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.