4
Conclusions and Recommendations

The committee believes that the evolving status of K–12 engineering education severely limits the potential value of developing traditional content standards. For this reason, we conclude that an initiative to develop such standards should not be undertaken at this time. Instead, several steps should be taken to increase the presence and improve quality and consistency of engineering education for K–12 students in the United States.

Step 1:
Reach Consensus on Core Ideas in Engineering

To take full advantage of the infusion and mapping approaches discussed in Chapter 3 and to support curriculum development, teacher professional development, and assessment in K–12 engineering education, the committee concludes that it is necessary to first identify the most important concepts, skills, and habits of mind in engineering. As has been done in other fields, such as ocean science, we should articulate essential core ideas, rather than developing standards.

These core ideas, or big ideas, might be thought of as a first step toward the development of content standards, essential elements on which educational standards would need to be based. Core ideas, which are distillations of the essential nature of a field or practice, will necessarily be few in number. Content standards typically elaborate these core ideas as grade- or age-specific benchmarks or learning progressions based, when possible, on research in the cognitive sciences.

However, even if the core ideas do not lead to full-fledged standards, they will still be useful. They may, for example, prompt research that clarifies learning progressions for basic concepts, say, the idea of constraints. And their lack of specificity can provide flexibility for the various groups, from guidance counselors and teachers to test and textbook developers, interested in K–12 engineering education. Table 4-1 summarizes the key differences between content standards for K–12 engineering education and core ideas in engineering.


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—concepts, skills, and dispositions—of engineering that are appropriate for K–12 students. The process should incorporate feedback from 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.



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4 Conclusions and Recommendations The committee believes that the evolving status of K–12 engineering education severely limits the potential value of developing traditional content standards. For this reason, we con- clude that an initiative to develop such standards should not be undertaken at this time. Instead, several steps should be taken to increase the presence and improve quality and consistency of engineering education for K–12 students in the United States. Step 1: Reach Consensus on Core Ideas in Engineering To take full advantage of the infusion and mapping approaches discussed in Chapter 3 and to support curriculum development, teacher professional development, and assessment in K–12 engineering education, the committee concludes that it is necessary to first identify the most important concepts, skills, and habits of mind in engineering. As has been done in other fields, such as ocean science, we should articulate essential core ideas, rather than developing standards. These core ideas, or big ideas, might be thought of as a first step toward the development of content standards, essential elements on which educational standards would need to be based. Core ideas, which are distillations of the essential nature of a field or practice, will necessarily be few in number. Content standards typically elaborate these core ideas as grade- or age-specific benchmarks or learning progressions based, when possible, on research in the cognitive sciences. However, even if the core ideas do not lead to full-fledged standards, they will still be useful. They may, for example, prompt research that clarifies learning progressions for basic concepts, say, the idea of constraints. And their lack of specificity can provide flexibility for the various groups, from guidance counselors and teachers to test and textbook developers, interested in K– 12 engineering education. Table 4-1 summarizes the key differences between content standards for K–12 engineering education and core ideas in engineering. 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—concepts, skills, and dispositions—of engineering that are appropriate for K–12 students. The process should incorporate feedback from 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. 37

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38 STANDARDS FOR K–12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION? TABLE 4-1 Comparison of the Dimensions of Core Ideas and Standards in K–12 Engineering Education Dimension Standards Core Ideas Number of concepts, Similar to existing standards Many fewer skills, dispositions in science, mathematics, and specified technology Time and funding to Many years and several Approximately one year and develop million dollars $1 million Purpose Blueprint for curriculum High-level statement of development, teacher principles to inform groups professional development, and interested in K–12 engineering education; assessment general guidance for improving existing curriculum, teacher professional development, and assessment; basis for research on learning progressions Level of specificity Significant Much more general Conceptual coverage Comprehensive and detailed A subset of the most important “big ideas” with much less detail Inclusion of grade bands Yes No or learning progressions The committee further suggests that participant stakeholder groups in building a consensus on core ideas in engineering include the following: • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professional societies • Schools of engineering • Engineering and technology education accreditation bodies • Employers of engineers (e.g., technology-intensive industries) • K–12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education associations • The career technical-education community • Organizations with a history and interest in development of K–12 education standards • K–12 teacher accreditation bodies • States that include or have attempted to include engineering in their K–12 standards • Developers of K–12 student assessments • Developers of K–12 curricula, instructional materials, and textbooks • Organizations interested in college and workforce readiness

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CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 39 • Informal and after-school education organizations • Parent-teacher organizations Once a consensus has been reached, the core ideas will be useful in a variety of ways. First, they will provide a foundation and direction for the infusion and mapping approaches described in Chapter 3. The consistency and authority of both approaches will be reinforced by having agreed engineering ideas and practices to draw upon. One important use of the core ideas might be to inform the engineering portions of the expected new standards for K–12 science education to be developed by Achieve, Inc. in 2011. Another might be to strengthen the engineering con- tent in the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association’s Standards for Technological Literacy, if and when they undergo revision. Second, the core ideas will be a resource for improving existing or creating new curricula, conducting teacher professional development, designing assessments, and informing education research. Third, although the committee’s focus was on questions related to the development and implementation of standards for the K–12 classroom, we recognize that there are also many opportunities for young people—and adults—to learn about engineering outside the formal school setting. Indeed, student involvement in out-of-school learning environments may equal in-class exposure for some subjects, such as science (Chi et al., 2008). Core ideas will provide guidance for people who work in informal education settings, such as museums, and after-school programs. Part of the committee’s charge was to consider how, or whether, standards for engineering education in K–12 would differ depending on whether the overall purpose is to support the goal of general literacy (the “mainline”) or to target a narrower group of students who are interested in pursuing careers in engineering (the “pipeline”). The committee believes that the identifica- tion of core ideas in engineering will be beneficial for both purposes. Ultimately, curriculum developers, providers of professional development, and others with an engineering-pipeline orientation may build on the foundation provided by core ideas by emphasizing connections between engineering and mathematics and science, especially physics. Educators with a mainline focus may use core ideas to develop resources for traditional science, mathematics, and technology education classes or informal or after-school programs. Step 2: Provide Guidelines for the Development of Instructional Materials The value of core ideas will be greatly enhanced for all purposes if they are embedded in “guidelines” for the development of instructional materials (cf., Rutherford, 2009). The purpose of the guidelines would be to improve the quality of engineering education materials, accelerate their development, and increase the number of individuals and groups that can use them, without developing actual standards. Guidelines would necessarily include the core ideas in engineering, but they would also address other considerations, which we know from research and practice are important to ensur- ing the quality of instructional materials (Box 4-1). In other words, guidelines would not include all of the characteristics of effective educational curricula; they would include only the charac- teristics for which we have some basis in experience and understanding. The guidelines should be revised and improved as our knowledge grows and improves.

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40 STANDARDS FOR K–12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION? If supporters of improvements in K–12 STEM education (e.g., federal agencies, business and industry, foundations) champion these guidelines, they could have a rapid, positive effect on the development of K–12 engineering curricula that would be based on a more focused and more representative idea of the practice of engineering. Guidelines could provide a framework for assessment development in engineering as well as lay the groundwork for the possible devel- opment of content standards. If guidelines were incorporated into in-service and pre-service teacher education, prospective and current teachers would be prepared to create lesson plans that incorporate engineering principles. The same guidelines could be a useful resource for educators in informal education settings. RECOMMENDATION 2. The U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies with interest in engineering research and education should 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. The committee suggests that the guidelines be made available online and periodically revised as data become available on the impact of engineering education on student learning in engineer- ing as well as in science, mathematics, and technology; improvements in technological literacy; awareness and interest in engineering as a career option; and how students develop design ideas and practices over time. Because guidelines would not have the same standing as standards, teachers, developers of instructional materials, and others may not follow them unless they are required to do so by funding agencies, state law, or local policy. In addition, if guidelines are, or are perceived to be, leading to a silo approach to K–12 engineering education, they could arouse resistance to the integration of engineering material and ideas into mathematics, science, and technology edu- cation. Step 3: Boost Research on Learning Developing consensus on core concepts, skills, and dispositions in K–12 engineering education and creating guidelines for the development of instructional materials will be important steps toward more consistent and higher quality K–12 engineering education. However, the committee believes that continuous improvement will require ongoing research to answer fundamental questions about how young people learn and understand engineering. This was an important point in the research-related recommendations in Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects (NAE and NRC, 2009). We endorse those recommendations, urge that their relevance to the infusion and mapping ap- proaches described in this report be considered, and suggest that they be expanded.

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CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 41 BOX 4-1 Possible Features of Guidelines for K–12 Engineering Instructional Materials CORE ENGINEERING CONCEPTS, SKILLS, AND DISPOSITIONS The guidelines should describe the essential content of engineering (e.g., systems, constraints, modeling, analysis, optimization, creativity, collaboration, communication, connection between engineering and society) and provide examples of how they play out in instructional materials ELEMENTS OF ENGINEERING DESIGN The guidelines should describe the elements of engineering design (e.g., problem identification, research, brainstorming of solutions, experimentation, prototyping) in a way that emphasizes that the process is nonlinear and that there is no single “correct” solution. CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ENGINEERING AND OTHER SUBJECTS The guidelines should describe how core ideas in engineering relate to other content areas. For example, engineering design and scientific inquiry share a number of features that make them useful problem- solving techniques. Inquiry can be used to develop data necessary to solving a design problem. Connections with mathematics include data collection and analysis, modeling, and estimation. PEDAGOGY The guidelines should elaborate how engineering design can be used as a pedagogical approach that encourages contextual, student-centered learning and provides meaningful opportunities for applying mathematical and scientific concepts. FINDINGS FROM THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES The guidelines should summarize some of the most significant findings from the cognitive sciences, both about learning in general and about learning engineering specifically. In engineering, for example, we know that engineering design activities must allow sufficient time for purposeful iteration and redesign for them to have an impact on conceptual learning, DIVERSITY The guidelines should emphasize the need for engineering education materials that appeal to diverse student populations, point out language and images that are known to discourage interest among these populations, and provide representative examples of instructional materials designed to appeal to students of all backgrounds. EXAMPLES FROM EXISTING CURRICULA The guidelines should include representative activities from existing elementary, middle, and high school engineering curricula. RESOURCES AND IMPLEMENTATION The guidelines should describe the need for various kinds of equipment needs and the costs associated with different models of engineering education, as well as some of the practical and policy issues related to implementation.

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42 STANDARDS FOR K–12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION? Recommendation 3. The following research questions should be part of a wide-ranging research agenda in K–12 engineering education funded by the National Science Foundation, other federal agencies, and the private sector: • How do children come to understand (or misunderstand) core concepts and apply (or misapply) skills in engineering? • What are the most effective ways of introducing and sequencing engineering concepts and skills for learners at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? • What are the most important synergies in the learning and teaching of engineering and mathematics, science, technology, and other subjects? • What are the most important considerations in designing materials, programs, assessments, and educator professional development that engage all learners, including those historically underrepresented in engineering? • What are the best settings and strategies for enabling young people to understand engineering in schools, informal education institutions, and after-school programs? Step 4: Measure the Impact of Reforms The committee is aware how difficult it can be to measure the impact of reform efforts in K– 12 education. Even when quality evaluations are conducted, it can be very hard to determine which educational interventions are most effective (e.g., DOEd, 2007). Despite these challenges, however, the committee concludes that in the case of standards infusion and mapping, core ideas, and guidelines for instructional materials development, it will be very important to assess how these efforts affect the development of K–12 engineering education in the United States over time. It will also be important to compare reforms in this country with efforts in other countries to introduce engineering to precollege students. Such data will provide a basis on which to either modify or discontinue one or more of these efforts. Recommendation 4. Federal agencies with an interest in improving STEM education should support a large-scale survey to establish a comprehensive picture of K–12 engineering education nationally and at the state level. The survey should encompass formal and informal education, including after-school initiatives; build on data collected in the recent National Academies report on K–12 engineering education; and be conducted by an experienced education research organization. The survey should be periodically repeated to measure changes in the quality, scale, and impact of K–12 engineering education, and it should specifically take into account how the recommended practices of infusion and mapping, consensus on core ideas in engineering, and the development of guidelines for instructional materials have contributed to change. An effort should be made to compare the survey data with impact data from other countries’ efforts to introduce engineering to precollege students. The committee suggests that measurable “indicators,” such as those proposed in Box 4-2, be developed to guide the research. The survey data, combined with new findings from research on how K–12 engineering education is affecting student learning and interest in STEM disciplines, should be used to reassess the need for content standards for K–12 engineering education, modification of the

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CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 43 BOX 4-2 Suggested “Indicators” for Gauging the Impact of Infusion and Mapping, Core Ideas, and Guidelines for the Development of Instructional Materials Input indicators: • state or national standards in science, mathematics, technology, or other subjects that include or connect to engineering concepts as described in the infusion and mapping approaches • new or revised curricula in science, engineering, technology, mathematics, or other subjects that include engineering concepts as reflected in the core ideas in engineering or guidelines for the development of instructional materials • school districts, institutions of higher education, curriculum projects, or other groups that provide teacher professional development consistent with the core ideas or guidelines • K–12 teacher preparation programs that use or adopt the core ideas or appropriate features of the guidelines into their course offerings for prospective teachers • informal and after-school education initiatives that offer students the opportunity to participate in engineering activities consistent with the core ideas and guidelines Outcome indicators: • student understanding of core ideas in engineering • student achievement, interest, or motivation to learn mathematics, science, or technology that can be related to the introduction of engineering education consistent with the core ideas or guidelines • schools, school districts, or states that adopt new or revised STEM curricula that include engineering concepts as reflected in the core ideas or guidelines • K–12 teachers who can demonstrate understanding of core engineering ideas and how these ideas can be introduced to students guidelines for instructional materials and the infusion and mapping approaches, and the creation of other kinds of resources for improving the quality and consistency of K–12 engineering education. A Final Word This study was conducted during a period of intense scrutiny of U.S. K–12 education. Concerns about the nation’s innovation capacity, aggravated by the economic downturn that began in 2008, have directed attention to the importance of STEM subjects. Policy makers and others are concerned about data that seem to reflect poorly on U.S. student achievement in science and mathematics. Historically, in elementary and secondary schools the “E” in STEM has been virtually silent. But a small and apparently growing number of efforts are now under way to introduce engi- neering experiences to K–12 students. Limited but intriguing evidence suggests that engineering education can not only improve students’ understanding of engineering but also stimulate interest and improve learning in mathematics and science. Currently there are no content standards, the traditional tool for guiding curriculum development, teacher education, and learning assessment, for engineering. Standards in other

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44 STANDARDS FOR K–12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION? subjects have reshaped many key elements of the U.S. education system, but their impact on student learning appears to be limited. In addition, the implementation of standards varies from state to state, and concerns about this variability have led to a rapidly moving initiative to develop common core standards. This is the environment in which the committee attempted to determine the need for content standards for K–12 engineering education. Although we conclude that such standards are not now warranted, this in no way diminishes our enthusiasm for the potential value of engineering education to our country’s young people and, ultimately, to the nation as a whole. For a country like the United States, which is dependent on technological development, we can think of few subjects as critical as engineering to building an informed, literate citizenry, ensuring our quality of life, and addressing the serious challenges facing our country and the world. References Chi, B., J. Freeman, and S. Lee. 2008. Science in After-School Market Research Study: A Final Report to the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation. Coalition for Science after School and Center for Research, Evaluation and Assessment. Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley. DOEd (U.S. Department of Education). 2007. Report of the Academic Competitiveness Council. Washington, DC: DOEd. Also available online at http://www.ed.gov/about/inits/ ed/competitiveness/acc-mathscience/index.html. (April 9, 2010) NAE and NRC (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council). 2009. Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects. Committee on K–12 Engineering Education. Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7. Washing- ton, DC: National Academies Press. Rutherford, J. 2009. Standards 2.0: New models for the new century: Alternatives to traditional content standards. Paper presented at the NAE Workshop on Standards for K–12 Engineer- ing Education, Washington, D.C., July 8, 2009. Available online at http://www.nae.edu/ File.aspx?id=15167. (April 9, 2010)

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CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 45 ANNEX General Principles for K–12 Engineering Education Principle 1. K–12 engineering education should emphasize engineering design. The design process, the engineering approach to identifying and solving problems, is (1) highly iterative; (2) open to the idea that a problem may have many possible solutions; (3) a meaningful context for learning scientific, mathematical, and technological concepts; and (4) a stimulus to systems thinking, modeling, and analysis. In all of these ways, engineering design is a potentially useful pedagogical strategy. Principle 2. K–12 engineering education should incorporate important and developmen- tally appropriate mathematics, science, and technology knowledge and skills. Certain science concepts as well as the use of scientific inquiry methods can support engineering design activities. Similarly, certain mathematical concepts and computational methods can support engineering design, especially in service of analysis and modeling. Technology and technology concepts can illustrate the outcomes of engineering design, provide opportunities for “reverse engineering” activities, and encourage the consideration of social, environmental, and other impacts of engineering design decisions. Testing and measurement technologies, such as thermometers and oscilloscopes; software for data acquisition and manage- ment; computational and visualization tools, such as graphing calculators and CAD/CAM (i.e., computer design) programs; and the Internet should be used, as appropriate, to support engineer- ing design, particularly at the high school level. Principle 3. K–12 engineering education should promote engineering habits of mind. Engineering “habits of mind” align with what many believe are essential skills for citizens in the 21st century. These include (1) systems thinking, (2) creativity, (3) optimism, (4) collab- oration, (5) communication, and (6) attention to ethical considerations. Systems thinking equips students to recognize essential interconnections in the technological world and to appreciate that systems may have unexpected effects that cannot be predicted from the behavior of individual subsystems. Creativity is inherent in the engineering design process. Optimism reflects a world view in which possibilities and opportunities can be found in every challenge and an understanding that every technology can be improved. Engineering is a “team sport”; collaboration leverages the perspectives, knowledge, and capabilities of team members to address a design challenge. Communication is essential to effective collaboration, to understanding the particular wants and needs of a “customer,” and to explaining and justifying the final design solution. Ethical consid- erations draw attention to the impacts of engineering on people and the environment; ethical considerations include possible unintended consequences of a technology, the potential dispro- portionate advantages or disadvantages of a technology for certain groups or individuals, and other issues.

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