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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
In recent years, educators and policy makers have come to a consensus that the teaching of STEM subjects in U.S. schools must be improved. The focus on STEM topics is closely related to concerns about U.S. competitiveness in the global economy and about the development of a workforce with the knowledge and skills to address technical and technological issues. To date, most efforts to improve STEM education have been concentrated on mathematics and science, but an increasing number of states and school districts have been adding technology education to the mix, and a smaller but significant number have added engineering.
In contrast to science, mathematics, and even technology education, all of which have established learning standards and a long history in the K–12 curriculum, the teaching of engineering in elementary and secondary schools is still very much a work in progress. Not only have no learning standards been developed, little is available in the way of guidance for teacher professional development, and no national or state-level assessments of student accomplishment have been developed. In addition, no single organization or central clearinghouse collects information on K–12 engineering education.
Thus a number of basic questions remain unanswered. How is engineering taught in grades K–12? What types of instructional materials and curricula have been used? How does engineering education “interact” with other STEM subjects? In particular, how has K–12 engineering instruction incorporated science, technology, and mathematics concepts, and how has it used these subjects as a context for exploring engineering concepts? Conversely, how has engineering been used as a context for exploring science, technology, and mathematics concepts? And what impact have various initiatives had? Have they, for instance, improved student achievement in science or mathematics or stimulated interest among students in pursuing careers in engineering?
In 2006 the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council Center for Education established the Committee on K–12 Engineering Education to begin to address these and other questions. Over a period of two years, the committee held five face-to-face meetings, two of which accompanied information-gathering workshops. The committee also commissioned an analysis of existing K–12 engineering curricula; conducted reviews of the literature on areas of conceptual learning related to engineering, the development of engineering skills, and the impact of K–12 engineering education initiatives; and collected preliminary information about a few pre-college engineering education programs in other countries.