Last year, ASEE approved a new division in record time. The K-12
and Pre-College Engineering Division attracted over 400 members
in its first year. This division draws together a community of engineering
and technology educators who have been active in this area for many
years, as well as other ASEE members who are just getting involved.
In 2002, ASEE established an Engineering
K12 Center, led by Eric Iversen, to assemble and provide access
to available resources for teachers, students and engineering educators.
The center has sponsored three K-12 workshops at ASEE annual conferences.
A fourth will be held in Hawaii in June.
Why are engineering educators interested in K-12 outreach? We are responding to a recognized national crisis. There are serious problems in science, technology, engineering and math education, as reflected in (1) declining enrollments of U.S. students in engineering programs; (2) under-representation of women and minorities in engineering schools and in the profession; (3) poor performance of U.S. high school students on science and math tests in comparison to the rest of the industrial world (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study); and (4) widespread technological illiteracy. Although the use of technology permeates our everyday lives, few Americans understand how that technology works. Many of today’s political issues involve technology in some way. To maintain an informed electorate, every student needs an understanding of what technology can and cannot do.
Even among students who enroll in engineering, there is little initial awareness of what engineers do or how important engineering is to modern society. The engineering design process is a unique style of thinking; it requires creativity, problem solving, analysis, critical thinking and teamwork. Engineering education initiatives in K-12 classrooms can serve as a vehicle for teaching these skills and integrating science, math, technology, writing and many other subjects into practical lessons that relate to students’ everyday lives.
What is already going on? Many exciting K-12 outreach activities are happening at all grade levels. Programs that emphasize the unique nature of engineering include Learning by Design (Janet Kolodner, Georgia Tech); Teach Engineering (Jackie Sullivan, Colorado, see Last Word, page 68); the Center for Engineering Education Outreach (Chris Rogers, Tufts); the Center for Pre-College Programs (Howard Kimmel, NJIT); Engineering on the Road K-12 Outreach Program (Laura Bottomley, NCSU); Engineering K-Ph.D. (Gary Ybarra, Duke); Engineering Is Elementary (Christine Cunningham, Boston Museum of Science); Stuff That Works! (Gary Benenson, CUNY); Toying With Technology (Larry Genalo, Iowa State); and the Virginia Middle School Engineering Education Initiative (Larry Richards, UVa). The International Technology Education Association and Project Lead the Way have been leaders in standards-based curriculum development, and FIRST Robotics and Lego Robotics attract many secondary school students to engineering.
What do we want to accomplish through our outreach activities?
(1) Increase the understanding of engineering among teachers, students and parents. Help them become aware of the nature of engineering and how it differs from other fields. (2) Capture students’ interest early and keep them involved in engineering, science and mathematics. (3) Influence the pre-college curriculum and instructional standards. Some of us will need to follow the example of Ioannis Miaoulis (Prism, January 2006) who led the effort to include engineering and technology in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework. That means getting involved with local and state educational policy agencies. (4) We have a critical mass of innovative approaches and experiments. Now we need systematic assessments of them: Which ones work best? What features make a difference? What can be improved? We need to share what we have accomplished so far and lay the groundwork for the future.
Larry G. Richards, University of Virginia, is chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of ASEE and is active in the new K-12 Division.