Study points to uncertainty of K-12 engineering standards

Should engineering standards be developed for K-12?
Should engineering standards be developed for K-12?

With efforts to ensure U.S. competitiveness in a global economy revolving around stronger STEM education, some policy makers are looking at whether it makes sense to include engineering standards for K-12 education. But the ability to establish a national set of standards for K-12 engineering education might still be out of reach, according to a new study from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The study, “Standards for K-12 Engineering Education?” claims that “although the main ideas in K-12 engineering education are largely agreed upon, data based on rigorous research on engineering learning at the K-12 level are still not sufficient to develop learning progressions that could be reflected as standards.”

Educators are split on whether establishing K-12 engineering standards is a feasible option or not.

“We have had academic K-12 engineering standards in Massachusetts since 2001; the next generation of national science standards will likely include engineering standards as well,” said Jake Foster, director of science and technology/engineering with the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Elizabeth Parry, coordinator for the North Carolina State University College of Engineering, disagrees.

“Of course it is possible [to create engineering standards], but in my opinion it doesn’t make sense. … [Engineering] skills cut across all core subjects in K-12, and separate standards would not sufficiently measure achievement,” said Parry.

Elizabeth McGrath, executive director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE), said that while developing national standards is not a simple process, it can be accomplished.

“One approach is to encourage the infusion of engineering [education] into core courses at the K-12 level, like science and math, but also language arts, art, and other subjects, to provide students with exposure to engineering design, the iterative design process, [and] the practical application of science and mathematics principles to real-world challenges in hands-on/minds-on learning. This approach has many practical benefits and has shown in some of our own research to increase student learning in core subjects like science,” McGrath said.

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