Federal

Panel Wants Engineering Integrated Into Curriculum

By Sean Cavanagh — September 08, 2009 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

figuring out how to make a device or establish a process specific to a task. But core engineering ideas and concepts are often neglected, the report says.

That’s the conclusion, outlined in a study released last week, of an expert committee charged with evaluating the status of engineering lessons in K-12 schools and judging their effectiveness.

The report was completed by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council, independent, nonprofit entities that are chartered by Congress to provide advice to federal lawmakers on science and technology issues.

Engineering lessons can “act as a catalyst for a more interconnected and effective K-12 STEM education system in the United States,” say the authors, referring to science, technology, engineering, and math education. “Achieving [that] outcome will require significant rethinking of what STEM education can and should be.”

Yet currently, engineering study is a “work in progress” in U.S. schools, the report acknowledges. Unlike mathematics and science, no formal learning standards or assessments on par with those in other subjects have been crafted for engineering, they say, and relatively little is known about how most schools attempt to approach the topic in the curriculum.

In addition, the research on the potential benefits of K-12 engineering studies is mixed, partly because few meticulous studies on the topic have been conducted, the authors say. They nonetheless point to some research suggesting that K-12 engineering study can lead to stronger math and science achievement. In particular, they cite math and science gains made by students who have taken part in engineering-focused programs like Project Lead the Way, as well as among those who had participated in specially designed K-12 engineering classes with curricula created by schools and science centers. (“Engineering a Blueprint for Success,” Sept. 26, 2007.)

A Blended Approach

The record is also uneven on whether engineering studies boost achievement among students underrepresented in certain STEM fields, particularly females and minorities, though some approaches have shown success in that area, the report says.

“There is so much about engineering, as part of the design process and the need to use math in a specific way, that is helpful to students,” said Robin Willner, the vice president of global-community initiatives for the IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., who served on the committee that produced the report.

Students live in “a world that’s shaped by engineering,” Ms. Willner added, and they “need to understand what that’s about.”While almost no engineering curricula or programs existed 15 years ago, several dozen are being used across the country now, the authors estimate. Only about 6 million K-12 students have had some kind of formal engineering education since the early 1990s, in a country that has a total enrollment of about 56 million per year.

The committee found that to the extent that the topic is covered in schools, “engineering design” tends to receive the most focus. That work, which the committee describes as the central activity in the field, is defined as the steps engineers use to solve problems, such as figuring out how to make a device or establish a process specific to a task. But core engineering ideas and concepts are often neglected, the report says.

Engineering lessons should ask students to make use of math, science, and technology knowledge and skills, the authors say, and emphasize problem-solving, the ability to use equipment and technology, communication, and collaboration with others.

The committee is not arguing that schools need to create new, stand-alone engineering classes, Ms. Willner said. A more realistic approach is to blend engineering conceptsand exercises into math, science, and other classes in elementary, middle, and high schools.

“In order to reach all students,” she said, “it has to be integrated.”

Engineering topics allow students to solve problems across a variety of fields, and as a result, they appeal to teenagers with a range of abilities and interests, said Steve Meyer, a teacher from the 900-student Brillion district, in Wisconsin.

Mr. Meyer, who teaches engineering topics in his district, located south of Green Bay, spoke at a Washington forum hosted by the National Academy of Engineering on the day of the report’srelease. In his classes, the teacher explained, students often find themselves tackling math and science concepts through a range of problem-solving exercises drawn from aviation, manufacturing, and other areas.

“We teach breadth, not depth,” Mr. Meyer told the audience, in describing the range of topics covered. “You find that if these students are able to find something they’re interested in, ... the educational process no longer becomes a chore.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 2009 edition of Education Week as Panel Urges Engineering Be Added to Curriculum

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Low-Performing Schools Are Left to Languish by Districts and States, Watchdog Finds
Fewer than half of district plans for improving struggling schools meet bare minimum requirements.
11 min read
A group of silhouettes looks across a grid with a public school on the other side.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
Federal Biden Admin. Says New K-12 Agenda Tackles Absenteeism, Tutoring, Extended Learning
The White House unveiled a set of K-12 priorities at the start of an election year.
4 min read
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona participates in a roundtable discussion with students from Dartmouth College on Jan. 10, 2024, on the school's campus, in Hanover, N.H.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona participates in a roundtable discussion with students from Dartmouth College on Jan. 10, 2024, on the school's campus, in Hanover, N.H.
Steven Senne/AP
Federal Lawmakers Want to Reauthorize a Major Education Research Law. What Stands in the Way?
Lawmakers have tried and failed to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act over the past nearly two decades.
7 min read
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, joins Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, as Starbucks founder Howard Schultz answers questions about the company's actions during an ongoing employee unionizing campaign, at the Capitol in Washington, on March 29, 2023.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, joins Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, at the Capitol in Washington, on March 29, 2023. The two lawmakers sponsored a bill to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Federal Will the Government Actually Shut Down This Time? What Educators Should Know
The federal government is once again on the verge of shutting down. Here's why educators should care, but shouldn't necessarily worry.
1 min read
Photo illustration of Capitol building and closed sign.
iStock