Engineering Builds Steam in K-12 Education

By Erik W. Robelen — March 28, 2013 3 min read
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For all the STEM education hoopla these days, the “E” for engineering often seems like an afterthought at the K-12 level. And yet, recent developments suggest that the discipline is starting to make some headway in schools.

In a new Education Week story, I highlight some of those developments. Here’s a quick sampling of evidence that the “E” is getting more notice:

• Exhibit A: The makers of the “nation’s report card” are rolling out a new NAEP exam on literacy in technology and engineering;

• Exhibit B: The “next generation” science standards being finalized by a coalition of 26 states and outside experts are expected to thread engineering-design practices across the new standards;

• Exhibit C: The College Board and engineering advocates are giving serious consideration to developing the first-ever AP program in engineering;

• Exhibit D: Several of the best-known K-12 engineering initiatives, including Project Lead the Way‘s Pathway to Engineering program and the Museum of Science Boston’s Engineering is Elementary, are growing by leaps and bounds;

• Exhibit E: Plenty of other in-school and out-of-school initiatives with a strong engineering focus are cropping up and/or expanding.

Exhibit F might well be the rapid emergence of more STEM-focused schools. I’m told that the “E” often doesn’t get its due in these schools, though some certainly give it plenty of attention. In fact, last year I visited a new STEM high school on the campus of North Carolina State University, where the Grand Challenges for Engineering serve as a frame and inspiration for the curriculum.

I don’t pretend in my story to highlight every worthy program out there. But I tried to give a flavor for what’s afoot. Here, I’ll briefly name a few others that I learned about, but that ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Engineering Teaching Kits: This series of engineering lesson plans are being used by middle school math and science teachers in Central Virginia and in summer programs. The initiative was founded in 2002 by Larry G. Richards, an engineering professor at the University of Virginia, through the Virginia Middle School Engineering Education Initiative. Topics include submersible vehicles, model solar cars, and roller coaster physics.

STOMP at Tufts University: This program (Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program) pairs up Tufts University graduate and undergraduate students with K-12 teachers in the greater Boston area to create an engineering curriculum that reaches across all disciplines, piques the students’ interests in engineering, and improves students’ problem-solving skills.

FIRST: Founded by inventor Dean Kamen, this organization now hosts five competition programs that seek to inspire young people to become leaders in the STEM fields by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build engineering, science, and technology skills. The programs include the FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9-12 and the FIRST Lego League for grades 4-8. For the 2012-13 season, it’s projected to reach more than 300,000 young people.

Engineering Pathways Partnership Project: Led by the Science Foundation Arizona in partnership with Cochise College, this program for rural Arizona communities aims to build a comprehensive engineering pathway for young people, starting in middle and high school, that leads toward degrees and credentials that help build the local aerospace and defense workforce.

Lemelson-MIT Program: Sixteen teams of students, teachers, and mentors pursue yearlong invention projects that address real-world problems through this program from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, run by its school of engineering. This year’s team projects include the invention of a life jacket for prolonged search and rescue and a bacteria-powered battery.

Know of other promising K-12 engineering initiatives? Post a comment and share it with our readers!

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.