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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
2008a). About 35 percent of High Tech High graduates so far have been the first in their families to attend college, some the first to finish high school. Colleges attended include Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. More than 30 percent of High Tech High alumni enter a science, engineering, or mathematics field, compared with a national average of 17 percent (High Tech High, 2008c).
Engineering has been taught at High Tech High almost since its inception. Near the end of the inaugural 2000–2001 school year, David Berggren was hired to be an engineering instructor starting in the fall of 2001. Like a number of other teachers at the school, Berggren did not have a traditional teaching background. He studied engineering at the California Maritime Academy, where he earned a B.S. in marine engineering technology with a minor in computer science; he then worked for several years on factory fishing trawlers in the Bering Sea. In 2000 and 2001, he worked with his father to build, from scratch, a 58-foot steel salmon-fishing boat, which was delivered to its owners in Alaska in May 2001. By that time, looking for something different to do, Berggren had applied for the teaching position at High Tech High and had been accepted.
With no formal training on how to teach engineering to high school students—indeed, with no background in education at all—Berggren turned to the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, which, he says, was a “lifesaver.” PLTW provides a variety of well developed modules and courses that can be taught as is to engineering students. Berggren found that by using PLTW, he was able to focus his attention on aspects of teaching other than course development. For his first course, on the principles of engineering, he used PLTW’s course materials. As he became more comfortable and familiar with the materials and with teaching, he began modifying PLTW material to suit his students’ needs and his own ideas of the best way to teach the subject.
Berggren found himself teaching different areas of engineering, depending on the students’ interests and on the other teachers with whom he was collaborating at the time. To do this, he had to ask himself exactly what his students should be learning about engineering. “Over the years, it’s something I really struggled with—what is common across the different fields of engineering.” Ultimately, he says, he decided that the most important thing was for the students to learn and be able to use the design process. “I feel like this design process is not only common to all areas of engineering, but it’s something that can be applied to all areas of life,” he says.