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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
neering,” “Engineering is Elementary,” Gateway to Technology, and “Introduction to Engineering Design.” All of these scenarios require basic reading comprehension but very little in the way of engineering analysis.
“City Technology” is one of the few curricula that engages students in a robust analysis to identify and define a problem. In one unit, DesignedEnvironments: Places, Practices, Plans, elementary students monitor classroom procedures, identify problems, design and implement new procedures, evaluate the new procedures based on data, and use the findings of the evaluation to redesign the procedures as needed. A similar analysis is conducted to identify problems and develop design criteria to improve the configuration of the classroom.
Some of the materials engage students in a detailed analysis of everyday products using a process of reverse engineering. This is the predominant approach in materials in the “Design and Discovery,” “City Technology,” and “Designing for Tomorrow” curricula. For example, in a lesson in “Designing for Tomorrow,” high school students analyze hand-powered can openers in terms of their primary and secondary functions, usability in different contexts, aesthetic qualities, and salient features. In the “Design and Discovery” curriculum, students dissect digital and mechanical alarm clocks to identify basic components and determine the relationships between form and function. The goals of these analyses are to understand how things work, to appreciate attention to detail, and to identify the strengths and shortcomings of given designs.
Engaging students in redesigning an existing product, rather than developing an original design, is also a major strategy in “City Technology,” “Design and Discovery,” and “Designing for Tomorrow.” Students first analyze the performance of simple devices from a user’s point of view. For example, in one “City Technology” unit, elementary students examine paper and plastic bags. In the “Design and Discovery” curriculum, middle school students study backpacks, toothpaste caps, and water bottles. In the “Designing for Tomorrow” curriculum, high school students investigate kitchen tools and training cups for toddlers. The analyses are then used to identify problems and/or opportunities for improving the design of the objects.
Most of the curricula include steps for assessing the performance of the final design, a type of analysis that includes both qualitative and quantitative techniques to determine how well the final design solves the original design problem. Examples of this kind of analysis can be found in “A World in Motion,” “City Technology,” “Design and Discovery,” “Engineering is Elementary,” and “Material World Modules.”