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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
nescence, thermal and electrical conductivity, compressive and tensile forces on atoms, the relationship between molecular weight and viscosity, and the absorption and release of energy by molecular bonds.
The Second Strand
The second strand, scientific inquiry, is a major theme in several curricula, mostly to explore the interface between science and technology. For example, in the unit on Composites in “Material World Modules,” students make and test foam beams laminated with varying amounts of paper to determine the strength and stiffness of composite materials. Similar experiments related to materials, structures, electrical circuits, and mechanisms are included in “A World in Motion,” Building Structures with Young Children, a unit in the “Young Scientist Series,” “Children Designing and Engineering,” “City Technology,” “Design and Discovery,” “Engineering is Elementary,” and “Engineering the Future.” The results of these investigations are often applied in subsequent design activities.
Another way scientific inquiry is used in the curricula is related to the collection of data to inform engineering design decisions. For example, the second challenge in “A World in Motion” requires that students conduct investigations to determine the effect of different gear ratios on the speed and torque of a motorized toy vehicle. In some cases, scientific inquiry is used to discover, illuminate, or validate a law of nature, as might be done in a science classroom. For example, in Gateway to Technology, students experience Newton’s Third Law by sitting on a scooter pointed in one direction, throwing a medicine ball in the opposite direction, and noting the direction and velocity of the scooter in relation to the direction and force used to throw the ball.
Many curricula engage students in scientific inquiry and inquiry-based learning in a symbiotic way. Several curricula introduce students to the basic principles of scientific investigation under the auspices of doing science. For example, “City Technology,” “Material World Modules,” and “A World in Motion” all stress the importance of manipulating one variable at a time while keeping the other variables constant. Learning activities in these programs include investigations that apply this principle in the contexts of packaging, structures, materials, and flight. In addition to teaching students about scientific investigations, they engage students in the generation, testing, revision, and validation of their ideas about protecting goods, making things stronger, and making models fly. In this sense, these curricula use scientific inquiry as a pedagogical strategy for building student knowledge of engineering design.