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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
discount stores, and vendors for science and technology education. Several recommend that tools and simple mechanical devices for analysis activities be obtained from garage sales or flea markets. Although these programs do not require large capital investments, they do require significant amounts of a teacher’s time and energy. The tools, materials, and supplies necessary to implement these curricula must be located, purchased, counted, labeled, organized, and stored. Despite their low cost and simplicity, assembling these materials for laboratory activities is a time-consuming process that requires thoughtful preparation to minimize problems during instruction.
To get some sense of how the curricula envision the teaching of K–12 engineering, our analysis included an effort to tease out the materials’ pedagogical approaches. Of course, neither we nor our consultant, Prof. Welty, was able to spend time observing teachers teach or attending teacher professional development sessions. Thus what we present below reflects pedagogy inferred from the written materials rather than a firsthand account of what actually is occurring in classrooms.
Most of the curricular materials the committee reviewed rely on time-honored teaching strategies for facilitating learning. These strategies include beginning lessons with an anticipator set, activating prior knowledge, presenting new concepts, using questions to promote thinking, providing firsthand experiences, posing authentic problems for students to solve, debriefing students about their experiences, and engaging students in reflection.
All of the curricula emphasize hands-on learning activities that involve the application of concepts and skills being investigated. Most learning activities also focus on solving real-world problems (i.e., problems in contexts beyond the school walls). For example, the “Young Scientist Series” includes a unit titled Building Structures with Young Children, in which students use building blocks to erect enclosures to provide shelter for a toy animal. In the “Engineering is Elementary” curriculum, students build and test models that address problems related to harnessing wind power, filtering water, moving materials in a factory, building a footbridge that spans a stream, and more. In the “Building Math” curriculum, middle school students address problems related to keeping medicine cool in a tropical environment, collecting rainwater in the absence of fresh water, and designing insulated clothing that allows for easy movement. In “The Infinity Project,” high school students use simulation software to develop and test a system that counts the animals