Study points to uncertainty of K-12 engineering standards

The NAS study included infusion as a possibility while standards are revised. The study also proposed mapping, or “integrating ‘big ideas’ in engineering onto current standards in other disciplines.” Mapping is a more retrospective activity compared with the proactive efforts of infusion, the study said.

The lack of engineering-specific standards set forward by the Common Core standards initiative also is an issue, though the National Research Council (NRC) is working to develop science standards for the Common Core project.

“If the NRC science standards with engineering are adopted, the chances of more students receiving engineering education will greatly increase,” said Parry.

“The draft framework for the new science standards reflects the recent emphasis on the connections between science, technology, engineering, and math by including engineering in a prominent position: as the fourth disciplinary domain along with life sciences, Earth and space sciences, and physical sciences,” McGrath said.

While educators are unsure if developing engineering standards is the right option, all who spoke with eSchool News agree that exposure to at least some engineering education is important.

“From an employment perspective, engineering is one of the highest-demand fields that will determine whether we as a state and country can compete internationally,” said Foster.

According to the 2007 study “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” 85 percent of economic growth per capita is as result of technological innovation.

“If the U.S. is going to remain an affluent society that is able to provide health care, education, and all the things citizens need, then we need to find ways to steer more students into engineering and technical fields,” said McGrath.

To steer those students, educators must help change the stereotype of just what, exactly, an engineer is.

“When many outside of the engineering profession think of engineers, images of white men wearing pocket protectors working in isolation with dirty machines often come to mind,” McGrath said. “The engineering education community has to do a better job of communicating that an engineering degree is the pathway to students’ ability to make a real difference in the world.”

Parry hopes students will achieve some modicum of engineering education that will at least allow them to become part of today’s technologically advanced society.

“The end goal is not to create millions of engineers, although if we were able to do that, we could more effectively compete on all playing fields with countries like China and India,” she said. “And it’s really more than competition—technological literacy is a national security issue. Rather, our general citizenry is fairly technologically illiterate.”

Foster agreed.

“Given the prevalence of technology in our world—all the designed products we use every day—every student should have a basic understanding of how and why those products are designed and produced. Each student should have a basic literacy of the designed world they inhabit,” Foster said.

The study states that there is limited experience with K-12 engineering education in the U.S. and a lack of qualified teachers. It also pointed to concern over how mathematics and science would be affected by possible reforms, and it said there are “significant barriers” to stand-alone engineering education in a curriculum that includes a variety of other learning goals in more “established domains of study.”

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