How engineering is moving up in science classes

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor, @eSN_Laura
September 16th, 2013

Engineering’s place in science standards leaves room for teacher education

Engineering-scienceAfter two years, the final Next Generation Science Standards arrived in April, and along with a focus on rigor and real-world application, the standards include a focus on engineering—and education leaders are ensuring that their teachers have the resources to teach the subject.

Historically, many engineering education advocates have said they felt that engineering is the “forgotten E” in STEM. And while many are lauding the renewed focus on engineering, others wonder if classroom teachers have the experience required to teach engineering.

Now, programs are popping up to help educators learn how to teach engineering, and how to identify engineering concepts in topics they already teach. The Parkway School District in St. Louis received a $1.5 million Mathematics and Science Partnership grant for the Scientists in Residence (SIR) program throughout the district.

The SIR Program provides in-depth professional development, coaching, and guidance for the district’s third, fourth, and fifth grade science teachers.

Becky Litherland, K-12 science coordinator in the Parkway School District, said there are a growing number of resources that can help K-12 teachers address important engineering concepts in science and math education. The Boston Museum’s Engineering is Elementary, NSTA resources, and Project Lead The Way all offer engineering resources for classroom teachers.

“Teachers learned content, instructional strategies, but they also learned [engineering], they taught it, so it really increased their level of learning and being able to apply it,” Litherland said.

While SIR’s funding ceased at the end of September, “we’re hoping that we’ve empowered these teachers with their confidence and ideas, and that these things can actually start happening in their classrooms,” she added.  Students who participated said learning some of the concepts was “better than video games.”

K-12 science teachers are not always prepared to teach engineering, said Carol Ross-Baumann, the SIR project director.

(Do teachers in your school have engineering skills? Take the poll on Page 2. Plus: Do teachers recognize engineering?)

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4 Responses to “How engineering is moving up in science classes”

The problem is the people providing training to teachers tend to have only science backgrounds, either content or education specialities. For teachers to truly understand engineering and it’s similarities and differences with science, qualified trainers who are ENGINEERING educators. Otherwise, it simply becomes another agenda item in an area we already know is weaker due to accountability. Engineering and science are not the same. They are symbiotic and mutually dependent areas, and it’s important that teachers AND students learn this. That takes engineering involvement.

    September 16, 2013

    The SiR grant allowed us to hire expert consultants. We were especially conscious of the engineering aspect and so hired consultants who either were engineers in a previous life or who had the engineering expertise. We also stressed the similarities and differences between the two disciplines as well as the mutual dependency between the two. We were lucky we were able to bring in experts to broaden the participants’ experiences in engineering.

In the Engineering Design class I taught after doing and leading hi tech engineering R&D for a lot of years, I found that the students I had (self selecting and interested in science) were shocked to learn that part of the process was failure and iteration. They had spent a lot of years learning that academic success required perfect performance.