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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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There is an "E" in STEM!

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

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!

Resources

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

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

Has anyone read the reports done by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council called Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology (2002) or Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering (2008)? They are availible on line free at www.nap.edu just type the title into the search.

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
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Thiago-
Although I understand where you are coming from, I think your comment was a bit over the top. Much of the general rhetoric surrounding STEM education is one of international economic competition and workforce development. However, I rarely hear folks advocating STEM by excluding other subject areas or coercing students into STEM fields. In fact, much of the STEM argument focuses on increasing relevancy to students lives by providing a more authentic view of these fields in the classroom. Too often, our current approach to science and math education in the U.S. presents these subjects as inaccessible to students. A sound STEM education (with sound education in other areas) leads to a well informed citizenry that has a strong appreciation for the natural and social aspects of the world that they live in.

Thiago Fernandes's picture

[quote]Thiago-

Although I understand where you are coming from, I think your comment was a bit over the top. Much of the general rhetoric surrounding STEM education is one of international economic competition and workforce development. However, I rarely hear folks advocating STEM by excluding other subject areas or coercing students into STEM fields. In fact, much of the STEM argument focuses on increasing relevancy to students lives by providing a more authentic view of these fields in the classroom. Too often, our current approach to science and math education in the U.S. presents these subjects as inaccessible to students. A sound STEM education (with sound education in other areas) leads to a well informed citizenry that has a strong appreciation for the natural and social aspects of the world that they live in.[/quote]

Is there not a special focus on these subjects? I mean, we even have a special name for this group of fields. If you look at Education, STEM is the top tier in the hierarchy of school subjects. And there is a hierarchy. Social Sciences are second and arts are at the bottom. Not to mention a plethora of other fields that school doesn't even touch. The only explanation I can come up with is that these fields are more important for economic reasons. They provide jobs that are better for the economy and overall they provide jobs that pay better than average.

Is this not a corruption of Education?

Natalie Kuldell's picture
Natalie Kuldell
Dept of Biological Engineering, MIT

The notion that engineering can be used to better teach science resonates with me, and I'd like to offer for consideration this teaching and learning resource in biological engineering. I also personally believe that biotechnology will be the next great place to work, so we'd better get cracking and really get this next generation hooked on these ideas and on this topic.
BioBuilder is here:
http://www.biobuilder.org/
and also described here:
http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/natureedcast
If there are teachers who would like to pilot these labs and classroom activities, please email through the BioBuilder site and I'll contact you.

Greg Pearson's picture
Greg Pearson
Study director at National Academy of Engineering.

Glad to see there is interest in this topic. I was the study director for the 2009 NAE/NRC report on K-12 engineering. A follow-on project deals with the question of whether there should be standards for K-12 engineering. See the report here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12990. Given the confusion about what STEM is, folks might also be interested to know that the National Academies are starting a new project to try to bring more clarity to the discussion, with an emphasis on developing a research agenda to encourage more integration among the four subjects. Finally, for those who do outreach to the public about engineering, you might want to check out a new NAE site intended to enoourage more effective messaging in this area: www.engineeringmessages.org.

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

I have read the report mentioned and they decided to use engineering education as a catalyst for improving STEM education in general. In Pennsylvania we are trying to address the concerns of STEM education but as the report points out the role of either technology education or engineering education are rarely acknowledged among policy makers, educators, and industry leaders when speaking of STEM. STEM is used mostly as a reference to science or mathematics education. I understand the desire to add additional letters to mix but what is important is to break down the silos that education has entrenched itself into so as to better educate the future generations.

I use the following definition to describe STEM education. "STEM education is an intentional, metadisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, in which students uncover and acquire a cohesive set of concepts, competencies, and dispositions of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that they transfer and apply in both academic and real-world contexts, in order to be globally competitive in the 21st Century." (Rider-Bertrand 2007) and promote Technology Education as the curricular area through which technology and engineering instruction is delivered to Pennsylvania students. In the Commonwealth, the content knowledge and skills are located in the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science and Technology (2002) and the revised Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science and Technology and Engineering Education (2009); as well as, within the Curriculum Framework of the Standards Aligned System. Furthermore, the technology and engineering concepts that are taught through technology education are integrated in the Science Assessment Anchors Content Standards that describe what may be included on the Science PSSA.

Technology Education includes a body of knowledge separate from, but related to the sciences with specific certification requirements. It is the application of tools, materials, processes, and systems to solve problems and provide benefits to humans and society. Technology Education has progressed from Industrial Arts, which was focused on tool and machine skills and craftsmanship, to that of teaching all students engineering "habits of mind." This includes teaching students the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to understand and apply engineering concepts, including the engineering design process, systems, and the impact of technology on society. While the relationship between science and technology is symbiotic, the ultimate goal of Technology Education is to foster technological literacy in all of Pennsylvania's students.

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

There are two organizations that are very interested in the "T & E" of STEM education. The International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (www.iteea.org) that has developed national standards to address the "T & E" called Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology which are referenced in the reports from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council such as "Technically Speaking", "Engineering in K-12 Education", and "Standards for K-12 Engineering Education" (all NAE/NRC reports can be reviewed at www.nap.edu by typing in the title in the search). Also there is a Career and Technical Student Organization that is focused on STEM called Technology Student Association, Inc. (www.tsaweb.org).

Kimberly Waldin's picture
Kimberly Waldin
Performing Arts Consultant

In Asia, STEM programs include the Arts (STEAM) because it develops the creative aspects of the mind. To expand on the writings of Charles Fowler (read "Strong Arts, Strong Schools",) we do not teach kids mathematics to create the next generation of mathematicians. We do it to develop a way of looking at the world. (That being the true purpose to STEM programs - to develop a way of thinking, not the next generation of workers to fill the market's demands.) Incorporation of the Arts into curriculum is not for the purpose of looking at the world as we "want it to be." Rather, the Arts are included because innovation is born out of the creative application of the practical knowledge of "how things are" to discover and develop new technology and methodology. Without creativity, we will always be stuck with the way things are today.

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

"Integrative STEM education includes instructional strategies that integrate content and method between/among any two or more of the STEM subject areas, at least one of which must be the "T" or "E" in STEM education. While instructional approaches that integrate science and mathematics content are certainly desirable, they do not constitute what we define as "integrative STEM education." In other words, integrated science and mathematics education is quite different from integrative STEM education. Furthermore, it is appropriate and beneficial for integrative STEM instruction to be enhanced through further connections with the content of other school subjects, such as social studies, art, etc." from "STEM, STEM Education, STEMmania" [December 2008 issue of The Technology Teacher]By Mark Sanders

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