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Project Title:

Understanding and Improving K-12 Engineering Education in the United States
PIN: BOSE-I-05-01-A        

Major Unit:

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
National Academy of Engineering

Sub Unit: DBASSE Board on Science Education
Center for Education
Mathematical Sciences Education Board

RSO: Pearson, Greg

Subject/Focus Area:

Project Scope
The goal of this project, a collaboration between the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council's Center for Education, through its Board on Science Education, is to provide carefully reasoned guidance to key stakeholders regarding the creation and implementation of K-12 engineering curricula and instructional practices, focusing especially on the connections among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

In this proposal, engineering is defined as "design under constraint," where the constraints include the laws of nature, cost, safety, reliability, environmental impact, manufacturability, and many other factors. While science attempts to discover what is, engineering is concerned with what might be-with extending human capability through modifying the natural world. Indeed, engineering is responsible for many of the most significant improvements in our quality of life (Constable and Somerville, 2003). Engineers identify and then solve problems using a highly creative and iterative design process. While engineering requires the application of mathematics and scientific knowledge, it is this design process and the practical nature of the problems tackled that best distinguish engineering. What qualifies as engineering in the K-12 classroom, as contrasted with what engineering education is in post-secondary institutions, is something that this project will attempt to elucidate. In the early grades, "engineering" may be little more than a teacher-directed design activity, such as the construction of a balsa wood bridge, while in the later grades the design project may be considerably more open ended and involve the application of mathematics and science concepts to solve a specific problem.

The project has the following objectives:

1. Survey the landscape of current and past efforts to implement engineering-related K-12 instructional materials and curricula in the United States and other nations.

2. Review evidence related to the impact of these initiatives, to the extent such information is available;

3. Describe the ways in which K-12 engineering content has incorporated science, technology, and mathematics concepts, used these subjects as context to explore engineering concepts, or used engineering as a context to explore science, technology, and mathematics concepts; and

4. Report on the intended learning outcomes of K-12 engineering education initiatives, taking into account student age, curriculum focus (e.g., science v. technology education), program orientation (e.g., general education v. career/vocational education), and other factors.

In meeting the goal and objectives, the project will focus on three key issues and three related guiding questions:

1) There are multiple perspectives about the purpose and place of engineering in the K-12 classroom. These points of view lead to emphases on very different outcomes. QUESTION: What are realistic and appropriate learning outcomes for engineering education in K-12?

2) There has not been a careful analysis of engineering education within a K-12 environment that looks at possible subject intersections. QUESTION: How might engineering education complement the learning objectives of other content areas, particularly science, technology, and mathematics, and how might these other content areas complement learning objectives in engineering education?

3) There has been little if any serious consideration of the systemic changes in the U.S. education system that might be required to enhance K-12 engineering education. QUESTION: What educational policies, programs, and practice at the local, state, and federal levels might permit meaningful inclusion of engineering at the K-12 level in the United States?

Prior to the stage when the committee completes the preparation of its draft report for the institutional report review process, the committee will strive to obtain public inputs on key issues and on directions for the committee to consider in its recommendations.

The project is sponsored by Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. The approximate start date for the project is August 20, 2006. Additional support was provided by the National Science Foundation (Contract/Grant No. DRL-935879) and PTC, Inc.

Note: The project duration has been extended. The report is expected to be issued by September 2009.

Project Duration: 24 months    

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Committee Membership
Committee Membership

 Meeting 1 - 04/15/2007
 Meeting 2 - 07/19/2007
 Meeting 3 - 10/22/2007
 Meeting 4 - 02/08/2008
 Meeting 5 - 02/25/2008
 Meeting 6 - 06/05/2008
 Meeting 7 - 09/08/2009


Reports having no URL can be seen
at the Public Access Records Office
Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects