. A high school framework for national science education standards . Arlington, VA: The National Science Teachers Association.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (1989). Science for all Americans: A Project 2061 Report . Washington, DC: AAAS.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy . New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (2001). Atlas of science literacy: Project 2061. Volume 1. Arlington, VA: AAAS.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (2007). Atlas of science literacy: Project 2061. Volume 2. Arlington, VA: AAAS.
Blank, R. (2013). Science instructional time is declining in elementary schools: What are the implications for student achievement and closing the gap? Science Education , 97 (6), 830–847.
Blank, R., Manise, J., & Brathwaite, B. C. (1999). State education indicators with a focus on Title I . Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.
Carr, R., Bennett, L. D., IV, & Strobel, J. (2012). Engineering in the K-12 STEM standards of the 50 U.S. States: An analysis of presence and extent. Journal of Engineering Education , 101 (3), 539–564.
Cavanagh, S., & Rotter, A. (2008). Where’s the “T” in STEM? Experts debate whether the practical applications of mathematics and science are getting all the attention they deserve. Education Week . Advance online publication.
CCSSO & NGA (2010). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics . Common Core Standards Initiative. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association (NGA). Retrieved from
Center on Education Policy. (2008). Instructional time in elementary schools: A closer look at changes for specific subjects . Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.
Chae, Y., Purzer, Ş ., & Cardella, M. (2010). Core concepts for engineering literacy: The interrelationships among STEM disciplines. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Louisville, KY. Paper No. 2010–1287, June 20–23.
Garmire, E., & Pearson, G. (Eds.). (2006). Tech tally: Approaches to assessing technological literacy . Committee on Assessing Technological Literacy, National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Hollweg, K. S., & Hill, D. (Eds.). (2003). What is the influence of the national science education standards? Reviewing the evidence, a workshop summary . Steering Committee on Taking Stock of the National Science Education Standards, Research Committee on Science Education K-12, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Householder, D. L. (2007). Selected NSF projects of interest to K-12 engineering and technology education. National Science Foundation programs . Washington, DC: National Science Foundation. Retrieved from
International Technology and Engineering Education Association (ITEEA). (2000). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology . Reston, VA: ITEEA.
International Technology and Engineering Education Association (ITEEA). (2007). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology (3rd ed.). Reston, VA: ITEEA.
Katehi, L. G., Pearson, G., & Feder, M. (Eds.). (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understanding the status and improving the prospects . Committee on K-12 Engineering Education. National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Koehler, C., Faraclas, E., Giblin, D., Kazerounian, K., & Moss, D. (2006). Are concepts of technical & engineering literacy included in state curriculum standards? A regional overview of the nexus between technical & engineering literacy and state science frameworks. Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Chicago, IL. June 18–21.
Koehler, C., Faraclas, E., Sanchez, S., Latif, S. K., & Kazerounian, K. (2005). Engineering frameworks for a high school setting: Guidelines for technical literacy for high school students. Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Portland, OR. June 12–15.
Michaels, S., Shouse, A. W., and Schweingruber, H. A. (2007). Ready, set, science!: Putting research to work in K-8 science classrooms . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Museum of Science (MOS). (2011). Engineering is Elementary curriculum units . Retrieved from
National Academy of Engineering (NAE). (2010). Standards for K-12 engineering education? Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). (2008). Science Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress . Washington, DC: National Assessment Governing Board.
National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). (2010). Technology and engineering literacy framework for 2014 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) . Washington, DC: National Assessment Governing Board.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics . Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics . Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2006). Curriculum focal points for prekin-dergarten through grade 8 mathematics: A quest for coherence. Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Research Council (NRC). (1996). National science education standards . National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment, Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council (NRC). (2005). Rising above the gathering storm: Energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future . Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An agenda for American science and technology; Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council (NRC). (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core ideas . Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
NGSS Lead States. (2013a). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
NGSS Lead States. (2013b). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states (Vol. 2). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Pearson, G., & Young, A. T. (Eds.). (2002). Technically speaking: Why all Americans need to know more about technology . National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Sneider, C., & Brenninkmeyer, J. (2007). Achieving technological literacy at the secondary level: A case study from Massachusetts . Professional Development for Engineering and Technology: A National Symposium, Illinois State University. Retrieved from
Ioannis Miaoulis
Museum of Science, Boston

This chapter argues that engineering should be a part of the core K–12 curriculum because engineering enhances technological literacy, which should be considered an essential basic literacy. Engineering promotes problem solving and project-based learning, makes mathematics and science relevant to students, offers a wide range of high-paying career choices, and helps all students better navigate in a three-dimensional world. The National Center for Technological Literacy has played a role in K–12 engineering education advocacy, standards and assessment revisions, and curricula and professional development. Engineering standards have expanded from Massachusetts into the Next Generation Science Standards, creating new demand and opportunities for teacher professional development and student exposure to the engineering design process. While implementation challenges remain, the author remains optimistic that K–12 engineering is here to stay and proliferate .
We live in a human-made world. From the moment we wake up, until we lie down to sleep, we are immersed in technologies. The faucet we use to wash our face, the toothbrush we use to clean our teeth, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, our office or school, our home, and even the mattress we sleep on, all are the results of engineering processes. The water we drink has undergone an engineered purification process. The food we eat is the result of countless engineering technologies. If you are reading this inside of a building, take a moment to look around. Imagine how your environment would look without any human-made things. Almost nothing you see or experience would be present—no electricity, no chair, no walls, no book, and maybe no you . Without human-made pharmaceuticals and sanitation processes, your life expectancy would be 27 years.
We live in an engineered world. Engineering design creates the technologies that support our health, convenience, communication, transportation, living environments, and entertainment—our entire day-to-day life. We school our children so they can live a healthy, productive, and happy life. Our curriculum includes disciplines that prepare students to understand the physical and social world around them so they can be informed users, producers, and citizens. Social Studies prepares students to understand human relations and dynamics. Mathematics prepares them to think in quantitative manners to model processes and to calculate. Language Arts prepares them to communicate effectively and provides them with tools to learn other disciplines. Science prepares them to analyze and understand the physical world around them. Beginning in preschool, students learn about rocks, bugs, the water cycle, dinosaurs, rain forests, the human body, animals, stars and planets, chemical reactions, and physics principles. These are all important topics, but they only address a minute part of our everyday life.
The science curriculum focuses exclusively on the natural world, which arguably occupies less than 5% of our day-to-day activities. The classical K–12 curriculum essentially ignores the other 95%, the human-made world. Technology is not part of the mainstream curriculum. In most academic environments, the term technology is used to describe electronic devices. Most people do not understand that everything human made, other than some forms of art, is a technology. Although students spend years in school learning about the scientific inquiry process—the process scientists use to discover the natural world—they never learn the engineering design process, which is responsible for most of the things that support their day-to-day lives.
When I first realized this blatant omission, I was shocked. There are so many brilliant people working in K–12 education fields, so many higher education institutions that prepare educators and curricula, and so many committed government leaders who care about education. How, then, have we reached the ridiculous point where one may be considered illiterate if she does not know how many legs a grasshopper has, yet is not expected to understand how the water comes out of a faucet? Students in middle school can spend weeks learning how a volcano works and no time understanding how a car works. How often will they find themselves in a volcano?
Understanding the natural world around us is essential, but ignoring the other 95% is simply wrong. I was curious to learn the reason that the human-made world is not part of the curriculum. I discovered that one of the most significant moments in U.S. education was the publication of the report of the “Committee of Ten” in 1893. Charles Elliott, the president of Harvard University at the time, led this impressive group of education leaders. They used a quite rational approach to determine which disciplines students should be taught in K–12 schools in order to be prepared for productive work or college entrance. First they decided what students need to know by high school graduation; then they looked at the things that typical students learn at home; and, by subtraction, they decided what should be taught in schools to cover the difference. Fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science are typically not covered at home, so they made the list. Yet technology was left out. Think of the state of technology in 1893. Not only was it quite basic and simple, but most of it focused on farming. And since the majority of school children were living in agrarian areas, they were learning “technology” at home. Thus, the committee determined that it was not necessary to include technology in the regular curriculum. In addition, the committee was likely influenced by the bias of its leader. President Elliott was not a friend of “applied knowledge.” He closed Harvard’s engineering school because he deemed engineering to be too mundane for Harvard. The “Committee of Ten” report was used as a template to create textbooks and curricula, and thus technology and engineering were omitted. As technology advanced to become a major influence on our lives, the core curricula and textbooks never caught up.
There was a parallel, yet not as successful, movement to create “manual schools,” led by the C. M. Woodward, the Dean of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. This movement focused more on vocational education than on basic technological literacy for all. Industrial Arts emerged as an elective discipline in some schools in the early 1900s, but it also focused on the vocational side of technology. Industrial Arts’ aim was to train students to become technicians, such as builders and plumbers. Industrial Arts gradually evolved to Technology Education (Tech Ed), which leans closer to engineering, but in most cases it is still viewed as “shop.” Tech Ed teachers are not high in the prestige hierarchy in the K–12 academic world. Although in the early 1900s Tech Ed programs were developed by engineering schools, schools of education gradually took over the discipline. Many Tech Ed programs are now in colleges and universities that have no engineering programs. This trend inhibited growth in the field of technology education even as engineering and technology exploded in society. As a result, technology education has tended to focus on vocational kills rather than academic understanding. At present, technology education is either a small part of the student’s education or simply an elective. In tough economic times, it is one of the first areas to be cut from the budget. Thus only a small number of students are afforded an opportunity to learn even a limited part of the human-made world.
Technological literacy is basic literacy
How can one claim to be literate if she does not understand how 95% of her environment works, or how it was made? Technological literacy is simply basic literacy. It is no less important than understanding US history or trigonometry. Understanding how an engineer designs is just as important as understanding how a scientist thinks.
Engineering promotes problem solving and project-based learning
The engineering design process starts by identifying a need or a problem. It follows an organized path to arrive at one or more solutions that satisfy the need or solve the problem. Problem-solving skills are far more valuable than many of the other skills that are the focus of our K–12 educational systems. I use my engineering training constantly to solve problems far removed from engineering, such as dealing with personnel issues or fundraising. Engineering provides a life skill that can be used in everyday life and in any occupation.
Engineering pulls other disciplines together, enabling students to work as a team to solve a problem they are passionate about. Imagine a second grade engineering team trying to solve the problem of how to keep their classroom pet bunny rabbit at the school, even though one of their classmates is allergic to it. This problem presents a welcome opportunity for the students to apply the skills they’ve gained from other disciplines to solve a problem they personally care about. In order to build an outdoor habitat for their rabbit, students have to use math to figure out the measurements of the hutch so the bunny can comfortably live in it and enter and exit, while not allowing the neighborhood raccoon to move in. They have to use science knowledge, including the fact that heat flows from hot to cold, while insulating the habitat so the bunny can be comfortable during the cold winter months. They even have to use art skills to make the habitat appealing. While doing this, they sharpen their team and collaborative learning abilities.
Engineering makes math and science relevant
Why do students lose interest in math and science in the middle school years? Some blame teacher quality and preparation. That may be a factor; however, I believe it is primarily because curriculum content is disconnected from the content of the students’ daily lives and interests. In the elementary school years, students love science because they learn about rocks, bugs, dinosaurs, and rain forests. These topics are exciting in elementary school, but quickly lose their appeal as the students reach puberty. In middle school, science begins to become more abstract: rocks become earth science, bugs become life science, and physical science deals with forces, energy, and other things that are “invisible” to students. These “natural world” topics are not so natural for children who live in inner-city, urban environments with few opportunities to travel and enjoy the natural world.
The “lack of relevance syndrome” continues at the college level. About half of the students that enter engineering school quit or transfer to liberal arts. Granted, some of these students are not adequately prepared in math and science and are challenged to the point where exit is the only solution, but many of them do quite well in math and science, yet they decide to switch. All colleges and universities, even the elite ones, lose a large portion of their first-year engineering class to liberal arts. When I became Dean of the School of Engineering at Tufts University in 1994, I learned that 22% of the first-year engineering students transferred to liberal arts. What I found even more disturbing than the sheer number of transfers was that the grade point average of these students was a B+, with average combined (math and verbal) SAT scores close to 1400! Lack of preparation was not the reason.
Why, then, were students switching at such great rates? I held a number of focus groups in order to understand the reasons. The number one response was “I did not find engineering interesting.” What I found interesting was that they had not yet taken any engineering. The first-year curriculum was filled with math and science, along with some computer programming and perhaps a basic design course. The magic and excitement of engineering was just not part of their experience. As a result, we changed the curriculum not only to include engineering earlier, but also to include it in an engaging way. We introduced engineering courses for first-year students that stemmed out of faculty members’ personal hobbies and interests, and we opened the courses to liberal arts students as well. There were courses in acoustics and chemical engineering under the titles “Design and Performance of Musical Instruments” and “Microbrewery Engineering.” I developed two courses stemming out of my fishing and cooking hobbies. My fishing-related course was called “Life in Moving Fluids.” It was an introductory fluid mechanics course, but from the point of view of a fish or a tree. The laboratory looked more like a biology lab than an engineering lab, with live fish, sea anemones, and plants alongside liquid and air tunnels. The other course was called “Gourmet Engineering,” where transient heat conduction-related differential equations would come alive in a state-of-the-art kitchen laboratory. Finite cylinders took the form of meat roasts, instrumented with thermocouples that would monitor the temperature to show if the math really worked. All these courses were designed in a way that made math and science relevant. The experiment worked. Within a year, Tufts became, and still is, the only school in the country where in some years more students transfer from liberal arts into engineering than vice versa.
Engineering makes math and science relevant, which is critical in the middle school and high school years. Relevance is particularly important for retention of girls in science fields. Girls gravitate toward science disciplines that have an evident benefit to society. Half of medical school students are women, and women comprise the majority of students in the life sciences. In some highly competitive veterinary schools, more than 80% of the students are female. Ability is clearly not the limiting factor. Engineering in K–12 can make science relevant and improve student interest, especially among girls.
Engineering as a career
There has been considerable discussion and expressed panic for the prospective lack of engineers in the United States. Some skeptics argue that the gap between demand and supply of domestic engineers could be covered by outsourcing work to foreign engineers for less money and, in some cases, better work quality. While there are some engineering jobs that could and probably should be outsourced, there are others that must remain domestic. If these jobs were outsourced, the security and culture of the United States would suffer.
Engineering jobs related to local infrastructure are prime examples. The design, construction, and maintenance of buildings, roads, power plants, airports, electric grid systems, and so forth are best accomplished by engineers who are familiar with local conditions. Engineering jobs related to our national defense systems also cannot be outsourced. Would you be comfortable being protected by weapon systems imported from another country?
The United States has always been the center of innovation. Innovation, driven by US engineers, has made this country special and has attracted some of the best minds to immigrate here. This innovation has created the products, services, and wealth that still make life in the United States better than in most other countries. If this culture of innovation becomes eroded or outsourced, the entire character and culture of our nation will be affected dramatically.
In order to preserve the innovation culture in the United States, numerous committees have issued reports calling for an increase in support of K–12 mathematics and science education. What these reports have missed is that the connector among math, science, and innovation is engineering. Unless this connection is made in school, the number of future engineers will continue to fall short of the current and future demands.
The United States would have a lot more engineers if young people knew what engineers do. Approximately 7 out of 10 engineers in this country have had a relative who was an engineer. There are few other nontrade professions that are connected like this to family. Unfortunately, school career guidance counselors are typically uninformed about engineering. The general public is similarly uninformed and confused about what engineering is and what engineers do. In China, Europe, and India, the engineering profession is better understood, and engineering is considered a very prestigious career choice. Some of the most competitive admissions to European universities are for engineering majors. Almost half of the members of China’s politburo have an engineering background.
As the demographics of our country change, and the percentage of Caucasians decreases, so, too, will the number of engineers. In African-American communities, most young adults who attend college focus on education, medicine, and law, largely because these are culturally considered respectable professions. These are the professions that the community has encouraged students to enter and thrive in—since African Americans have historically been shut out of many professions, including engineering. Given that the engineering profession is overwhelmingly comprised of Caucasians, and given the strong link between the engineering career choice and relatives in the profession, the numbers are bound to decrease.
Here in the United States there is confusion about the term engineer . We call train drivers, radio station sound technicians, and janitors engineers , along with the traditional college educated engineers. It is not uncommon to see the doors of high school janitor closets lettered with signs saying “Engineering.” Even the janitor’s closet at the National Academy of Engineering’s old building had a sign saying “Engineering.” If you have a problem with your toilet in a hotel and you call the front desk for help, they may tell you, “we are sending the engineer up right away.”
The role of engineers could be better understood if public media represented the profession more prominently and accurately. Engineers are largely absent from mass-market television, where both kids and adults get their information. News programs could be encouraged to solicit input from engineers on topics such as cutting-edge technologies, port designs, earthquake prevention, and heart stents. Newspapers could include more statements from engineers when new designs succeed (versus during failures). The nation has missed great opportunities to celebrate engineering achievements and to excite young people to pursue engineering careers. When NASA’s Rover made it to Mars, the press called it a “science miracle.” When something went wrong with it, the press called the event an “engineering error.” There are no prime-time TV shows with engineering heroes or main characters.
Unless the United States makes an effort to teach students about engineering early and to present the engineering profession in a realistic light, there is little chance of improving the career choice statistics.
Navigating in a three-dimensional world
We live in a three-dimensional (3-D) world, and we should be able to conceptualize it as such. At times we all have to imagine and sometimes sketch things in three dimensions for considering optimal designs, for example when we redesign a kitchen or set up a warehouse.
Most engineering schools have a course on engineering design that is required for all first-year students. A significant component of this course focuses on 3-D visualization skills. A surprising phenomenon that schools throughout the country once noticed was that young men entering the engineering school were more capable of tackling 3-D challenges than their female counterparts. Both men and women had comparable college entrance test scores and high school grades and, in some cases, were from the same family. The phenomenon could not be attributed to some genetic factor, because after taking the design course, the 3-D gap would close; both men and women could tackle these challenges with similar abilities and skills.
Researchers in Michigan studied the phenomenon and came to the conclusion that the reason for the differential performance between young men and women in 3-D skills was attributed to the toys that they played with during their growing years. I was fascinated by the study and wanted to take a personal look at the different toy availability for boys and girls. I went to a large chain toy store and spent a few hours with the gender bias in mind. I was fascinated! There was an abundance of toys for boys that sharpened 3-D visualization skills, such as LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, construction sets, lathes, and so forth. The availability of such toys for girls was a different story. Most girl toys focused on nurturing and fantasy. Barbie’s aisle was loaded with toys such as “Teen Talk Barbie,” which once said “Will I ever have enough clothes?” and “Math class is tough!” “My Little Pony,” which featured a plastic little horse with a fuzzy tail and a plastic comb, was another top seller. I quickly understood the validity of the Michigan study and realized that toys were at the root of this inequity.
Currently, I am more worried that what used to be a boy-versus-girl issue has become a boy and girl issue. Children now spend most of their discretionary time in front of 2-D screens, such as televisions, video games, laptops, mp3 players, and mobile phones. Building, tinkering, and other activities that once primarily engaged boys are no longer the preferred pastime. We have started creating generations of people who will not be able to visualize and design in three dimensions. This will not only affect the abilities of future engineers, designers, and architects, but also deprive people of a basic life skill. By introducing engineering in K–12 schools, we will remediate this issue for both boys and girls.
These are the five driving issues that created the “call for action” to introduce engineering as a new discipline in the K–12 curriculum. This discipline should be parallel and equal to language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. I recall someone once saying, “Introducing a new discipline in K–12 education is as challenging as moving a graveyard.” I’m beginning to see the truth in that statement.
A small number of K–12 engineering curricula were developed in the early to mid-1990s; however, their purpose was to motivate students to pursue careers in engineering. Most of the curricula focused on a specific engineering area, such as electronics or automotive engineering. “Project Lead the Way” offered the first sequence of high school engineering courses aimed toward students who planned to attend engineering schools. Many engineering colleges also started K–12 education outreach programs. Recruiting and community service were the main motivators. The first effort to introduce engineering to all children starting in kindergarten was undertaken by the School of Engineering at Tufts University in 1994. The Center for Engineering Education Outreach was established, and it created curricula and professional development programs for educators spanning all grade levels. The center also partnered with LEGO to create Robolab, the software that enabled the LEGO Mindstorm robotic kit to be used in classrooms.
While these breakthrough programs were very good, they reached only a small number of schools and students. There was clearly a need for a systemic change in order for the K–12 engineering movement to gain momentum. The opportunity was created in 1998, when the Board of Education in Massachusetts appointed a committee to rewrite the Massachusetts curriculum framework and learning standards. I was appointed to the committee that would rewrite the technology education component of the science standards. I worked with a team of K–12 educators, primarily technology education teachers, and introduced the first engineering curriculum frameworks and standards in the United States. The senior staff in the Massachusetts Department of Education did not have much appreciation for technology education standards at the time, and they saw the transformation of technology education standards to technology/engineering standards as a move in the right direction. The technology education teachers in the group also saw this transformation as yet another evolution of their field and as an opportunity for their professional position in the K–12 educator hierarchy to be upgraded and become more secure. On December 20, 2000, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the new technology/engineering standards and to make them part of the state’s assessment. Assessments at the elementary and middle school levels were revised so that science and technology/engineering comprised 20%. At the high school level, technology/engineering became one of the four end-of-course assessment options for meeting the science requirement for graduation, the other three being biology, chemistry and physics.
At the elementary level, the engineering standards focused on distinguishing between the natural and human-made worlds, such as comparing tools with animal body parts (e.g., scissors vs. lobster claws, dog paws vs. rakes). Material properties and the basics of the engineering design process were also included. These standards are intended to be covered by the mainstream classroom teacher, who also covers all other core subjects. At the middle school level, the standards focus again on the engineering design process and also on five technology areas: construction, manufacturing, communication, transportation and bio-related technologies. The middle school curriculum is intended to be covered primarily by technology education teachers (or science teachers, if technology education teachers are not on staff). At the high school level the standards include more advanced content, including topics such as fluid mechanics and heat transfer.
Although the vote of the board was unanimous, the new standards were not received enthusiastically by all members of the academic community. Many superintendents were against the standards because their districts did not have the necessary resources to implement them, and many technology education teachers were ambivalent because they saw the inclusion of engineering as a challenge to traditional instruction. Fortunately, the commissioner of education was strongly behind the new standards, and they survived. As a result, Massachusetts became the first state to have engineering standards and assess them at all levels.
Massachusetts’s bold move attracted the attention of the National Science Foundation, which began to fund K–12 engineering education curriculum development and programs. The relevant activities in Massachusetts schools increased in scope and in number; however, no other state followed suit. It became clear that for the initiative to spread nationally, it would need a focused champion organization. Such an organization could not be in competition with the partners needed to expand engineering standards to the national level. Universities tend to be very competitive, and so they would not be an ideal home for the lead organization.
In 2004, a year after I joined the Museum of Science in Boston, it became home to the new National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL). NCTL’s mission is to introduce engineering in both schools and museums. Its philosophy is that in order to accomplish a fundamental change in attitude toward engineering, school curricula must change, in conjunction with the attitudes and understanding of those responsible to implement the change. In order for any program to succeed with this philosophy, it must focus on three areas: advocacy, curriculum development, and professional development. NCTL chose to take on those areas in the following ways.
Advocacy and support
Although learning standards are centrally controlled in the vast majority of countries around the world, in the United States, they are controlled at the state level. State standards are influenced by standards developed by national groups, such as the National Research Council, Achieve, Inc., and the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. NCTL advocates for the inclusion of engineering in these national standards, in state standards nationwide, and in all relevant federal legislation and assessments. It also provides support, such as standards and assessment tool development, curriculum, and teacher professional development for states that decide to include engineering standards in their curriculum frameworks.
Curriculum development
Because engineering in K–12 is a new concept, there is little relevant curricula at all levels. NCTL develops K–12 engineering curricula at all educational levels where it has identified gaps in existing curricula.
Professional development
NCTL provides professional development programs for in-service teachers and administrators. NCTL partners with states, universities, science centers, and other organizations using a “train the trainer” model, so that the professional development capacity can meet the demands according to the level of need in each state. In addition, NCTL works with universities to assist them in curriculum and program development for pre-service teachers.
At the national level, significant progress has been made. The National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment now includes items in “technological design.” It is unfortunate that it is not called what it is—“engineering design”—but still there is progress. A K–12 grant program from the National Governors Association explicitly encouraged applicants to include K-–12 engineering in their proposals and plans. There is now explicit language in many federal and state bills about technology and engineering education. The majority of states now include engineering standards of one form or another, but most of them still calling them technology standards. By May of 2014, the Next Generation Science Standards have been adopted by 10 states and another 20 are considering adoption. Thousands of schools throughout the country have adopted some form of engineering curriculum. The curriculum produced by NCTL alone is used by over five million students in all 50 states.
Changing curriculum on a national scale is not easy, particularly when it must be accomplished district by district. Over time, NCTL and other advocates have made significant progress. However we continue to be faced with significant challenges.
Current K–12 curricula are packed with traditional material, some of it necessary and some not. Turf issues inhibit serious revisiting of what, and to what extent, students need to learn. The turf issues extend beyond the local level. When learning standards development committees are formed at the state level, members advocate for more standards in their specialty areas. Engineering is the newcomer and threatens the each member’s “piece of the pie.” Similar turf issues occur when developing educational standards at the national level.
Fear is always a consideration when implementing change, and the thought of teaching a new topic has proven to be intimidating to many teachers, especially at the elementary levels. Some educators are intimidated by science alone. If teachers have a background in a discipline, or have ready access to professional development courses in that area, they have the ability to increase their knowledge, thus reducing their fear and minimizing their resistance. Unfortunately, colleges of education do not currently prepare prospective teachers for engineering and design. In addition, state-level certification programs do not require content knowledge in engineering for elementary teachers, so few teachers have even the slightest background in engineering education.
When properly presented, most educators react positively to the idea of introducing engineering in K–12 schools. Areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education are enjoying widespread support among school administrators, federal department of education officials, and National Research Council–appointed committee members. However, when implementation and funding opportunities arise, all the attention is focused on the S and M parts of STEM. Many reports advocate for supporting math and science in schools in order to foster innovation in our economy. What they don’t realize is that the connector among math, science, and innovation is engineering. The vast majority of school administrators misunderstand the term technology , and they assume that technology means computers. Computers are just a small part of technology. Some school districts feel that they offer technology to their students simply because they teach them word processing and spreadsheet skills.
Education is a cyclical process. Students learn, and then some grow to be teachers and teach what they know. When a new discipline is introduced, in-service teachers must learn something new during their busy professional lives. For this reason, there are few educators qualified to teach engineering at the middle and high school levels. The teachers who graduate from technology education programs are qualified to teach the technology components of the curriculum, but in many cases they are under-prepared in mathematics and science, which provide the basis for engineering. Engineering schools have not stepped up in encouraging their graduates to pursue teaching careers, and certification requirements have made the process of switching from engineering to teaching cumbersome.
College admission requirements have also presented a challenge to the effort of early engineering education. It is ironic that most engineering colleges do not accept a high school engineering course as equivalent to science. They typically look more favorably at an applicant who has taken an Advanced Placement course in a science area that may have nothing to do with engineering than at a candidate who has taken an engineering course. This discourages students from taking engineering in high school and schools from offering it.
The final hurdle for the introduction of K–12 engineering is the applied nature of the discipline. Engineering education requires new facilities and equipment. When school budgets are tight, administrators are hesitant, if not unable, to open new budget line items.
In order to maintain the momentum, we should focus our attention on six key areas.
Standards development and assessment
The most significant step toward inclusion of engineering in the curriculum is to introduce engineering learning standards at the state and federal level, alongside other assessments of student performance. NCTL has been a strong advocate for the creation of such standards and assessments. The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), based on the National Academies and National Research Council’s framework for K–12 science education, include engineering design as a core idea, a cross-cutting concept, and an essential practice. Twenty-six states participated in the development of the NGSS, and it is anticipated that a majority of states will adopt the standards over time. The National Academies are also working on the development of an assessment framework for the NGSS so that states will be able to align their student assessments accordingly.
As mentioned above, funding has focused on the science and mathematics parts of STEM, but employment opportunities are predominantly in engineering and technology. For instance, the ratio of engineers to scientists on the NASA payroll is 12 to 1. NASA’s mandate is to educate and motivate young people to enter professions relevant to NASA’s mission, yet most of the education funds flow toward science. It is time to directly fund the engineering and technology portions, so they can come up to speed with and help enforce the science and mathematics parts. Funding initiatives that encompass engineering education are not likely to succeed without the aforementioned changes to the learning standards.
Teacher preparation
Engineering must be inserted into the education cycle, so that teachers are prepared and excited about including the engineering discipline in their curriculum. In order to accomplish this, college programs must be modified. Technology education teacher training should include more mathematics and science, as well as the engineering design process. In addition, engineering schools should offer a new track-major that focuses on engineering education. Purdue University has one of the premier research departments on engineering education. Graduates of such programs would have a broad understanding of engineering, as well a good hands-on project-building background. The curriculum should include courses on teaching methods. A partnership between the college of engineering and the college of education, at the same or neighboring schools, would facilitate this. Graduates would be prepared to teach both science and technology/engineering courses. Certification requirements should be updated to better reflect the new engineering standards and make the career transition from engineer to teacher easier. Elementary school teacher preparation programs should include at least one course in design and understanding the human-made world.
The lack of facilities can be overcome if state programs that fund school renovation and construction require schools to have facilities dedicated to technology and engineering. At the elementary school level the facilities may be “take apart” tables with simple tools. Middle and high schools should have design and building facilities, including power tools for prototype development.
Science textbook publishers should include engineering content and activities in their new editions, connecting the traditional science to technology. Engineering is by nature “hands on.” This blends well with science textbooks that focus on inquiry. It is more challenging to integrate engineering in traditional science texts. However, more and more publishers now include engineering components. The technology education textbooks should also be modified to emphasize the engineering design process and to include contemporary technologies such as bio-related technologies and nanotechnologies.
Changing the culture
Informal education channels such as museums and science centers, as well as popular media, should include more programs on engineering, technology, and relevant careers. Such changes would not only create a more technologically literate population, but would also inspire children to pursue relevant studies and motivate parents to encourage their children in these areas.
Understanding how the human-made world works and how it is developed is an essential component of contemporary basic literacy. Although the value of this understanding was largely ignored in K–12 schools until the mid-1990s, significant progress has been made. Engineering and technology standards are being included in many state curriculum frameworks. Federal legislation and national assessments also now include technology and engineering, and thousands of schools in all 50 states are using engineering curricula. This is a long road, but at the end we will have a nation of technologically literate citizens. This vision continues to fuel the momentum to ensure that K–12 engineering will emerge as the essential new core discipline.
Tamara J. Moore, 1 Micah S. Stohlmann, 2 Hui-Hui Wang, 3 Kristina M. Tank, 3 Aran W. Glancy, 3 and Gillian H. Roehrig 3
1 Purdue University, 2 University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 3 University of Minnesota

Engineering is the bond in STEM integration in K–12 education. In this chapter, we present an overview of the literature on engineering in K–12 STEM integration, as well as a framework for the development and assessment of integrated STEM activities. The usefulness of the framework is demonstrated through application to three research-based STEM integration curricula. Finally, benefits and barriers for STEM integration in the classroom are presented and discussed .
The problems that we face in our ever-changing, increasingly global society are multidisciplinary, and many require the integration of multiple STEM concepts to solve them. These problems are the driving force behind national calls for more and stronger students in the pathways to enter STEM fields. However, attempts to solely motivate students to enter current pathways into STEM fields are most likely not going to work. What is needed is a new trajectory to success. This trajectory should help the learner to develop understandings and abilities that are more consistent with the new kinds of mathematics/ science/engineering thinking that are emerging as most important in a technology-based age of information. The recent report Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects ((National Academy of Engineering [NAE] & National Research Council [NRC], 2009) argued that “in the real world, engineering is not performed in isolation—it inevitably involves science, technology, and mathematics. The question is why these subjects should be isolated in schools” (pp. 164–165).
Currently, there is a movement in K–12 education to include engineering academic standards in the science curriculum. Many states, such as Maine, Oregon, and Massachusetts, have legislated efforts to improve STEM education through the addition of engineering standards to the existing science standards (Kuenzi, Matthews, & Mangan, 2006; National Governors Association [NGA], 2007; Strobel, Carr, Martinez-Lopez, & Bravo, 2011; Moore, Tank, Glancy, Kersten, & Ntow, 2013). Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon, some of the states that have led this movement, have integrated the engineering strands throughout the science curriculum, which demonstrates that the intent is for engineering to be integrated into science classes rather than to be taught as a separate subject (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2009; Minnesota Department of Education, 2009; Oregon Department of Education, 2009). Due to the growing national awareness of the need to add engineering to K–12 curricula and the work done by these states, the Next Generation Science Standards, which were released in Spring 2013, have engineering and engineering design included as well (NGSS Lead States, 2013).
Effective practices in integrating engineering into STEM teaching involve complex problem solving, problem-based learning, and cooperative learning, in combination with significant hands-on opportunities and curriculum that identifies social or cultural connections between the student and scientific/mathematical content. But STEM teaching needs to go beyond where it is today and move toward a focus on what understandings are needed to improve STEM learning in the 21st century. Due to the nature of the problems today, the new direction must center on STEM integration. This chapter will focus on engineering as the basis for STEM integration. We will discuss the national call for improved STEM education and the role of engineering in STEM integration. We will also provide a framework for developing and assessing STEM integration curricula through highlighting specific examples, and we will discuss the benefits and challenges associated with an integrated STEM education that focuses on engineering.
National policy movements, national and international student achievement data, and the ever-changing technology-based global economy have made STEM integration an essential focus. There have been an abundance of United States policy documents related to STEM education published within the past several years. The prevalent theme in these documents is that, if we are going to continue as a progressive and prosperous nation, it is imperative to improve STEM education in the U.S. by developing the future generation of STEM professionals. The executive report to the President of the United States, entitled Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for America’s Future , states that the U.S. must prepare students with a strong STEM background in order to be competitive in a global society (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2010). The National Academies published the report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future , which noted that economic growth and national security are related to well-trained people in STEM education fields (NRC, 2007). It also includes a recommendation for an effort to develop and maintain excellent STEM education programs that will increase the quality of STEM teachers in K–12.
The need for improving STEM education is often seen through U.S. students’ test scores, which show that not all students’ needs are being meet. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test shows that U.S. students, ranked 19th internationally, are behind students in other industrialized nations in STEM critical thinking skills (National Science Board [NSB], 2007). In 2005, national test scores showed that U.S. students majoring in STEM fields were finishing high school underprepared for success in the workforce or in college. However, since STEM education has received more focus, test scores have improved. For example, from 2005 to 2009 the percentage of 12th-grade students scoring below basic for mathematics and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) decreased, indicating that a greater percentage of students are finishing high school prepared (i.e., U.S. high school mathematics and science scores below basic level decreased from 46% in 2005 to 40% in 2009 and from 39% in 2005 to 36% in 2009, respectively [National Center for Education Statistics, 2006, 2007, 2009a, 2009b]). However, there is still more room for improvement to ensure all students are prepared when finishing high school.
The need for multiple pathways that allow students to move through K–12 STEM education into STEM fields and careers has been widely identified as critical to the future of America’s global competitiveness (Rivoli & Ralston, 2009). These pathways involve having a high-quality, coherent, and connected curriculum throughout K–12 education. In their national action plan for STEM, the National Science Board note that “the United States possesses the most innovative, technologically capable economy in the world, and yet its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education system is failing to ensure that all American students receive the skills and knowledge required for success in the 21st century workforce” (NSB, 2007, p. 1). These issues show the importance for the U.S. to increase the number of students who take STEM courses, which in turn could positively affect the numbers of students who pursue careers in STEM fields (Chen & Weko, 2009; Farmer, 2009; Laird, Alt, & Wu, 2009; Lips & McNeill, 2009; Moore, 2007; NSB, 2007).
National and state-level movements to incorporate engineering into science standards have been created in response to the need for improved STEM education. At the national level, the Next Generation Science Standards emphasize the vital role for engineering and technology in science education (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Moreover, the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Language Arts indicate a need for such cross-disciplinary skills as modeling and technical writing (NGA, 2010).
The national movement in STEM education is changing from compartmentalization of mathematics and science classes into integrated multidisciplinary education (Riechert & Post, 2010). Engineering can further this change by motivating students to learn the mathematics and science concepts that make technology possible. However, a common and explicit understanding of STEM integration continues to be a significant obstacle to effective implementation (Berlin & White, 1995; Frykholm & Glasson, 2005; Stinson, Harkness, Meyer, & Stallworth, 2009), which this book attempts to address.
Interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning are not new. However, given the aforementioned educational climate coupled with the emphasis on skills for the 21st century, there is an emphasis on having students think about complex problems that involve multiple STEM disciplines. Engineering in K–12 settings can act as a connector for meaningful student learning of the content of mathematics and science. Research studies support the claim that engineering design activities in classrooms encourage an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates knowledge from science, mathematics, and technology (Brophy, Klein, Portsmore, & Rogers, 2008; Douglas, Iversen, & Kalyandurg, 2004; Thornburg, 2009), as well as skills related to problem solving, creative thinking, and communication (Erwin, 1998; NAE & NRC, 2009; Lewis, 2006; Roth, 2001; Thornburg, 2009). Research also provides evidence that integrating engineering into K–12 mathematics and science courses benefits students’ learning of the content of mathematics and science (Cantrell, Pekcan, Itani, & Velasquez-Bryant, 2006; NAE & NRC, 2009). Therefore, given the need to increase the pathways into engineering and the evidence that bridging the STEM disciplines is beneficial for students, it is imperative that students be given opportunities to learn about engineering and participate in engineering design in their formal education.
What is integrated STEM education?
The theoretical basis for integrated teaching, learning, and curriculum is related to the work of John Dewey, the progressive educational movement in the early 1900s, and constructivist theory (Dewey, 1938; Ellis & Fouts, 2001). In general, integrated STEM education is an effort to combine some or all of the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one class, unit, or lesson that is based on connections between the subjects and real-world problems. The goal of integrated STEM education is to be “a holistic approach that links the disciplines so the learning becomes connected, focused, meaningful, and relevant to learners” (Smith & Karr-Kidwell, 2000, p. 22).
Here, we define integrated STEM education as an effort by educators to have students participate in engineering design as a means to develop technologies that require meaningful learning and an application of mathematics and/or science. In terms of implementation practices, integrated STEM education can involve one or more teachers (Roehrig, Moore, Wang, & Park, 2012), one or more classes (Berlin & White, 1995), or differing time requirements for STEM integration units (Isaacs, Wagreich, & Gartzman, 1997). Additionally, the integration can be such that all content areas are emphasized or one is the focus and some others are used as context to learn disciplinary content. More discussion about these practices will be provided in the next section.
Allowing students to learn in situations that have them grapple with realistic problems that require crossing disciplinary boundaries is the heart of STEM integration. Using engineering as a motivator for these problems is a natural way for students to learn through STEM integration. Engineering requires the use of scientific and mathematical concepts to address the types of ill-structured and open-ended problems that occur in the real world (Sheppard, Macantangay, Colby, & Sullivan, 2009). Real-world engineering problems are complex, with multiple viable solutions, because of the number of variables and interrelationships between variables that need to be analyzed and modeled. Often a client or end-user, either real or fictitious, needs to use the solution or design for a purpose. Therefore, the questions students investigate are guided by the client or user’s needs and wants. While discussions about inquiry focus on the need for students to be investigating “scientifically-oriented question(s)” that lead to an understanding of natural phenomena (NRC, 2000), debate about the authenticity of these questions has focused on who derives the question (student vs. teacher). Furthermore, the types of questions that students tend to investigate are predicated by the assumption that students should first learn concepts and problem-solving processes, and only then should they put these two together to solve “real-life” problems. But the questions that students choose to investigate are at best pseudo-real-world and univariate, and concepts develop through the process, not as separate entities that can be patched together. Engineering can provide a real-world context for STEM learning if and only if a STEM integration approach is taken. What must come to the forefront in classroom instruction are teachers’ instructional practices that allow for and scaffold the development of explanations based on designs and data generated in the early stages of inquiry or engineering design. Engineering contexts as spaces for students to develop real-world representations can be the catalyst for developing related scientific and mathematical concepts through using multiple representations (concrete models, pictures, language, and symbols) and facilitating translations between and among them. Teachers must facilitate discussions that engage students and value their ideas while moving students toward the development of appropriate understandings and explanations of STEM concepts.
Curriculum integration models: Content integration versus context integration
Two different models for content objectives that have been used during the design and implementation of STEM integration lessons include content integration and context integration. Content integration units or lessons have multiple STEM disciplinary learning objectives. These units focus on merging multiple STEM content areas into a single curricular activity in order to consider the “big ideas” from the multiple content areas. For example, a unit with a context of increasing the life span of hip joint replacements by creating new lower friction coatings might bring in content areas of material science, chemical engineering, physics, biology, biomedical engineering, and mathematics. This socially relevant context is an example of how STEM disciplines can increase quality of life. Since currently hip replacements last about 10 years, a stronger coating could mean that recipients of hip replacements may not need a second replacement in their lifetime. A unit with this context allows a teacher to teach content from each discipline and highlight how these disciplines are all needed to solve a problem in this area. Content integration can be such that the big ideas from multiple content areas are given similar attention in the lessons or some support others; the caveat is that learning objectives should clearly be inclusive of the multiple disciplines. Context integration , by contrast, primarily focuses on the content of one discipline and uses contexts from others to make the content more relevant. For example, a mathematics teacher might choose a unit focused on a company that must look at the reliability of tires for vehicles in order to increase the safety of driving a vehicle. This is an engineering context. The content would be focused on mathematical ideas of statistics, particularly leading up to ideas of Chi-square testing, but the context would allow for iterations and designing of solutions for the company in order to introduce engineering as a field to the students. In this case, the mathematical content is the primary objective, but the engineering context allows the teacher to motivate and situate the learning. These different approaches allow teachers flexibility in how they choose to integrate STEM in their classrooms.
How engineering is being implemented
Engineering is a natural connector for integrating STEM disciplines in the classroom, given the need for engineering design solutions to use mathematical and scientific ideas. The Frameworks for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) has identified engineering design both as one of the practices to be learned by students as well as a disciplinary core idea. Therefore, in order for K–12 educators to be able to integrate STEM content, they will have to come to an understanding of the nature of engineering. Engineering practice, at its core, is a way of thinking in order to solve problems for a purpose. This is characterized by engineering design processes, which are the “distinguishing mark of the engineering profession” (Dym, 1999). According to ABET, the accrediting board for postsecondary engineering programs in the United States, engineering design is “a decision-making process (often iterative), in which the basic sciences, mathematics, and the engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet these stated needs” (ABET, 2013, p. 2). The report Standards for K-12 Engineering Education? (NAE, 2010) defines engineering design as an “iterative process that begins with the identification of a problem and ends with a solution that takes into account the identified constraints and meets specifications for desired performance” (p. 6–7). Dym, Agogino, Eris, Frey, and Leifer (2005) define engineering design as “a systematic, intelligent process in which designers generate, evaluate, and specify concepts for devices, systems, or processes whose form and function achieve clients’ objectives or users’ needs while satisfying a specified set of constraints” (p. 104). A simplistic model of the engineering design process represents a problem-solving process that goes through the steps (iteration implied) Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve (Museum of Science Boston, 2009). A more sophisticated model of engineering design is detailed in the study by Atman, Adams, Cardella, Turns, Mosborg, and Saleem (2007) on how engineering design experts and engineering students compare in their design processes. In their research, Atman et al. state that there are five basic themes of design: (1) problem scoping and information gathering, (2) project realization, (3) considering alternative solutions, (4) distributing design activity over time (or total design time and transitions), and (5) revisiting solution quality. These views of design show that, like scientific inquiry, engineering design is not a lock-step procedure, but rather a process in which decisions about what step in the design process to take next are made based on what was learned during the previous step. Many of the engineering lessons from published curricula are focused around the concept of engineering design, and it has been identified as an important principle for engineering lessons in K–12 classrooms (NAE & NRC, 2009; NRC, 2012).
It is clear from all of these views that science and mathematics play an integral role in engineering. ABET (2013) states this succinctly by saying, “the engineering sciences have their roots in mathematics and basic sciences but carry knowledge further toward creative application” (p. 4). From another perspective, it could also be argued that much of the useful mathematics and science also lies in the spaces where mathematics, science, and engineering intersect. And, when they intersect, they tend to change in fundamental ways. If one takes this premise to be true, it follows that the education of students in these disciplines is not completely representative unless integration of the subjects is meaningful. Therefore, we believe that rich and engaging learning experiences that foster deep content understanding in STEM disciplines and their intersections are needed for students . Which means, there is a need for curricula that integrate STEM contexts for teaching disciplinary content in meaningful ways that go beyond the blending of traditional types of understandings. In addition, most teachers have not learned disciplinary content using STEM contexts, nor have they taught in this manner, and therefore new models of instruction, including curricular models, must be developed if STEM integration is to lead to meaningful STEM learning.
Teachers of science and mathematics have been facing the challenges of teaching subject content in ways that engage students in meaningful, real-world settings (NRC, 1996; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000). However, in many cases, a disconnect exists between “school science/mathematics” and “real science/mathematics.” Engineering is a vehicle to provide a real-world context for learning science and mathematics. Any search for engineering education in K–12 settings will reveal a multitude of engineering outreach programs and curricular innovations. Institutions of higher education and professional associations provide compelling rationales for incorporating engineering in the high school curriculum, either as a course in its own right or woven into existing mathematics and science courses. Common arguments for K–12 engineering education (Hirsch, Carpinelli, Kimmel, Rockland, & Bloom, 2007; Koszalka, Wu, & Davidson, 2007) include:

• Engineering provides a real-world context for learning mathematics and science.
• Engineering design tasks provide a context for developing problem-solving skills.
• Engineering design tasks are complex and as such promote the development of communication skills and teamwork.
• Engineering provides a fun and hands-on setting that will improve students’ attitude toward STEM careers.
While these are very good arguments for the inclusion of engineering in the K–12 curriculum, a more powerful argument comes from the realization that the problems of the world are ever changing. Integration of engineering into mathematics and science courses makes sense given both the nature of the 21st-century problems and the need to provide more authentic, real-world meaning to engage students in STEM. In order to prepare students to address the problems of our society, it is necessary for educators to provide students with opportunities to understand the problems through rich, engaging, and powerful experiences that integrate the disciplines of STEM.
As indicated throughout this chapter, real-world problems draw on multiple disciplines; integration is a naturally occurring phenomenon in problem-solving processes. However, this is different than the way that science, mathematics, and engineering are typically taught in the K–12 and postsecondary settings. Traditionally, teachers and curricula unpack complex problems for students and misrepresent the STEM disciplines as distinct chunks of knowledge that students apply to artificial univariate problems—classic examples of this are word problems used in mathematics and some sciences where the real-world is involved to test students’ ability to apply a pre-learned equation. Another common teaching strategy is to focus on the actions or processes of the disciplines, in other words, “the doing” of STEM to answer the questions in their field (i.e., inquiry in science, design in engineering, problem solving or proof in mathematics). For example, in science, some approaches ask students to follow a set of prescribed steps to walk through the “scientific method.” In engineering, design processes have been taught through tinkering with a product until it is within acceptable ranges. Within mathematics, problem solving has been taught by teaching heuristics such as “draw a picture” or “work backwards.” In virtually every area of learning or problem solving where researchers have investigated differences between effective and ineffective learners or problem solvers (e.g., between experts and novices), results have shown that the most effective people not only do things differently, but they also see (or interpret) things differently. The attempts to represent the disciplines by their actions with a focus on “doing” not only loses the richness of the contexts in which each discipline operates but also sorely misrepresents each discipline in such a way that it has potential to harm students’ understanding and interest. STEM integration provides a more authentic way to engage students in meaningful and interesting problems. This leads to the need for a framework that allows educators to develop and assess curricula that use engineering design in an authentic manner, while at the same time focusing on the core content that students must know in order to succeed at the next level. In the next section, we will provide details of such a framework.
Engineering in K–12 schools is a relatively recent endeavor. While there have been pockets of engineering courses in technology education, engineering integrated into the science and mathematics classrooms on a larger scale is new at this level. The report Engineering in K-12 Education outlined three main principles for K–12 engineering education (NAE & NRC, 2009). First, it stated that K–12 engineering education needs a focus on design; second, K–12 engineering education should also incorporate mathematics, science, and technology; and third, K–12 engineering must align with systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration, communication, and attention to ethical considerations to promote engineering “habits of mind” (pp. 4–6). We have developed a framework for assessing K–12 engineering curricula that aligns with these criteria. This section will provide the framework and discuss examples of curricula that adhere to this framework.
The framework for assessing or developing integrated STEM curricula has six tenets. First, high-quality STEM integration curricula should have a motivating and engaging context . Students need to have various personally meaningful contexts that provide them with access into the activity (Brophy et al., 2008; Carlson & Sullivan, 2004; Frykholm & Glasson, 2005). Second, the activity should include students participating in engineering design challenges of relevant technologies for a compelling purpose in order to develop problem-solving, creativity, and higher-order thinking skills (Morrison, 2006). Third, the activity should allow learners to learn from failure and then have the opportunity to redesign (Moore, Guzey, & Brown, 2014). Fourth, in order for the school learning to be meaningful and worth the time it takes to implement, there must be mathematics and/or science content as main objectives of the activity (Fortus, Dershimer, Krajcik, Marx, & Mamlok-Naaman, 2004; Harris & Felix, 2010; Mehalik, Doppelt, & Schunn, 2008). The activity should enhance the students’ abilities in science and/ or mathematics through the use of engineering design to develop technologies. It is even better if there is exposure to other non-STEM disciplines (e.g., reading or social studies) that are related to the overall activity. Fifth, pedagogies for the instruction of the mathematics and/ or science content need to be student-centered pedagogies , such as inquiry, discovery, and so forth (Smith, Sheppard, Johnson, & Johnson, 2005; see also Furner & Kumar, 2007; Stinson et al., 2009) that help students develop their scientific or mathematical knowledge in a manner that deepens conceptual understanding. Finally, well-designed STEM integration curricula will emphasize teamwork (Carlson & Sullivan, 2004; Selingo, 2007; Smith et al., 2005) and communication (Dym et al., 2005; NGA, 2010; NAE & NRC, 2009; Selingo, 2007).
A very good example of a curricular innovation that meets all of the tenets of the above framework is the Engineering Teaching Kit called Save the Penguins (Schnittka, Bell, & Richards, 2010). Save the Penguins engages students in a rich context around environmental problems (climate change) and ways in which this is affecting penguin habitats around the globe. Then the students are introduced to engineering as a profession and guided to understand how engineers design technologies to help solve the world’s problems. They are also introduced to basic physical science ideas of heat transfer through the realistic context and led to see the connection between heat transfer, environmental issues, and penguin habitats. Next, the students are asked to participate in several demonstrations and hands-on activities that develop or solidify student conceptions of insulation, conduction, convection, and radiation. For example, students are told they will be holding one metal spoon and one plastic spoon that each have an ice cube placed on them. They are asked to predict which ice cube will melt faster and then asked to perform the activity. Through this activity, students are faced with a common misconception in heat transfer; that is, since metal feels colder than plastic, students assume that the temperature of the metal is lower than the temperature of the plastic. There are six student-centered activities such as this one, each one providing potential cognitive conflict for students regarding their early conceptions of heat transfer. The students are then asked to work in teams to design a habitat for a 10g penguin-shaped ice cube that will be placed in a “cooker” (a black plastic bin with the sides lined with aluminum foil and three 150-Watt clamp lights shining down) to prevent conduction, convection, and radiation. Students are provided a budget and a list of potential materials. Before setting off on their design, students are asked to design experiments to test the materials for their properties to slow heat transfer focusing on controlling variables. Finally, students plan their design, test it, learn from their first test’s successes and failures, and redesign. Students record their work on storyboards throughout the module, emphasizing communication. Teachers are given the opportunity to highlight data analysis (mathematics) integrated into this curriculum. Figure 3.1 provides images of different phases of the students’ design cycle.

Figure 3.1 . Images of work on the Save the Penguins curriculum.
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) is the premier curricular program that integrates engineering into the elementary grades. These curricular units also provide educators with the opportunity to meet the tenets of the above framework. Developed through a National Science Foundation grant at the Museum of Science–Boston, the program has been created as stand-alone modules that are paired with 20 major science topics taught in the elementary grades. The units are all designed to include four lessons. Lesson 1 has students engage in the context for the overall design challenge, which includes a storybook that sets the context in which the main character is faced with an engineering challenge. Each book is set in a cultural context (usually associated with a country) and provides an overview of the type of engineering field that will be highlighted in the design challenge from the module. Lesson 2 is designed to have students explore the engineering field that will be associated with the design challenge and usually includes hands-on experiments to help students understand the type of work done by the engineer in this particular field. Lesson 3 engages students in experiments to help them build background knowledge, which often includes the development of scientific content; however, EiE is designed so that teachers can use their existing science curricula to teach the science content as well. Finally, Lesson 4 has teams of students engaged in a design challenge that is related to the context from Lesson 1. Each unit includes assessments for students to judge the quality of both the original design and the improved design, as well as mechanisms to communicate their results (Cunningham, 2009). The EiE teacher resource website provides educators with space to post related content integration lessons to share with other educators. Figure 3.2 shows students working on different aspects of the EiE design cycle (also see Chapter 6 in this volume).

Figure 3.2 . Images of work on different units from the EiE curricula.
Two teachers (one science, one mathematics) from a Minnesota middle school developed a curriculum called Engineering for “Chair”-ity. This module has students designing, building, and marketing cardboard chairs (technology) that will hold a person who weighs 150–200 pounds. The context has students designing chairs to auction off in order to give the profits to a national charity of the students’ choice. There is an explicit connection to the art classes in the school in that the engineering students “hire” the art students to help decorate the chairs in the style of a famous artist. The engineering students are also asked to find inspiration to create aesthetically pleasing structural designs. The module focuses on the importance of the structure of the human body as an important design consideration (meaningful science). The students are asked to measure body parts in order to develop proportional relationships to inform the design (science connected to meaningful student-centered mathematics—ratio, proportion, and measurement). Students develop prototypes, test them, have budget constraints, draw blueprints, and build final chairs (emphasis on design and redesign). This module is designed for students to work in small engineering teams. The teams of students are also required to market their chairs to a local company, emphasizing engineering communication. Figure 3.3 provides images of students working on different stages of their design process for the “Chair”-ity project.

Figure 3.3 . Images of work on Engineering for “Chair”-ity.
All three of these curricular innovations have had positive research results when implemented in classrooms. Research on Save the Penguins has shown increased conceptual understanding about heat transfer and positive changes in attitudes toward engineering (Schnittka & Bell, 2011; see also Park et al., 2011). Based on the data, students who were involved in the Save the Penguins engineering treatment that included the hands-on demonstrations showed statistically significant “gains in understanding heat transfer and thermal energy” compared to “students in other classes” (Schnittka & Bell, 2011, p. 1877). The results of the Park et al. (2011) research support this finding. There are many studies that support student growth when participating in the EiE curricula. Students who use EiE perform significantly better than control students on questions about engineering, technology, and science (Jocz & Lachapelle, 2012; Lachapelle & Cunningham, 2007; Lachapelle et al., 2011a, 2011b). Research on EiE has also shown that students who participate in EiE modules are more likely than control students to indicate that they are interested in engineering as a career (Cunningham, & Lachapelle, 2010; Lachapelle, Phadnis, Jocz, & Cunningham, 2012). EiE has also been shown to enhance interest, engagement, and performance of students from underrepresented groups, including females, historically underrepresented minorities, students with Individual Education Plans, and students who are English-language learners, as compared to science instruction alone and school in general (Moffett, Weis, Banilower, 2011; see also Lachapelle et al., 2011b). Research on the development and implementation of the Engineering for “Chair”-ity project has shown that this curriculum represents a good model for STEM integration implementation (Roehrig et al., 2012), closely following the framework presented here. In addition, the implementation teacher believed this unit “helped her students to think independently and to become more confident in learning, to learn how to communicate with each other, and to become skilled at teamwork” (Wang, Moore, Roehrig, & Park, 2011, p. 10). All of these studies show the positive impacts of quality STEM integration curricula on students.
Translations among the STEM disciplines
If we consider integrated STEM thinking or learning to be made up of the concepts, skills, and higher order thinking that bind or link the STEM disciplines together, then the STEM acronym takes on a meaning beyond simply the sum of its parts. Certainly, deductive reasoning in mathematics, design thinking in engineering, inquiry in the sciences, and computational thinking in the fields of technology are distinct and independent approaches to problem solving, and cultivating these capabilities in students should be a primary goal of any STEM program. Each one, however, has its strengths and weaknesses, and each is especially well suited to a specific type of problem. As discussed above, real-world problems are complex and integrated. Tackling such problems requires not just the ability to use design thinking or inquiry (for example), but also the ability to choose the best approach or combination of approaches that capitalize on the strengths of each way of thinking. From this perspective, STEM encompasses the content, skills, and ways of thinking of each of the disciplines, but it also includes an understanding of the interactions between the disciplines and the ways they support and complement each other.
Thinking in this way of STEM as a whole, the individual disciplines become interdependent modes of representation within STEM integration. For example, mathematical or scientific problems and their solutions become particular ways in which STEM problems manifest themselves. Complex, integrated problems like the “Chair”-ity unit are STEM problems requiring students to apply their skills from multiple disciplines. Once the students branch off to explore the specific mathematical or scientific principles in the scale prototype drawing and human body activities respectively, however, the lessons begin to look like effective lessons in the separate disciplines. Connecting the lessons throughout the unit back to the central problem does add context, meaning, and value to the unit and keeps them grounded in the overall STEM problem. However, the fact that those connections are in the curriculum does not guarantee that students will perceive them or that they will enhance learning. If students are unaware or unable to see and make these connections on their own, much of the value added through integration may be lost on them.
Students can be encouraged to make connections by asking them to apply the ideas, skills, or techniques from one discipline in the course of tackling a problem in another, in essence translating between the disciplines, should help students perceive the relationships, similarities, and differences between the disciplines. This in turn should help them develop more sophisticated concepts of each discipline individually, and STEM as a whole. Combining this emphasis on the connections between disciplines with the idea that the disciplines themselves are manifestations of the broader concept of STEM leads to the STEM Translation Model ( Figure 3.4 ), proposed by Glancy and Moore (2013) as a way for conceptualizing STEM thinking and STEM learning.

Figure 3.4 . STEM Translation Model. STEM is the combination of the individual disciplines along with the translations that connect them.
With the STEM Translation Model as a framework, it follows that integrated STEM lessons and activities are at their best when they encourage students to make translations between the ideas of multiple disciplines. In the wind turbine activity, changing the angle of the blade changes both the magnitude and direction of the forces on the blades from the wind. While investigating the optimal angle for their engineering design challenge, students will hopefully discover this at least implicitly. This, in and of itself, however, does not necessarily guarantee that the students will make the connections to the science concepts of force and motion. In this case, a teacher who is mindful of the STEM translation model might ask the students to draw a force diagram to describe what they learned through the course of their engineering challenge. This translation should help students build a deeper conception of both force and motion but also of the connection between optimization in engineering and the predictive power of science.
The STEM Translation Model also provides a way of thinking about individual concepts that span multiple STEM disciplines. Vectors in mathematics and science, although in most ways very similar, are not identical. Mathematicians and scientists with many years of experience and training have no trouble relating and distinguishing the use of the term vector in a variety of different ways. To students just encountering these concepts for the first time, however, the subtle differences between how their math teachers and science teachers use the term can be confusing. The students see the concept in its two different manifestations (in math class and in science class) but they are unable to make the connection between them. To the contrary, however, Rich, Leatham, and Wright (2012), have found that under certain conditions, students learn concepts better in interdisciplinary settings through a process they call convergent cognition. The conditions for convergent cognition require a recognition of the “core concepts and processes” that bind the two uses together. As Rich et al. describe, “this synergistic relationship wherein combining two objects reveals a more complex object is what we believe may occur when a learner connects a core concept from two different domains” (p. 442). By first acknowledging the differences between the way vectors are used in math and in science, and then by helping students to make the connections between the different uses, teachers can support the development of deep conceptual understanding. And those connections can be developed through translations between the different representations. In the next section, we will outline benefits of STEM integration, possible barriers, and potential solutions to these barriers.
There are many benefits that have been connected with the use of integrated education. Research indicates “using an interdisciplinary or integrated curriculum provides opportunities for more relevant, less fragmented, and more stimulating experiences for learners” (Furner & Kumar, 2007, p. 186). Other benefits of integrated education are that it is student-centered, improves higher-level thinking skills and problem solving, and improves retention (Ellis & Fouts, 2001; King & Wiseman, 2001; Smith & Karr-Kidwell, 2000).
Similar benefits have been found with a more specific focus on integrated STEM education. Such benefits include making students self-reliant, better problem solvers, innovators and inventors, logical thinkers, and technologically literate (Morrison, 2006). Studies have shown that integrating mathematics and science has a positive impact on student attitudes and interest, their motivation to learn, and their achievement in school (Furner & Kumar, 2007; Stinson et al., 2009). Benefits of incorporating engineering in K–12 schools are improved achievement in mathematics and science, increased awareness of engineering, understanding and being able to do engineering design, and increased technological literacy (Harris & Felix, 2010; NAE & NRC, 2009).
Problems in the world are multidisciplinary in nature, not separated into isolated disciplines. Curriculum integration is more aligned with the problems our students will face later in life (Beane, 1995; Czerniak, Weber, Sandmann, & Ahern, 1999; Jacobs, 1989) and has the potential to provide more meaningful learning experiences for students by connecting disciplinary knowledge with personal and real-world experiences (Beane, 1991, 1995; Burrows, Ginn, Love, & Williams, 1989; Capraro & Slough, 2008; Childress, 1996; Jacobs, 1989; Sweller, 1989).
With all of the benefits that are associated with integrated STEM education, there are also barriers that can make effective integrated STEM education difficult. Researchers, teachers, and schools have been working on ways to effectively overcome these barriers and to develop robust models of integrated STEM education that can effectively prepare and motivate students through relevant activities. The main barriers to effective integrated STEM education are teachers’ content knowledge, a lack of effective curriculum models, and the need for materials and resources. For each of these barriers, we have also provided potential ways for schools to overcome them.
Content knowledge
There is a limited amount of research that examines the prerequisite skills, beliefs, knowledge bases, and experiences necessary for teachers to implement integrated instruction (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005). However, content knowledge plays a large role in teachers’ effectiveness (Pang & Good, 2000). Teachers’ content knowledge for mathematics and science integration is difficult by itself. Teachers’ content knowledge for STEM integration is even more complex because many teachers have gaps in their subject content knowledge instead of a deep understanding that facilitates integration. Asking mathematics and science teachers to teach another subject may create new knowledge gaps and challenges (Stinson et al., 2009). Cunningham and Hester (2007) note that few elementary teachers are comfortable teaching science and mathematics, let alone technology and engineering. At all levels, it is important that teachers receive support to be able to teach STEM integration effectively.
Research in mathematics and science integration provides important ideas about how to support teachers’ content knowledge for integrated STEM education. While teachers are developing the content knowledge for STEM integration, they can focus on quality strategies for teaching. Teachers can engage students by structuring class so that it involves “posing problems about natural phenomena, probing for answers that explain a problem, and persuading their peers that they have a sufficient answer to the question posed” (Beeth & Mc-Neal, 1999, p. 5). Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (2005) suggest ten top practices for teaching mathematics and science, including cooperative learning, teacher as a facilitator, and writing for reflection. A focus on connections, representations, and misconceptions can also aid teachers’ pedagogy (Walker, 2005). Integrated STEM education should build on students’ prior knowledge and be organized around big ideas or themes (Berlin & White, 1995).
A growing number of institutions are partnering with school districts to support STEM education. Tufts University has been working for over 15 years to integrate engineering into K–12 classrooms by supporting teachers’ instruction (Rogers & Portsmore, 2004). The University of Minnesota and the 3M STEM Education Fellowship Program support schools by bringing best practices around STEM integration to K–12 classrooms through curriculum development, implementation, and assessment (Stohlmann, Moore, McClelland, & Roehrig, 2011).
Other support for teachers’ content knowledge has come through federally funded mathematics and science teacher professional development trainings to help teachers implement STEM integration (Harris & Felix, 2010). Across the nation, there are university faculty and institutions, like the Museum of Science–Boston, that are providing professional development for teachers in the area of integrated STEM education. Teachers can also collaborate and share ideas with colleagues from other subjects to support content knowledge and learning in multiple disciplines.
Another form of support is the integration of content taking place in teacher education programs in mathematics and science methods courses (Berlin & Lee, 2005). There are several studies that have looked at the difficulties and benefits of using integrated content courses or methods courses with pre-service teachers (Beeth & McNeal, 1999; Elliott, Oty, Mcarthur, & Clark, 2001; Frykholm & Glasson, 2005; Furner & Kumar, 2007; Lewis, Alacaci, O’Brien, & Jiang, 2002). A growing number of institutions, including The Ohio State University (Beeth & McNeal, 1999), have an integrated secondary teacher certification in mathematics, science, and technology education. This prepares middle and high school teachers to integrate mathematics, science, and technology in their teaching (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005).
Quality curricular models
A lack of existing effective models of integrated education makes it difficult for new programs to be developed (King & Wiseman, 2001; NAE & NRC, 2009). Research on one of the largest providers of integrated STEM curriculum in the United States, Project Lead the Way (PLTW), has shown significant room for improvement in effectively integrating mathematics and science content. Stohlmann et al. (2011) found that PLTW’s middle school curriculum, Gateway to Technology , as it was written at the time of the research, should not be expected to increase mathematics and science test scores. While broad national standards are aligned to the curriculum, few state-specific content standards in mathematics or science are explicitly present. This finding supported the results from Tran and Nathan (2010) in which students who took three years of PLTW, compared to students who did not, had statistically smaller gains in mathematics achievement and equivalent gains in science achievement. PLTW has attempted to revise its curriculum to create a more effective model of instruction. Findings such as these promote the need for the framework from above, which could be used to assess the quality of curricula before adoption.
The authors of the elementary curriculum Math Trailblazers learned valuable lessons while designing an integrated mathematics and science curriculum. They focused on science as a process and decided to fit the science to the mathematics content because they found that constructing a combined framework of mathematics and science was difficult. Other lessons they learned in the development of the textbook were that, for a complete curriculum, the mathematics should form the organizational framework because it is much easier to develop effective integrated lessons or units than a whole textbook and that implementation of an integrated textbook is even more challenging (Isaacs et al., 1997). Similarly, Pang and Good (2000) found that an equal balance of mathematics and science is not a promising approach for a full curriculum.
It is important that STEM integration is not forced and that natural connections between and among disciplines are used. Possible concepts on which the integration could focus include sampling, probability, ratio, area, population growth, reflection and refraction (Berlin & White, 1995), tree growth, Punnett squares, manatee population decline, and disease transmissions to talk about mathematical models and exponential growth (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005). Real-world themes that were developed as part of the Unified Science and Mathematics for Elementary Schools curriculum included pedestrian street crossings, timely service for lunch lines, reducing waste, soft drink design, and describing people (Shann, 1977).
Materials and resources
Another barrier to integrated STEM education is that it often requires a lot of materials and resources for students to investigate possible solutions to real-world problems through designing, expressing, testing, and revising their ideas. Electronic technology materials are also necessary for teachers to be the most effective. Internet websites, applets, design programs, dynamic software, robotics software, and calculators can all be integrated into lessons. Not all schools have equal technology or materials resources, but the hands-on work of having students designing and revising their ideas is important. One example of private sector and teachers collaborating is the organization getSTEM ( ). Its website was designed to connect Minnesota educators with science and technology businesses in order to better prepare students for postsecondary education programs and careers in STEM. Teachers may use the website to create postings to ask for community assistance in materials donations, guest presentations, volunteers for field trips, or other needs. Websites such as these are popping up around the United States. Another helpful resource is the digital library. is a “searchable, web-based digital library collection populated with [free] standards-based engineering curricula for use by K-12 teachers and engineering faculty to make applied science and math (engineering) come alive in K-12 settings” (TeachEngineering, n.d.) Lessons on TeachEngineering. org provide a range of materials and resource needs, which can help alleviate issues with lack of resources. Furthermore, many STEM education and outreach centers are opening at universities and often offer professional development or other resources to facilitate STEM integration. However, one should use the framework stated above to evaluate the quality of the curricular resources from all of these sources.
While there are barriers to implementing integrated STEM education, the benefits of an integrated approach necessitate that we as a community work to remove these barriers. The solutions presented here serve as a way to have continued efforts toward effective integrated education. Table 3.1 has a summary of the main benefits, barriers, and solutions to implementing integrated STEM education. Content knowledge across STEM disciplines is the most important factor for teachers new to integrated STEM education. As teachers’ content knowledge, experience, and pedagogical content knowledge grow, their ability to effectively implement integrated STEM education will improve. Supporting teachers in various ways and providing teachers with the necessary resources and materials to do their job well will also enable integrated STEM education teachers to be successful.
Table 3.1 . Benefits, barriers, and solutions for integrated STEM education.
Benefits of integrated STEM education • More relevant and motivating learning • More technologically literate students • Improved student attitudes • Higher-level thinking skills • Higher retention of concepts • Increased mathematics and science achievement Barriers Solutions   • Collaborate with teachers of other subjects   • Partner with a university, curriculum company, or other institution Robust STEM content knowledge • Attend federally funded teacher trainings   • Increase integrated content focus in teacher preparation   • Focus on best practices for pedagogy   • Improve curricula through concerted efforts of researchers and curriculum developers Effective curriculum models • Build on natural connections among subjects • Use the framework provided in this chapter to assess the strength of the STEM integration curricula Technology and materials needs • Partner with businesses, universities, or communities • Find free Internet-based resources
Designing and assessing quality STEM integration curricula is not an easy task for teachers or researchers. Just like in engineering design, design of good curricula is iterative—requiring multiple cycles of creating, testing, and revising. The framework detailed in this chapter provides both teachers and researchers with a resource to guide both assessment and development of effective STEM integration curricula. The framework has educators consider engaging contexts, meaningful mathematics and science content, engineering design/redesign strategies to develop compelling technologies, student-centered pedagogies, and opportunities to learn teamwork and communication when considering the quality of curricula. The benefits of using STEM integration in the classroom are easily seen as most real problems draw from multiple disciplines, and therefore we should provide students with opportunities to learn and think using prior knowledge and to develop new knowledge from multiple disciplines. While barriers do exist, they are able to be overcome if school personnel desire to make the changes needed to allow meaningful STEM integration in the classroom, which is needed if we are going to help our students compete in the 21st-century workforce. Use of frameworks, such as the Framework for STEM Integration in the Classroom and the STEM Translation Model, can help overcome the barriers and provide structure that emphasizes the benefits of effective STEM integration.
This work is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1055382 and by the Region 11 Math and Science Teacher Partnership (MSTP) 2009–2011 project, which is funded through Title II, Part B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, ESEA, or NCLB.
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). (2013). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs . Baltimore, MD: ABET. Retrieved from
Atman, C. J., Adams, R. S., Cardella, M. E., Turns, J., Mosborg, S., & Saleem, J. (2007). Engineering design processes: A comparison of students and expert practitioners. Journal of Engineering Education , 96 (4), 359–379.
Beane, J. (1991). The middle school: The natural home of integrated curriculum. Educational Leadership , 49 (2), 9–13.
Beane, J. (1995). Curriculum integration and the disciplines of knowledge. Phi Delta Kappan , 76 , 616–622.
Beeth, M., & McNeal, B. 1999. Co-teaching science and mathematics methods courses . Retrieved from
Berlin, D., & Lee, H. (2005). Integrating science and mathematics education: Historical analysis. School Science and Mathematics , 105 (1), 15–24.
Berlin, D., & White, A. (1995). Connecting school science and mathematics. In P. House & A. Coxford (Eds.), Connecting mathematics across the curriculum: 1995 yearbook . Reston, VA: NCTM.
Brophy, S., Klein, S., Portsmore, M., & Rogers, C. (2008). Advancing engineering education in P-12 classroom. Journal of Engineering Education , 97 (3), 369–387.
Burrows, S., Ginn, D. S., Love, N., & Williams, T. L. (1989). A strategy for curriculum integration of information skills instruction. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association , 77 (3), 245–251.
Cantrell, P., Pekcan, G., Itani, A., & Velasquez-Bryant, N. (2006). The effect of engineering modules on student learning in middle school science classroom. Journal of Engineering Education , 95 (4), 301–309.
Capraro, R. M., & Slough, S. W. (2008). Project-based learning: An integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) approach . Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Carlson, L., & Sullivan, J. (2004). Exploiting design to inspire interest in engineering across the K-16 engineering curriculum. International Journal of Engineering Education , 20 (3), 372–380.
Chen, X., & Weko, T. (2009). Students who study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in postsecondary education (NCES 2009–161) . Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
Childress, V. W. (1996). Does integration technology, science, and mathematics improve technological problem solving: A quasi-experiment. Journal of Technology Education , 8 (1), 16–26.
Cunningham, C. M. (2009). Engineering curriculum as a catalyst for change. NSF/Hofstra CTL Middle School Grades Math Infusion in STEM Symposium . Palm Beach, FL.
Cunningham, C. M., & Hester, K. (2007). Engineering is Elementary: An engineering and technology curriculum for children. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Honolulu, HI. June 24–27.
Cunningham, C. M., & Lachapelle, C. P. (2010). The impact of Engineering is Elementary (EiE) on students’ attitudes toward engineering and science. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Louisville, KY. June 20–23.
Czerniak, C. M., Weber, W. B., Jr., Sandmann, A., Jr., & Ahern, J. (1999). Literature review of science and mathematics integration. School Science and Mathematics , 99 (8), 421–430.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education . New York: Macmillan.
Douglas, J., Iversen, E., & Kalyandurg, C. (2004). Engineering in the K-12 classroom: An analysis of current practices & guidelines for the future . Washington, DC: American Society for Engineering Education.
Dym, C. (1999). Learning engineering: Design, languages, and experiences. Journal of Engineering Education , 88 (2), 145–148.
Dym, C., Agogino, A., Eris, O., Frey, D., & Leifer, L. (2005). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. Journal of Engineering Education , 94 (1), 103–120.
Elliott, B., Oty, K., Mcarthur, J., & Clark, B. (2001). The effect of an interdisciplinary algebra/science course on students’ problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and attitudes towards mathematics. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology , 32 (6), 811–816.
Ellis, A., & Fouts, J. (2001). Interdisciplinary curriculum: The research base: The decision to approach music curriculum from an interdisciplinary perspective should include a consideration of all the possible benefits and drawbacks. Music Educators Journal , 87 (5), 22–26, 68.
Erwin, B. 1998. K-12 education and systems engineering: A new perspective. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Seattle, WA. June 28-July 1.
Farmer, T. (2009). A STEM brainstorm at NASA. Techniques , 84 (1), 42–43.
Fortus, D., Dershimer, C., Krajcik, J., Marx, R., & Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2004). Design-based science and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching , 41 (10), 1081–1110.
Frykholm, J., & Glasson, G. (2005). Connecting science and mathematics instruction: Pedagogical context knowledge for teachers. School Science and Mathematics , 105 (3), 127–141.
Furner, J., & Kumar, D. (2007). The mathematics and science integration argument: A stand for teacher education. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology , 3 (3), 185–189.
Glancy, A. W., & Moore, T. J. (2013). Theoretical foundations for effective STEM learning environments . Retrieved from
Harris, J., & Felix, A. (2010). A project-based, STEM-integrated team challenge for elementary and middle school teachers in alternative energy. Retrieved from
Hirsch, L. S., Carpinelli, J. D., Kimmel, H., Rockland, R., & Bloom, J. (2007). The differential effects of pre-engineering curricula on middle school students’ attitudes to and knowledge of engineering careers. Proceedings of the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference . Milwaukee, WI.
Isaacs, A., Wagreich, P., & Gartzman, M. (1997). The quest for integration: School mathematics and science. American Journal of Education , 106 (1), 179–206.
Jacobs, H. H. (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum: Design and implementation . Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Jocz, J., & Lachapelle, C. (2012). The impact of Engineering is Elementary (EiE) on students’ conceptions of technology . Boston: Museum of Science.
King, K., & Wiseman, D. (2001). Comparing science efficacy beliefs of elementary education majors in integrated and non-integrated teacher education coursework. Journal of Science Teacher Education , 12 (2), 143–153.
Koszalka, T., Wu, Y., & Davidson, B. (2007). “Instructional design issues in a cross-institutional collaboration within a distributed engineering educational environment.” In T. Bastiaens & S. Carliner (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007 (pp. 1650–1657). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
Kuenzi, J., Matthews, M., & Mangan, B. (2006). Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education issues and legislative options. Congressional research report . Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Lachapelle, C. P., & Cunningham, C. M. (2007). Engineering is Elementary: Children’s changing understandings of science and engineering. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Honolulu, HI. June 24-27.
Lachapelle, C. P., Cunningham, C. M., Jocz, J., Kay, A. E., Phadnis, P., Wertheimer, J., & Arteaga, R. (2011a). Engineering is Elementary: An evaluation of years 4 through 6 field testing . Boston, MA: Museum of Science.
Lachapelle, C. P., Cunningham, C. M., Jocz, J., Kay, A. E., Phadnis, P., Wertheimer, J., & Arteaga, R. (2011b). Engineering is Elementary: An evaluation of years 7 and 8 field testing . Boston, MA: Museum of Science.
Lachapelle, C. P., Phadnis, P., Jocz, J., & Cunningham, C. M. (2012). The impact of engineering curriculum units on students’ interest in engineering and science. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual International Conference . Indianapolis, IN.
Laird, J., Alt, M., & Wu, J. (2009). STEM coursetaking among high school graduates, 1990–2005. MPR Research Brief . Retrieved from
Lewis, T. (2006). Design and inquiry: Bases for accommodation between science and technology education in the curriculum. Journal of Research in Science Teaching , 43 (3), 255–281.
Lewis, S., Alacaci, C., O’Brien, G., & Jiang, Z. (2002). Preservice elementary teachers’ use of mathematics in a project-based science approach. School Science and Mathematics , 102 (4), 172–180.
Lips, D., & McNeill, J. (2009). A new approach to improving science, technology, engineering and math education. Backgrounder , 2259 , 1–10.
Massachusetts Department of Education (2009). Current curriculum frameworks: Science and technology/engineering . Retrieved from
Mehalik, M. M., Doppelt, Y., & Schunn, C. D. (2008). Middle-school science through design-based learning versus scripted inquiry: Better overall science concept learning and equity gap reduction. Journal of Engineering Education , 97 (1), 71–85.
Minnesota Department of Education (2009). Minnesota Academic Standards. Science , K-12 , 2009. Retrieved from
Moffett, G. E., Weis, A. M., & Banilower, E. R. (2011). Engineering is elementary: Impacts on students historically-underrepresented in STEM fields . Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research.
Moore, J. (2007). Critical needs of STEM education. Journal of Chemical Education , 84 (12), 1895.
Moore, T. J., Guzey, S. S., & Brown, A. (2014). Greenhouse design to increase habitable land: An engineering unit. Science Scope , 37 (7), 51–57.
Moore, T. J., Tank, K. M., Glancy, A. W., Kersten, J. A., & Ntow, F. 2013. The status of engineering in the current K-12 state science standards. Proceedings of the ASEE National Conference . Atlanta, GA.
Morrison, J. (2006). Attributes of STEM education. TIES STEM education monograph series . Baltimore, MD: TIES.
Museum of Science (MOS). (2009). Engineering is Elementary engineering design process . Retrieved from
National Academy of Engineering (NAE). (2010). Standards for K-12 engineering education? Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2006). The nation’s report card: Science 2005 (NCES 2006466) . Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2007). The nation’s report card: Mathematics 2007 (NCES 2007494) . Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2009a). The nation’s report card: Mathematics 2009 (NCES 2011455) . Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2009b). The nation’s report card: Science 2009 (NCES 2011451) . Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics . Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Governors Association. (2007). Innovation America: Building a science, technology, engineering and math agenda . Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from
National Governors Association. (2010). Common core state standards . Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from
National Research Council (NRC). (1996). National science education standards . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council (NRC). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council (NRC). (2007). Rising above the gathering storm: Energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council (NAE & NRC). (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understanding the status and improving prospects . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council (NRC). (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core ideas . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Science Board (NSB). (2007). A national action plan for addressing the critical needs of the U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education system (NSB-070114) . Retrieved from
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states . Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Oregon Department of Education. (2009).
Oregon science K-HS content standards . Retrieved from
Pang, J., & Good, R. (2000). A review of the integration of science and mathematics: Implications for further research. School Science and Mathematics , 100 (2), 73–82.
Park, M. S., Nam, Y., Moore, T. J., & Roehrig, G. H. (2011). The impact of integrating engineering into science learning on students’ conceptual understandings of the concept of heat transfer. Journal of the Korean Society of Earth Science Education , 4 (2), 89–101.
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010). Prepare and inspire: K-12 education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for America’s future . Retrieved from
Rich, P. J., Leatham, K. R., & Wright, G. A. (2012). Convergent cognition. Instructional Science , 41 (2), 431–453.
Riechert, S., & Post, B. (2010). From skeletons to bridges and other STEM enrichment exercises for high school biology. American Biology Teacher , 72 (1), 20–22.
Rivoli, G., & Ralston, P. (2009). Elementary and middle school engineering outreach: Building a STEM pipeline. American Society for Engineering Education Southeast Section Conference . Marietta, GA.
Roehrig, G. H., Moore, T. J., Wang, H.-H., & Park, M. S. (2012). Is adding the E enough? Investigating the impact of K-12 engineering standards on the implementation of STEM integration. School Science and Mathematics , 112 (1), 31–44.
Rogers, C., & Portsmore, M. (2004). Bringing engineering to elementary school. Journal of STEM Education , 5 (3), 17–28.
Roth, W.-M. (2001). Learning science through technological design. Journal of Research in Science Teaching , 38 (7), 768–790.
Schnittka, C. G., & Bell, R. L. (2011). Engineering design and conceptual change in science: Addressing thermal energy and heat transfer in eighth grade. International Journal of Science Education , 13 (1), 1861–1887.
Schnittka, C. G., Bell, R. L., & Richards, L. G. (2010). Save the penguins: Teaching the science of heat transfer through engineering design. Science Scope , 34 (3), 82–91.
Selingo, J. (2007). Powering up the pipeline. ASEE Prism , 16 (8).
Shann, M. (1977). Evaluation of an interdisciplinary, problem solving curriculum in elementary science and mathematics. Science Education , 61 (4), 491–502.
Sheppard, S. D., Macantangay, K., Colby, A., & Sullivan, W. M. (2009). Educating engineers: Designing for the future of the field . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, J., & Karr-Kidwell, P. (2000). The interdisciplinary curriculum: A literary review and a manual for administrators and teachers . Retrieved from
Smith, K. A., Sheppard, S. D., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom-based practices. Journal of Engineering Education , 94 (1), 87–101.
Stinson, K., Harkness, S., Meyer, H., & Stallworth, J. (2009). Mathematics and science integration: Models and characterizations. School Science and Mathematics , 109 (3), 153–161.
Stohlmann, M., Moore, T. J., McClelland, J., & Roehrig, G. H. (2011). Year-long impressions of a middle school STEM integration program. Middle School Journal , 43 (1), 32–40.
Strobel, J., Carr, R. L., Martinez-Lopez, N. E., & Bravo, J. D. (2011). National survey of states’ P-12 engineering standards. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition . Vancouver, BC, Canada. June 24-27
Sweller, J. (1989). Cognitive technology: Some procedures for facilitating learning and problem solving in mathematics and science. Journal of Education & Psychology , 81 (4), 457–466.
TeachEngineering: Resources for K-12 Educators . (n.d.). Retrieved from
Thornburg, D. 2009. Hands and minds: Why engineering is the glue holding STEM together . Thornburg Center for Space Exploration. Retrieved from
Tran, N., & Nathan, M. (2010). An investigation of the relationship between pre-college engineering studies and student achievement in science and mathematics. Journal of Engineering Education , 99 (2), 143–157.
Walker, J. M. T. (2005). Expert and student conceptions of the design process. International Journal of Engineering Education , 21 (3), 467–479.
Wang, H.-H., Moore, T. J., Roehrig, G. H., & Park, M. S. (2011). STEM integration: The impact of professional development on teacher perception and practice. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research , 1 (2), 1–13.
Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best practice: New standards for teaching and learning in America’s school (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Cathy P. Lachapelle and Christine M. Cunningham
Museum of Science, Boston

Engineering has not historically been considered an “elementary” topic. However, with the recognition that engineering’s applied orientation may be particularly motivating to young children, that engineering can contribute to the meaningful integration of science and mathematics, and that children begin to have preferences about future careers before middle school, the push to include engineering experiences and practices in the elementary school curriculum has increased internationally. In this chapter we discuss the reasons engineering should be included at the elementary school level. We briefly review the history of the inclusion of technology and engineering in Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Finally, we draw on a number of policy and standards documents from the United States, and our own experience developing and testing an engineering curriculum for elementary school, to propose a set of core concepts and practices for elementary engineering, as well as design parameters for the implementation of engineering curricula .
People today are immersed in the designed world. Engineering touches all aspects of our lives and has shown its ability and potential to change our quality of life dramatically, for better and for worse. Because of this, it is more important than ever to educate a global citizenry that both understands the designed world—how technologies are designed, manufactured, and disposed of; the resources expended on their use; and their effects on people and societies—and is empowered to influence as well as affect technological change.
The elementary school level is key to accomplishing these very broad goals: to open children’s minds to the diversity and ubiquity of technology and engineering, and to encourage the attitudes and habits of mind that will lead to their becoming agents of change for, not just consumers of, their developing world. In this chapter, we lay out the reasons for introducing engineering to elementary school students; the global history of engineering as a subject of study at the primary level; our own experience with the design, implementation, and evaluation of an engineering curriculum for elementary school; core concepts and skills for children to learn; and design parameters for engineering curricula and activities created for use in elementary classrooms.
Just as it is important to begin science instruction in the elementary grades by building on children’s curiosity about the natural world, it is equally important to begin engineering instruction in elementary school by building on children’s natural inclination to design, build, and take things apart to see how they work (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1993). Children benefit from early exposure to engineering and technology concepts. In the following subsections, we elaborate on reasons to introduce children to engineering in elementary school.
Children are naturally inclined to tinker and create .
As Petroski (2003) pointed out, children are fascinated with building and with taking things apart to see how they work; many children engineer informally all the time. By encouraging such explorations in elementary school, we can keep these interests alive. By describing their activities as “engineering” when they are engaged in the natural design process, we can help children develop positive associations with engineering and increase their desire to pursue such activities in the future (Petroski, 2003).
Engineering and technological literacy are necessary for the 21st century .
As our society increasingly depends on engineering and technology, citizens need to understand these fields in order to make sensible decisions about benefits, costs, and the advisability of putting new technologies to use (Katehi, Pearson, & Feder, 2009; Pearson & Young, 2002; Raizen, Sellwood, Todd, & Vickers, 1995). Research indicates that engineering education may be able to increase the technological literacy of elementary school children and their teachers (Lachapelle & Cunningham, 2007; Thompson & Lyons, 2008; Macalalag et al., 2008).
Engineering in school holds the promise of improving math and science achievement by making math, science, and engineering relevant to children .
Engaging children in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can open opportunities for children to make connections to and to practice skills in math, science, and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate children to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications (Engstrom, 2001; Katehi et al., 2009; Pearson, 2004; Wicklein, 2006). A small number of research studies have found that engagement in engineering design gives young (elementary and middle school) students opportunities to explore scientific ideas in context, which appears to improve their understanding (Fortus et al., 2004; Kolodner et al., 2003; Lachapelle et al., 2011; Penner et al., 1997; Sadler et al., 2000; Wendell et al., 2010). There is also limited evidence that elementary students engaged in the application of mathematics to engineering problems may show increased mathematics achievement (Diaz & King, 2007). More research in this area is desperately needed (Katehi et al., 2009).
Children are capable of developing sophisticated skills and understanding in engineering at an early age .
The National Research Council’s reviews of research (2000, 2007) show that experience is particularly important to this development, as is the intertwining of types of interaction with the learning domain. Process and content learning must proceed hand-in-hand. Limiting science instruction to the memorization of facts can impede children’s learning, as over time they need to be developing a rich knowledge structure that approximates and approaches the knowledge structure of an expert, through engagement with complex ideas in discussion, reflection, investigation, experimentation, and other disciplinary practices (National Research Council [NRC], 2000, 2007).
Engineering fosters problem-solving skills and dispositions .
In the modern world, problem solving can be a complex process, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions (Benenson, 2001). Problem solving requires persistence and confidence, character traits that can and should be fostered beginning with the youngest students. Instead of teaching children to absorb information and do as they are told, as in the traditional curriculum, good engineering instruction puts children in charge of their own progress and gives them the chance to take ownership of their work and their learning process.
Engineering, as a form of project-based learning, encompasses hands-on activity, inquiry, teamwork, and other instructional practices that are the best means for developing children’s “twenty-first century skills”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity (Partnership for 21st Century Skills [P21], 2009). These skills are vital for all citizens to master so that our increasingly complex societies will prosper in the modern world (Miaoulis, 2001).
Engineering has the potential to increase student engagement, agency, and responsibility for learning .
Several well-designed curricular projects have found not only positive effects on student achievement, but also higher motivation and engagement in engineering design tasks than found in a more traditional curriculum (Barron et al., 1998). When children engage in engineering design tasks, they are more likely to take ownership of their designs and responsibility for their learning (Silk, Schunn, & Cary, 2009).
Learning about engineering will increase children’s access to scientific and technical careers .
The number of Americans pursuing engineering has not kept pace with the demand for engineers (Stine & Matthews, 2009). There is evidence that many of today’s scientists and engineers developed interest in their careers during elementary school (Maltese & Tai, 2010). Furthermore, girls and minorities in particular tend to show declining interest in math and science beginning in middle school (Catsambis, 1995). Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable children, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in middle and high school (Katehi et al., 2009; Wicklein, 2006). Children who engage early with these subjects in high-quality ways are more likely to maintain interest.
Engineering has the potential to transform instruction .
To date, engineering at the elementary school level has been taught in a hands-on fashion—for the most part, in out-of-school settings. Well-designed engineering curricula meet the criteria for project-based learning: (1) each unit begins with a problem or question that drives the project; (2) children work on the project or question through guided inquiry; (3) children, teachers, and others work collaboratively; (4) the unit provides scaffolds to support children’s performance at a level higher than what they could accomplish alone; and (5) children create an artifact or set of artifacts as a result of their work (Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006). The best engineering curricula, by these criteria, are cross-disciplinary, engaging children in multiple related disciplines, including but not limited to science, technology, and mathematics. They immerse children in a learning environment that expects deep thinking, collaboration, and agency. They are based on a social constructivist theory of learning that posits that children learn best when engaged in the disciplinary practices and complex problems of the fields they are learning.
Inquiry science learning involves children in learning the content, skills, and practices of science through collaborative engagement in the investigation of important, relevant questions (Hmelo-Silver et al., 2007; Minner et al., 2010). While inquiry science methods are widely accepted as good pedagogy, they have not been widely implemented. This is due in part to teachers having so little experience with or training in inquiry science methodology, and in part to the ready availability of more didactic traditional instructional methods and materials, among other reasons. Engineering is largely a new subject for elementary school classrooms, and in the instances where it has been taught, it has always been implemented in a hands-on manner (though not always thoughtfully incorporating other important aspects of project-based learning, including guided inquiry). As teachers try to gain confidence with well-designed engineering activities and curricula and see clear impacts on students’ achievement and motivation, they are more likely to consider transforming their practice in other domains to a similar model.
Elementary school children in a number of countries have engaged with curricula that introduce them to engineering or technological design. In most industrialized nations in the early 20th century, education included an introduction to manual arts, such as woodworking, sewing, cooking, and so forth, usually at the secondary school level. It was not until approximately 1970 that advocates in Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand began calling for “technological literacy”: for citizens to understand the basic concepts of technology, as well as its impacts on society (Cajas, 2001). By the 1990s, a number of industrialized nations had national efforts underway to transform the “industrial arts” into a more broadly defined “technology education” or “technology studies,” expanding into the elementary grades and addressing technological concepts such as control, processes, and systems, as well as planning, producing, and evaluating technologies. As a secondary goal, these efforts aimed to engage minority and underrepresented students such as girls and aboriginal students (Cajas, 2001; Rasinen, 2003). As of this writing, at least four European countries—England, Cyprus, Denmark, and Estonia—specify technology education as a separate subject within the primary school curriculum; at least six others include technology education as a mandatory part of the primary science or environmental studies curriculum (Dow, 2006). In both New Zealand and Australia, technology education is included in the primary school curriculum (Jones & Compton, 2009; Middleton, 2009). China and India are working to expand technology education in primary schools (Ding, 2009; Natarajan & Chunawala, 2009), while some provinces in Canada (Hill, 2009) and a number of states in the United States have specified technology and, in some cases, engineering learning standards for elementary school children.
To understand the possibilities for engaging elementary school children in engineering, it is important to understand the history of such efforts internationally. In the following sections, we describe technology education (and, where considered as a separate movement, engineering education) in a small number of exemplar countries. For a more comprehensive review of global efforts in technology education, see Jones and de Vries (2009).
The United Kingdom was one of the first nations to specify the teaching of a design process in primary schools. England and Wales adopted a “design and technology” curriculum in the early 1990s for all grades. The new design and technology curriculum integrated industrial arts, business, and crafts (Harris & Wilson, 2003). Currently, England has its own design and technology curriculum, , which is required for all students prior to secondary school and is optional in secondary school (Wales also now has its own separate curriculum). England’s curriculum details what content should be taught and provides guidance as to how it should be taught. In England, design and technology is a core subject that can be taught as a stand-alone subject or integrated with the teaching of other subjects. Student performance is evaluated using national assessments (Benson, 2009; Rasinen, 2003).
Though the implementation of the design and technology curriculum suffered in early years from a lack of teacher preparation and curricular materials, subsequent revisions of national curriculum documents clarified the importance of identifying the user, purpose, and function of designed products and added evaluation guidance for teachers, resulting in improved instruction (Benson, 2009). Currently, there is a new push for engineering to be more prominently included in the national curriculum in England as part of a new national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program; however, there is considerable confusion over how engineering relates to design and technology. Clark and Andrews (2010) contrast engineering with the existing curriculum, saying that engineering requires more critical thinking skills and application of science and mathematics than is included in design and technology, which is more closely related to craft. They note that currently only out-of-school clubs provide access to engineering, but there are fears that many children (especially girls) will be alienated by the elitist and male-centric nature of the competitions and design challenges featured in such clubs, and so become disinterested in engineering.
The situation in Australia has been most recently described in depth by Middleton (2009). In Australia, national guidelines set forth what and how content should be taught, but individual states determine the details of curriculum. For technology education, Australia’s national document on technology education, the Technology Key Learning Area, specifies that all students in primary school and junior high school are expected to learn technological skills, with the expectation of increasing the number of innovators and bolstering citizens’ abilities to evaluate technological challenges and policy decisions. Technology education in Australia is generally taught as a separate subject area, though it may be integrated with other disciplines, a practice that is particularly common at the primary school level. As in other countries, primary level implementation has suffered from a lack of professional development for teachers; however, where it is being implemented well, teachers are enthusiastic and student learning gains have been impressive. Currently, technology education is part of most primary teacher preparation programs.
In Canada, each province and territory has its own policy regarding technology education, reviewed in depth by Hill (2009). Most provinces and territories have technology as part of the curriculum for middle and secondary schools. Technology education is specified as part of the curriculum for elementary school in Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and New Brunswick. While both Ontario and the Northwest Territories have a science and technology curriculum for grades K–6, New Brunswick specifies only information technology (software application) for study in elementary school. Ontario currently uses a curriculum released in 2007 with more of a basis in the field of science, technology, and society (STS). The curriculum used by the Northwest Territories is based on Ontario’s earlier curriculum.
Both Ontario and the Northwest territories based their model of design on engineering—particularly on fields of engineering with connections to the physical sciences. A variety of models exist for how to conduct technology education. In early years of implementation many teachers in Ontario used curricula from England’s design and technology curriculum, but locally developed curricula are now more common. Because of a lack of resources, little has been invested in the professional development of primary school teachers, with the result that many Ontario teachers have implemented a design process that is too generic, structured, and context-free to be of interest or use to young children (Hill & Anning, 2001).
New Zealand
In New Zealand, the technology education curriculum for all pre-college students was designed and released from 1995 to 1999, and continues to be in effect. Its release was accompanied by significant efforts for professional development at all grade levels, later followed by pre-service teacher education. A 2001 national study of the technology education curriculum and its effectiveness in practice found that the curriculum was being nearly universally implemented through late secondary school. Primary school teachers expressed that they most needed help with finding and purchasing materials for children to work with, as well as guidance in implementing and assessing the technology education curriculum. Though they were concerned about having too many areas to cover across the curriculum, they were generally satisfied with the technology curriculum strands and confident in teaching them. The majority of teachers reported that they use problem solving, hands-on activities, and an approach tailored to the interests and abilities of children and classrooms (Jones, 2006; Jones & Compton, 2009).
In 2007 a new, reorganized curriculum based on constructivist and sociocultural learning theories and built with input from international researchers and local educators was released. The revised curriculum is organized into three strands: (1) nature of technology, (2) technological knowledge, and (3) technological practice (Jones & Compton, 2009). In this scheme, the technological practice strand most closely corresponds to engineering.
United States
In the United States, the push for technology education began in earnest with several efforts by national organizations to create guidelines or recommendations for what and how engineering and technology education should be taught at the pre-college level, including elementary school (ages 5–11). The Benchmarks for Science Literacy (BSL) (AAAS, 1993) include learning goals for understanding the nature of technology as well as the designed world. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) (NRC, 1996) describe how knowledge of technological design can help children understand science. The International Technology Educators Association (ITEA), now the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA), with the support of the National Science Foundation and NASA, began work in 1994 to create the Standards for Technological Literacy (STL) (2000), which detail the most comprehensive standards of the three documents for the development of design skills as well as understanding of the concepts and processes of technology.
A couple more recent reports from the National Academy of Engineering examined in depth the possibilities for K–12 engineering education and standards. The report “Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects” (EK12) by the Committee on K–12 Engineering Education under the auspices of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council details recommendations for principles for implementing engineering education in K–12 settings (Katehi et al., 2009).
In 2010 a committee of the National Academy of Engineering (2010) reviewed the advisability of creating content standards for K–12 engineering education. It concluded that the field was not yet ready to develop engineering content standards for pre-college students. Instead, it recommended that engineering educators and researchers focus on identifying a core set of engineering concepts and skills with learning progressions across age groups, and specify what good engineering curriculum and pedagogy should look like.
Engineering has appeared in the new Framework for K–12 Science Education (FSE) drafted by the National Research Council (NRC, 2012). The authors of this document called for engineering to assume a more prominent role than it had in previous science standards. The framework informed the development of national standards in science, called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States [NGSS], 2013). In addition to specifying core ideas in life, physical, and earth science fields, the standards also include core ideas, performance expectations, cross-cutting concepts, and practices related to engineering. As is the case with previous standards documents, the NGSS detail content and skills as learning objectives for students, but do not specify curriculum or represent official federal policy. K–12 educators in the United States are now working to integrate engineering into their science classes. This chapter is intended to help educators and curriculum developers identify core engineering concepts, skills, and practices that belong in elementary classes, as advocated by the 2010 NAE report.
Our own experience working with elementary school children and teachers has convinced us of the value of teaching young children to engineer. We began the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum development project in 2003. Since that time, we have developed, tested, revised, and released 20 engineering units. We estimate that, between sales and grant-funded implementation, more than four million students and 50,000 teachers have engaged with the materials to date.
EiE units are designed to supplement science instruction, not to replace it. Each unit targets one common elementary science topic (e.g., plants, ecosystems, rocks and minerals, solids and liquids) and one field of engineering (e.g., package, environmental, geotechnical, chemical engineering). Each unit prepares and guides children through a relevant design challenge, beginning with a storybook and including materials explorations and experiments. For more details about the design of the curriculum, see Cunningham and Hester (2007).
For example, in the Now You’re Cooking: Designing Solar Ovens unit, children first read the story “Lerato Cooks Up a Plan.” In this story, Lerato is a girl from Botswana who spends a lot of time collecting firewood. Her sister’s friend, who is studying to be an engineer, returns to her village from university for a visit and teaches Lerato about green engineering, energy, insulation, and the process of making a solar oven. Lerato experiments with the solar oven design until she is satisfied that she can use it for cooking and spend less time collecting firewood. After reading the story, children learn more about green engineering by completing a life-cycle assessment of paper, comparing re-use with recycling and waste, and examining their own use of paper in class. They learn more about heat energy and insulation when they conduct an experiment to see which materials (foam, paper, etc.) and forms (flat or shredded) work best to insulate a cup. They compare the impact of different materials on the environment and discuss the implications of what they have learned for insulating a solar oven. Their final challenge is to improve a solar oven design by insulating it, without creating too much waste.
All EiE units underwent extensive pilot and field testing before release to the public. In the first year of design, each unit was tested in 6–10 elementary classrooms with experienced EiE teachers. Developers and formative evaluators observed each lesson, making and testing ongoing improvements. At the same time, assessment questions were developed to align with the key engineering and science content of the unit, and then tested for validity and reliability. In the second year of development, each unit was tested by 12 teachers in each of five states. Feedback was collected from participating teachers, as well as pre- and post-assessments from children. For example, understanding how heat energy dissipates through different materials is key to the Designing Solar Ovens design challenge; summative evaluation showed that children participating in this unit in conjunction with their usual science unit on thermal energy and insulation performed better on the post-assessment of these science topics, as well as technology and engineering concepts, than a similar but not randomly assigned control group that participated only in their usual science unit. The effect size derived from our HLM model was moderate (Cohen’s d = 0.689). Though causal inferences cannot be drawn from such evaluation data, we find the results promising, particularly when taken in conjunction with feedback from teachers implementing the unit. Results were consistent across units, both for student assessment outcomes and for teacher feedback, in an evaluation of 9 of the 20 units:

Results from teacher feedback forms indicate that teachers feel the EiE units provide opportunities for students to learn more about science and engineering. For all nine units, teachers reported that (1) their students practiced discussion, communication skills, and teamwork; (2) their students practiced problem solving and critical thinking skills; (3) students learned or had high-quality opportunities to learn or apply unit-specific science and engineering content; (4) students made connections with the real world, including recognizing engineering in everyday life; (5) students had fun, were motivated, and were engaged; (6) they valued students’ opportunities to engage in high-quality hands-on activities. (Lachapelle et al., 2011, p. 153)
Working in classrooms has provided our greatest source of conviction that elementary engineering is worth pursuing. The enthusiasm and effort children put into their design challenges and experiments, and their own expressions of what they are learning, have convinced us of the value of this endeavor.
All the major standards and benchmarks documents published in the United States address basic concepts about the designed world and technology as part of what elementary school children should know (AAAS, 1993; ITEA, 2000; NRC, 1996, 2012; NGSS, 2013). The BSL and NSES focus primarily on the use of technology by scientists, while the STL and FSE address the designed world more generally. However, only the FSE and the most recent NGSS use the term engineering throughout to refer to the practices of technological design.
One ambiguity across most of these documents is the meaning of the word “technology.” The STL define technology as both the designed world and the processes for creating it. The newer FSE and NGSS define technology as “all types of human-made systems and processes,” and engineering as “any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems” (NRC 2012, pp. 11–12; NGSS 2013, vol. 2, p. 103). From our own experience working with children and teachers, we find it more natural and less confusing to follow the FSE and NGSS and call the artifacts and products of the designed world “technology,” and to call the principled process for creating technology “engineering.”
There are other means for creating the designed world, including art.

  • Accueil Accueil
  • Univers Univers
  • Ebooks Ebooks
  • Livres audio Livres audio
  • Presse Presse
  • BD BD
  • Documents Documents