There is an "E" in STEM! | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Quite often, STEM discussions focus solely on traditional science and mathematics courses. However, a growing emphasis is being placed on the role of engineering in K-12 education. A few years ago, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council commissioned a study of the status of engineering in K-12 education. In their 2009 report, the commission outlined three general principles for engineering education.

Principle 1) K-12 engineering education should emphasize engineering design.

The design process, the engineering approach to identifying and solving problems, is (1) highly iterative; (2) open to the idea that a problem may have many possible solutions; (3) a meaningful context for learning scientific, mathematical, and technological concepts; and (4) a stimulus to systems thinking, modeling, and analysis. In all of these ways, engineering design is a potentially useful pedagogical strategy.

Principle 2) K-12 engineering education should incorporate important and developmentally appropriate mathematics, science, and technology knowledge and skills.

Principle 3) K-12 engineering education should promote engineering habits of mind.

These include (1) systems thinking, (2) creativity, (3) optimism, (4) collaboration, (5) communication, and (6) attention to ethical considerations.

The National Academies of Science, Achieve Inc, The National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are collaborating on the development of Next Generation Science Standards. The first step in this process is the creation of a framework that the standards will be based on. The draft of this framework gives engineering the same profile within science as biology, physical science and earth/space science. (Note: The framework is currently in review and should be published in late Spring 2011.) The draft identifies four core ideas for engineering:

ET 1: The study of the designed world is the study of designed systems, processes, materials and products and of the technologies and the scientific principles by which they function.

ET 2: Engineering design is a creative and iterative process for identifying and solving problems in the face of various constraints.

ET 3: People are surrounded and supported by technological systems. Effectively using and improving these systems is essential for long-term survival and prosperity.

ET 4: In today's modern world everyone makes technological decisions that affect or are affected by technology on a daily basis. Consequently, it is essential for all citizens to understand the risks and responsibilities that accompany such decisions.

The following resources can help you learn more about engineering and how to integrate engineering concepts into your courses. This is only a small fraction of the resources available. Please share your favorites in the comments!


NASA Engineering Design Challenges: The NASA project includes 7 design challenges including designing a thermal protection system (my favorite!), spacecraft design structures, electrodynamic propulsion, propeller design, personal satellite assistant, water filtration, and plant growth chamber design. These challenges are geared towards middle and high school students.

Boston Museum of Science: The Boston Museum of Science provides a variety of curricular material and professional development related to K-12 engineering. They have a searchable database of reviewed engineering lessons. In addition, their Engineering is Elementary program provides excellent ways to integrate engineering careers and design projects into science units commonly taught in elementary grades. For example, the Catching the Wind module reinforces science concepts related to weather while introducing students to mechanical engineering through a windmill design challenge (Note: There is a cost associated with EiE modules).

Engineering: Go for it! (eGFI): eFGI is a web magazine produced by the American Society for Engineering Education. You can access weekly lesson plans, activities, and feature articles about engineering. The feature articles like this one about the making of Avatar are always highly engaging and showcase the diversity of engineering careers.

TeachEngineering: TeachEngineering is a digital library of free resources for K-12. The library can be searched in a variety of ways and registration allows you to save favorites and review resources.

Engineering Pathway: Engineering Pathway is another digital library that is working to merge resources from multiple sources in an effort to be a one stop resource for "K-gray" engineering lessons, activities, and other resources.

A World in Motion: A World in Motion is a program of the Society for Automotive Engineers. The program includes a variety of design activities appropriate for elementary, middle and high school students including designing jet-toy cars, skimmers (wind powered vehicle), fuel cell cars, and othe activities. A World in Motion also actively attempts to match engineers willing to do classroom presentations with teachers.

PBS Design Squad: I saved my favorite for last... PBS's Design Squad is an engineering-based reality show for kids. Each episode pits two teams against each other to design solutions to problems ranging from creating usable furniture from cardboard to tricycle-based drag racers. The Design Squad website provides full video of episodes, teacher and event guides (including tons of design challenges), user submitted challenges and solutions (like, "I wish I could have an eco-friendly solar powered heater"), games, and a great blog.

Comments (21)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

doug haller's picture
doug haller
STEM Education Consultant

Great topic and timely. In January, I co-authored a white paper on the status of K-12 engineering education in the US. We drew from multiple sources including the one you cite.

What is Driving the Rise of Engineering Education?
Three stakeholders recognize the importance of K-12 engineering education for several reasons. Industry and policy leaders recognize that to remain relevant in the global economic community, the US must remain a hub of innovation. Innovation, research and technology transfer lead to many jobs on US soil. Leaders of industry and higher education are concerned that engineering and STEM fields in general appeal less to youth then they have in the past. We need more students to enter the pipeline. By preparing and interesting them earlier, they will understand and value the profession of engineering more so than currently.


Doug Haller, Ed. M.
STEM Education Consultant
Boulder, CO

Honora Kenney's picture

So good to hear that engineering and technology are getting due respect in STEM initiatives. We are a non-profit group who will hold the 28th Annual CT Invention Convention at UConn on May 14 this year. Over 600 kids who won at their local events will present the newest "great thing" that they made to solve a problem that they identified. This event is an invention itself and easily replicable to other states. We think the future is the children's and we need to open all the doors to them.

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

That sounds great! Could you post a link to info / news?

[quote]So good to hear that engineering and technology are getting due respect in STEM initiatives. We are a non-profit group who will hold the 28th Annual CT Invention Convention at UConn on May 14 this year. Over 600 kids who won at their local events will present the newest "great thing" that they made to solve a problem that they identified. This event is an invention itself and easily replicable to other states. We think the future is the children's and we need to open all the doors to them.[/quote]

Aaron Dietz's picture
Aaron Dietz
Instructional Designer working on an online Engineering Design course

Thanks for the great summary of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council's report. It's nice to review where this is all heading.

And those are great resources you listed. I'm developing an Engineering Design course right now and I'm finding them quite helpful!

John L Gruender's picture
John L Gruender
Director, The STEM Academy

Very informative article, Dr. Brunsell. That's a great list of resources at the end of the article. I'm a Director for The STEM Academy, and we partner with Museum of Science, for one. We're a 501c3 provider of STEM curriculum designed to help ALL students improve their STEM skills and literacy, with an emphasis on underrepresented student populations.

James Mac Shane's picture

I have been using basic engineering in my K-8 classes for 50 years. How You Build Anything is: balance, compression, torsion, and tension using construction paper for towers and spans. Relativity for Kids through perspective drawing with 4 1/2 year olds up to adults and laser workshops as introductions to electronics,controlling light through aiming, stearing, beam splitting and focusing for light shows,games and holography. It is the scientifically natural hands-on way for children to developmentally experience through art. The Arts are so naturally availabe that Piaget used children's naturally developed drawing potential as the beginning of understanding human cognitive development. Science is about how the universe really works. It is not about how I wish, want, or believe it works but how it actually works.

Bill Bertrand's picture
Bill Bertrand
Focused on curriculum that helps students become technologically literate

You really can not have engineering education with out all of the content areas regularly associated with the field of education or STEM (which is a Career Pathway also). Art = Elements and Principals of Design (needed in the building of anything), Language Arts = Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening (presentation skills), Social Studies = Research of the past mistakes (To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski), and so on. What is needed is working together to develop a cohesive set of concepts, competencies, and dispositions related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that students can transfer and apply in both academic and real-world contexts, in order to be globally competitive in the 21st Century as stated from the definition posted earlier. We really do not know what the occupations the future will hold but teaching people to be life long learners is a must.

seejay james's picture

+1 on better inclusion of the arts. I can't believe these essential and enjoyable subjects can get the "budget ax" so easily. Connecting science and mathematics to the creative arts is a wonderful challenge that, if done well, will add so much to each.

Plenty of opportunities to incorporate the skills and aesthetics of each into the other...ideally they would be an indistinguishable blend, just like education could be with life itself!

Thiago Fernandes's picture

STEM Education is an abomination. The idea we should have any sort of special focus on subject matters that provide more important jobs is a corruption of Education. Filling job-market demands and supplying professionals that are better for the economy is not Education's responsibility. It should be a crime to influence children into these fields. Education is not a tool for economic growth and its job is not to manufacture a labor force.

Steve Murphy's picture
Steve Murphy
Editor, SEEN Magazine

Thanks for this post, Eric! We've been covering STEM issues for a while in SEEN ( and just published an article on the "Silent 'E'" in STEM by the SME Education Foundation, so it's great to see more resources on the topic!

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