To the Editor:
Paula M. Hudis, in her letter to the editor on recent recommendations from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council (Sept. 30, 2009), cites the growth of multidisciplinary engineering lessons as a way of increasing the number of high school students interested in engineering careers, and of addressing the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the field.
But Ms. Hudis’ comments do not go far enough if efforts in this area are to be successful and sustainable.
For more than a decade, the Polytechnic Institute of New York University has led an initiative to involve New York City’s elementary, middle, and high school students in engineering studies and applied sciences. In partnership with US FIRST, a nonprofit organization with similar goals, we have sponsored robotics competitions for several thousand students that have required months of scientific study, preparation, and planning.
One of the challenges we have identified in our programs is the need to provide additional training for teachers, who often lack familiarity with what engineers do or have insufficient knowledge about current advances in technology, a necessity for anyone practicing applied science.
Intensive teacher-development programs, such as a research program in mechatronics we have offered for the past two summers, are sorely needed. Our Engineers of the Future program, offered to 20 teachers two summers ago, was the catalyst for at least one district’s adoption of a pre-engineering syllabus, but it could not be sustained when the state discontinued its funding after only a year.
Though there are still ongoing hands-on activities offered to teachers on weekends, these require infusions of funds to permit such tools as sensors and disposable materials to be purchased, as well as to provide stipends for teacher-participants. Without such resources and programs, the reach of the engineering curricula will be undermined, because even motivated teachers will lack the up-to-date knowledge of the field or the commitment to model for high school students engineering principles and activities.
Noel N. Kriftcher
David Packard Center for Technology & Educational Alliances
Polytechnic Institute of NYU
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2009 edition of Education Week as K-12 Engineering Plans Need Support to Succeed