Core Ideas in Engineering

Both infusion and mapping will require consensus on the most important concepts, skills, and habits of mind in engineering. Agreement on these core ideas may be thought of as a first step in the development of standards, but it does not necessarily lead to the development of full-fledged standards. Even if standards for engineering education are never developed, the core ideas will benefit curriculum developers, cognitive scientists, teachers, those working in informal and after-school learning environments, and others. Although a number of groups have tried to articulate core ideas, a more rigorous and inclusive process will be necessary to achieve formal consensus.

RECOMMENDATION 1. Federal agencies, foundations, and professional engineering societies with an interest in improving precollege engineering education should fund a consensus process to develop a document describing the core ideas of engineering that are appropriate for K–12 students. The process should include the views of a wide range of stakeholders. Work should begin as soon as possible, and the findings should be shared with key audiences, including developers of new or revised standards in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology at the national and state levels.

Guidelines for the Development of Instructional Materials

One important benefit of core ideas would be to support the development of guidelines for K–12 engineering instructional materials. Guidelines would help curriculum developers focus these materials on the core ideas and ensure that students would be exposed to materials representative of the actual practice of engineering. Thus guidelines could have an immediate, positive effect on the development of K–12 engineering curricula.

RECOMMENDATION 2. The U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation should jointly fund the development of guidelines for K–12 engineering instructional materials. Development should be overseen by an organization with expertise in K–12 education policy in concert with the engineering community. Other partners should include mathematics, science, technology education, social studies, and English-language-arts teacher professional societies; curriculum development and teacher professional development experts; and organizations representing informal and after-school education. Funding should be sufficient for an initial, intense development effort that lasts for one year or less, and additional support should be provided for periodic revisions as more research data become available about learning and teaching engineering on the K–12 level.

Research on Learning

The committee found very little research by cognitive scientists that could inform the development of standards for engineering education in K–12. This was also the finding of the Committee on K–12 Engineering Education, which authored Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects, a 2009 report by the National Academies. We suggest that the previous committee’s recommendations related to research on learning be (1) evaluated for their relevance to the infusion and mapping approaches described in this report and (2) expanded.

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