technology and engineering

Girls outpace boys in tech and engineering problem solving

Students shared where and how they developed these technology and engineering skills via a distributed questionnaire:

  • 52 percent of students reported taking at least one course related to technology or engineering in school
  • 59 percent reported that they sometimes learned about various topics related to technology and society in school
  • 63 percent indicated that their family members most often taught them about building things, fixing things, or understanding how things work
  • 19 percent of students responded that they taught themselves
  • 13 percent of students reported that they learned from their teachers

The report correlates those skill-building experiences to student performance. Students who learned about technology- and society-related topics more frequently in school scored higher on average than those who did so less frequently. The same is true for students who learned about technology- and society-related topics more frequently outside of school.

“The scores clearly show that when students have opportunities to engage with technology and engineering, they become fluent in the skills that prepare them for living and working in the modern world. But access to these opportunities from place to place is patchy,” said Dr. Tonya Matthews, President and CEO of the Michigan Science Center. “That’s a call for communities to create opportunities where needed, from schools to science centers to after-school programming.”

Students in suburban schools scored higher in TEL than their peers in town and city locations. Surprising to some, female white and female black students outperformed their male peers in TEL overall, while female Hispanic and female Asian students kept pace with, but did not exceed, their male peers.

Twenty-five percent of lower-income students scored at or above proficiency, compared to 59 percent of higher-income students. For English language learners, only 5 percent scored at the proficient level.

Racial/ethnic differences were seen among percentages of students who scored at or above proficiency: 56 percent of white and Asian students, 45 percent of students with two or more races, 42 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 30 percent of Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander students, 28 percent of Hispanic students, and 18 percent of black students scored proficient or above.

Scenario-based tasks

The cornerstone of the assessment are the scenario-based tasks — computer-administered tasks that set up realistic situations in which students were asked to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to solve problems. Engineering, technology, and critical thinking skills all played a part. In one example, students were asked to help adjust a habitat for a classroom iguana. Students first learned about iguanas and their basic needs, then worked through the task to determine how best to improve Iggy’s environment. Below are steps students had to take given different problems Iggy experienced, and questions they responded to in the various scenarios:

Steps Required:

1. Evaluating the Cage Design: Students consider design solutions and make predictions for solving the problem of Iggy’s cage being too cold.
2. Further Evaluating the Cage Design: Students consider design solutions and make predictions for solving the problem of Iggy being awake and active at night.
3. Testing the Cage Design and Evaluating Alternative Solutions: Students observe Iggy’s behavior to determine whether the proposed cage design solutions solve Iggy’s problem.
4. Redesigning the Cage to Prevent Dehydration: Students select a cage design so that Iggy won’t become dehydrated in his cage.

Questions Asked:

1. Iggy is always hanging on to his heat lamp! He does not want to be anywhere else. Based on the iguana facts, what is the most likely reason Iggy is hanging on to his heat lamp?
2. Based on your observation of Iggy’s behavior, what fact about iguanas is related to Iggy’s second problem (Iggy is awake and active at night?)
3. Based on Iggy’s behavior, does option 1 work to solve Iggy’s cold home?
4. One of your classmates has done some research about iguanas and is worried that Iggy may get dehydrated, meaning his body will not get enough moisture. Based on what you have learned in this task about iguanas, which of these two items is best at preventing Iggy from getting dehydrated?

To learn more about this and other scenario tasks, visit

A nationally representative sample of approximately 21,500 eighth graders from over 800 public and private schools across the nation took the assessment in 2014. Student performance results are presented as NAEP achievement levels and average scale scores.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione

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