A Disturbing Post From ASEE On K-12 Engineering Education


This blog post is associated with an item in a newsletter I received today.

From ASEE Connections of 06/23/15:

“A new Purdue University-led study found that only a dozen states have clearly defined engineering curricula for K-12 students in their science standards. But it also found that of those 12 states, only four had “comprehensive” engineering programs. The researchers created a framework of 12 indicators to define an ideal K-12 engineering program, then used that framework to assess state-level standards in all 50 states. The four with comprehensive engineering standards were Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon. The framework is now being used in an $8 million, National Science Foundation-funded curriculum-development project called EgrTEAMS, or Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis, Measurement and Science. The investigators are working with 200 teachers in the St. Paul, Minn., area to introduce the approach to 15,000 students in grades 4 to 8. The project includes professional development workshops for teachers. Lead author Tamara Moore, an associate professor of engineering education at Purdue, says the goal is to teach science and mathematical thinking through engineering and problem-solving.”

This is sad for two reasons, for me at least: (1) the obvious lack of significant statewide programs – in spite of NGSS; and (2) the fear that the funded project curriculum will be seen by politicians as THE curriculum to mandate for use – or if they do not, policy people will, maybe even school systems will. I’ll be Considering the proposal further and eagerly looking for reports on efforts made!

I sincerely hope the curriculum is NOT detailed enough to be used without the understanding of what engineering is!!! A comment to Professor Moore (If she happens to see this): Neither you nor I nor anyone else can “teach science and mathematical thinking through engineering and problem-solving” to anyone!!! Once the students choose to learn, you can facilitate that learning – but only that and only then!! Right?

But here is my main concern. The curriculum being developed will be expected (if not mandated) to be used for all students across the country. To me, I have absolutely zero confidence that success doing this is possible! And this does not reflect one bit on NSF, on Purdue, or on the project investigators; no matter the source, NO curriculum can work for every student. I personally have facilitated topics for two different sections of the same course, taught using the same textbook and notes, taught during the same semester at the college level. While these sections might be expected to have more comparable success that two different K-12 classes, there were many instances where the same approach yielded drastically different levels of success… So, I ask you about two classes with different teachers: one in an urban neighborhood and one in a rural / small town neighborhood. How can anyone expect the same curriculum to work?

My beliefs: We should work with teachers (as the investigators are doing with teachers from Minnesota) to provide experience with engineering and to facilitate rich discussions about engineering based upon that experience. And we should facilitate their efforts in developing curricular approaches to use with their students. AND of course, we could provide scripted lesson plans and engineering kit lists for their use with their students. I do not recommend the latter – even with attention to the previously noted efforts! The latter, while done with good intentions, invites the horror of blindly following that script! Only the teachers in every class can know what curricular approach will likely work for their students; they should be / need to be the ones doing the development! Good suggestions from an effort similar to the one identified here will be very helpful – but not curriculum please…

UDL, Considerations, and Effective Learning



In my efforts to constantly reflect on and refine the “Considerations” tool that is the focus (and title) of this blog, it is important for me to consider (using my tool of course!) many of the learning sources available to all of us, using the visions thus developed to refine the concept and application procedures of the tool. In this post, I have two objectives: (1) I want to (maybe, may already be familiar) introduce readers to the notion ofn Universal Design for Learning (UDL); and (2) I want to discuss a few of planned upcoming posts to this blog that will explore UDL and its inclusion with consideration to further enhance learning.

Universal Design for Learning is an extension, as I understand, of Universal Design – an approach utilized in architecture. Architects seek to include universal access to and engagement with the structure(s) being designed from the first concept developed (as contrasted with revising near-final designs for universal access and engagement). Similarly UDL seeks to enable engagement of ALL learners in effective learning through the improved education design. I am in the midst of participation in a SOOC (Supported Open Online Course – NOTE new participation is closed) on UDL and Applicable Apps offered by ISTE. Through this learning opportunity, I am gaining the knowledge and practice that willbetter align with my facilitation of effective learning AND lead to revisions as appropriate of my Considerations tool. One important research-supported UDL conclusion that I find easily logical: ALL students, with and without special needs, learn more effectively in UDL-based education opportunities!

Let me give a brief overview of the role of considerations in effective learning. For more information, the reader is directed to the previous posts to this blog. It is my thesis that PBL (Problem Based Learning) is the optimum approach to learning. The sketch at the top of this blog, taken from a piece from George Couros, is very much aligned with PBL. Indeed, there are also many of the eight items included that are consistent with UDL as well. Via the voice of the students, their choices, the problem finding / solving, and connected learning, involvement of all students (i.e., UDL aligned) in the effective learning is enabled. Where does “Considerations” fit with this notion of classroom effective learning? Interestingly, for me at least, the one shortcoming of the sketch is the near void of learning (really only directly in the connected learning)! INDEED, after the students’ voice and choice, after the reflection, after the problem finding, and after the self-assessment, THERE ARE LIKELY NEEDS FOR CONSIDERATION: individual or sub-groups of team members addressing the hurdles identified, developing those visions to share / refine within the team, to indeed move forward with this student-controlled effective learning.

The SOOC in which I am participating has quickly shown me that I have been far too lax in intentionally and specifically including UDL components (beyond their fortunate but unplanned inclusion as noted in the previous paragraph). This tool and personal pedagogy shortcoming will be remedied and then discussed in future posts to this blog. A few ideas that I am already exploring:

1. Please note that this and all previous blog posts are all provided in text-only format. The SOOC materials provided to us participants have included text, voice-only, video (often accompanied by transcripts and/or subtitles). I will be investigating many apps (e.g., YouTube, Text-To-Speech, Grid Diary, and Today’s Meet) to broaden the options for engagement.

2. Please know that while I personally have provided Internet storage sights (through Blackboard) for student teams to save and share their files, I have much to do to broaden collaboration opportunities. One example: I intend to learn better the use of Google Hangouts (or similar) to enable teams to collaborate from different locations.

3. Please know that previously I have required teams to summarize their efforts in written progress and final reports. I intend to invest in the learning necessary to broaden the reporting options – including presentations, poster discussions, videos, and other options as appropriate.

4. MOST IMPORTANTLY, to me at least, I must investigate the more subtle concepts of UDL in both the PBL pedagogy and the “Consideration” tool. Subtle??? Yes, as I continue to learn in the SOOC, I am uncomfortable, believing that the “visible” changes such as those noted in #1 – #3 above under-represent the true importance of UDL for both in PBL and consideration! The ability to have empathy for ALL learners and to facilitate their special and individual effective needs are chief among these subtle features.

I realize this is short on new information and more on setting the commitment. I welcome the interaction with you through replies to this post or by email. For further UDL material, Internet searches have been invaluable to me. Here’s two of my favorites:  this CAST website and  this one. Stay tuned…

Mathematics in Perspective


I have two engineering degrees, each with a mathematics minor. Wish I could say that I chose that minor because “there’s a great deal of mathematics in engineering.” Not really… I took mathematics because generally it was the easy “gut” course any semester; mathematics learning came very easy – at that time, much easier than history or philosophy or similar.

Move forward in time fifty years or so: I’m now an emeritus engineering professor after almost thirty years at the University of Connecticut, having eleven years earlier in industry, and sprinkled with a variety of consulting opportunities. How many differential equations did I solve in this time? ONE that I can recall. How many integrals did I do? Very few unless you consider the easy ones (such as the integral of Sin(x)dx or xdx). BUT how many times did I use the “basics” of mathematics (calculus)? I.e., “integral of a function equals area under the curve.” Very often, routinely… FIRST PERSPECTIVE: Unless one is teaching mathematics, only the fundamentals of calculus will be important. Too bad the math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that…

Now, thinking back on my faculty period. For students in my classes or for my advisees, I was always eager to facilitate their learning. With my mathematics minors, I was frequently able to assist with clearing up confusion – in their math courses or for the math considerations in their engineering courses. The most common difficulty that I identified: When their were multiple paths to use, they had no idea how to decide which one to use! They knew how to use one if selected for them; but no clue how to choose. Learning this, my facilitating was quite straightforward: help them figure out what to look for in order to optimize the likelihood of choosing correctly. SECOND PERSPECTIVE: It’s not enough to facilitate the learning of procedures; optimizing their use must include selecting the best procedure to use. Too bad math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that.

My final thoughts for this blog relates to the context of mathematics use. Consider the components WITHIN mathematics: There are the math facts (e.g., 1+1=2 or the previously noted “integral equals area under the curve”), the math procedures, choosing the best procedures, using those procedures correctly, and assessing the outcome for correctness. I’ve already noted the issue with choosing the best procedures. And assessing seems to be expected routinely but not really common among students. The other three components are staples of most math courses and textbooks.

BUT, too bad most mathematics courses, even so-called APPLIED mathematics courses, don’t contextualize the mathematics. Before “doing the math,” the situation encountered has to be understood and MODELED – developing the appropriate mathematics equations, etc. to enable analysis. After “doing the math” then, one has to use the math outcomes to answer the questions identified in understanding the situation. THIRD PERSPECTIVE: There is very little real-world situations included in mathematics courses to assist with gaining experience as well as motivation by the students.Too bad math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that.

So the subsequent courses (such as engineering or economics) then should build on robust mathematics learning. In dealing with situations, the student, and later the employee, seeks an overall outcome that is SUCCESSFUL – the efforts are USEFUL in dealing with the situation. Note that I personally never use “correct” as because of uncertainty, assumptions, approximations, etc., we don’t ever know the right answer; the best we can hope for is useful input to dealing with the situation. FOURTH PERSPECTIVE: Too often, the source of “non-usefulness” of efforts are the non-math components of those efforts: the modeling and/or the interpreting. Too bad mathematics departments, textbook authors, and faculty (AS WELL AS THE OTHER “USER” DEPARTMENTS) don’t think of that!!!

A New a Learning Opportunity – for Me at Least


I just learned of a new learning opportunity, thanks to Charlene Doland.  It’s the Connected Learning Community (on Google+). They have a terrific Website that includes what they call Maker Cycles – an opportunity to practice skills associated with connected learning. They facilitate Google Hangouts and a #CLMOOC Twitter chat (this Thursday the 10th beginning at 7:00 PM ET). As I said, I’m very new to these opportunities and wanted to share with you. As I understand, I missed their CLMOOC facilitated in June.

i gained and continue to gain so much from the opportunities related to the DLMOOC earlier this year that I’m excited to promote these new opportunities – through this short post to this blog!

Considerations and Memory


I am a dedicated follower of the Brain Pickings newsletter of Maria Popova.  A recent piece discussed short- and long-term memory.  According to the piece, short-term memory consists of four so-called slave systems. Of interest to me and of relevance to this blog is the fourth slave: the episodic buffer.  This buffer “gathers all of the diverse information in from the other slaves, and maybe other information from elsewhere, and integrates them together into what might be described as a multimedia memory.” if you’ve read other posts to this blog or have discussed “considerations” with me, I trust you will hopefully see that this episodic buffer could also be termed short-term memory considerations. i of course am not a brain-function researcher. But I am a firm believer in the importance of “considerations” to effective, deeper learning. Again to me this is the development of long-term memory. Continuing this thinking, may I suggest a few items relating this transferring knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory:

  • The transfer is the conscious expansion of the considerations relative to the topic. Whereas short-term memory happens “on the fly” as events raise the topic, the transfer to long-term memory happens by design.  That is, the learner decides the importance and sets out to deliberately build long-term memory. To me this means identifying other information to integrate into the vision of the topic as I’ve chosen to call the outcome. In particular, this additional information should include contrasting viewpoints (e.g., if the initial short-term memory resulted from a cold-weather experience, then effort must be made to find comparable information related to the other seasonal weather experiences).
  • The transfer will improve when these additional sources enable the comparison of these viewpoints. Some outcomes will not vary with contrasting viewpoints, some will. Not only will the vision be more complete (helpful in subsequent use), I am convinced the vision will provide those “hooks” to provide recall from long-term memory.
  • it is important to remember that increasing the viewpoints will also help identify the “outliers” – those that don’t mesh with other viewpoints. The tendency is to immediately dismiss those viewpoints as flawed in some way, a distinct possibility. But it’s best, I suggest, to keep them included in the vision – identified as     appropriate. Subsequent discussion or application of the vision will provide input supporting the validity of the viewpoint or its classification as an outlier.
  • The considerations will enable that vision to reside in long-term memory. But now to what the late Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.” The vision demands regular assessment, starting with self-assessment of course: based upon additional viewpoints gathered as they are identified. But there is also a need for discussion with others. This discussion has many benefits: identification of inappropriate interpretations, of additional interpretations, and further reinforcement of those “hooks” to name just a few.
  • And of course, there is the ultimate reinforcement of and reason for developing this long-term memory: its application to address situations that make people’s lives better.  It’s reinforcement because not all applications will go as planned of course (maybe very few?) – more input to the refinement of the vision; and of course, this refinement emphasizes the hooks as well.

Summarizing then, there is apparently the most elementary levels of my “considerations” notion in short-term memory. However, it’s the conscious expansion of these considerations resulting in the vision, together with the assessing / refining of that vision through discussions with others and applications, that lead to valuable long-term memory. I trust this posting will prove of some value to you – in term of your understanding of short- and long-term memory. More importantly, possibly, this posting might provide input to the process / plan that I utilize when I “consider” a topic (memory) triggered by an article identified of value to me.



Being a proud “Papa” (as my grand children call me), I’ve of course had many opportunities to both observe them, and at time engage with them in their PLAY. It is a fascinating observation, one many if not all of you have experienced as well.

Probably my favorite recollection is the time everyone had gathered on our porch one warm summer day. As they typically did, the five grandchildren (probably about five to nine years old at the time) were off on their playing for that day. After a while, they came over to me and said: “Come with us, Papa. We need your help!” We went to the patio nearby (with an unpaved surface typically used for unpaved driveways). The following scenario was provided: There was an older man trapped below the surface – who the grandkids were working to rescue. Using Grandma’s gardening tools, they had dug a 3-inch diameter hole about six inches deep. [Aside: When our daughters were the same age, the patio surface was completely off limits for disturbances of any kind – as they both reminded us often!] There problem was that while they could hear the man calling out, they could dig no deeper!!! Perfect opportunity for some informal learning … We explored the new material and determined it was clay (as I had remembered was put there when the patio was constructed). We talked about the differences between the materials and other uses for clay. Ruling out their requested use of shovels and picks, they decided to tell the man he’d have to wait for help (?) to arrive – and went off to some other scenario; I went back to the porch and the adults …

In my university classes, I very frequently suggested to my students that they “PLAY” with the notion(s) we were exploring together. I’d briefly explain that this was an informal exploration of those notion(s) – “having some fun with the learning.” Unless questions / concerns were raised (rarely happened unfortunately …), I moved the classroom efforts on; sadly, my suggestion was certainly forgotten I’m sure. While I do believe in use of class time in any course to introduce, discuss, and even practice the habits important to deeper, effective learning in ALL courses, I did not do the same for this “playing.” That would change in any future opportunities I might get.

When I learned of the efforts of Aaron Maurer – including his “Play & Tinkering” Google+ Community, my considerations of the use of PLAY in learning ramped up quickly! So, thinking about the activity of play for youngsters briefly outlined above, what are (OR should be) the features that should be translated from the playground to the classroom? Let me suggest seven that come to mind:

The classroom efforts will or should be less prescriptive. Play is very loosely controlled; the learning is very much student-centered.
The level of minimally acceptable outcomes of play in the classroom will or should be lower. The expectations are much less threatening. Improvement is sought, not completed outcomes.
While real-world questions are indeed important to motivated engagement, reduced real-world insistence for play (following playground – “man trapped …”) can be good: the “model” developed need only enable some contribution to understanding.
More hands-on activity will or should be involved in the classroom. After all, the playground activity is not discussion dominated. This type of activity is very motivating with regard to student engagement in the entire deeper, effective learning effort.
The classroom play will or should be team oriented. Sure, there are times on the playground probably when one or more children on the swings are keeping to themselves. But it’s the interactions that enhance the innovation and excitement.
Because of the looser, more informal play in the classroom, it will or should include effective, deeper learning more naturally. This outcome, likely happening without consciously knowing it is, enables the teacher to mentor / facilitate with far better results. This is so much better than a teacher-presented overview followed by assignments to practice effective, deeper learning.
Because of the informal, laid-back, student-centered nature of classroom play, there will or should be varying paths or plans followed in these classroom activities. Through informal or formal sharing of efforts made by each team, there is an increased likelihood of more students being motivated and learning.

So there are the seven features that I believe translate from playground to classroom. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. Let me know your thoughts if you would. These and any others will be featured in any explicit attention to habits for lifelong, effective, deeper learning I have the opportunity to facilitate.

An Exciting Opportunity


For the past eight weeks or so, I have been participating in DLMOOC, an opportunity to explore Deeper Learning with many others similarly interested (and, yes, partially explaining – also had a total hip replacement – the lack of new posts from me).  It has been an incredible experience, grounded in the CONSIDERATIONS approach that I have offered and will continue to offer in this blog.

One of our final “assignments” was to reflect on our experiences. What follows below is my submission.

Deeper Learning & DLMOOC

Deeper Learning has always been important to me. My long-standing thesis is as follows: Effective learning (learning for longterm retention and is of application) is best facilitated when that learning is considered a problem to be solved. To me, this approach to learning thus includes: (1) clearly understanding the topics included and their importance; (2) accepting that there are hurdles and false starts to be overcome in these efforts; (3) there will be ongoing assessment of progress made / directions taken in organizing and understanding the material identified; (4) crucial dedicated efforts to understand the application of this material by others to real world situations AND the personal application of my understanding to other real world situations; and (5) the ongoing reflection, refinement, and documentation of both the understanding and the application of this material – for my personal use and potentially that of others. (Do you detect my personal OSCAR – Objective, Speed-bumps, Considerations, Answers, Reflections – problem solving procedure in this list?)

And I have been excited by this personal joy of deeper learning “because it’s important to me” as well as from the similar joy in others – friends, colleagues, and students. One former student that stands out in this regard is “Andy.” Andy was not only in my classes, he was also my advisee. I always looked forward to his frequent visits to my office – I rarely knew the agenda … “Dr.B, I was just at the dentist; while waiting, I was reading about the solar wind. I’ve got to learn more; are there courses or can you and I work on this together?” And we did … Andy would have been a great engineer; but his career goals evolved into education – including HS science with a determination to add a philosophy course to the electives (because he believes educated people should consider philosophy).

This DLMOOC opportunity has helped me refine my understanding of the importance of Deeper Learning to rewarding careers and personal lives – FOR EVERYONE!!! Will everyone make the effort? Sadly no, but that doesn’t reduce my commitment to help facilitate the efforts of those that buy into that importance. These DLMOOC activities have increased my desire for and capabilities to both encourage serious deeper learning and facilitate the skills enabling it to happen. AND the best part is that I’m promoting such an exciting opportunity (not selling snake oil)!!!

Being older than dirt (so old that when I was young, dirt was clear – not dirty yet), my opportunities are limited. Yes, I’ll continue my personal scholarship of deeper learning, PBL, team dynamics, … Yes, I’ll continue my CONSIDERATIONS blog (http://johncbennettjr.com ). Yes, I’ll seek opportunities to work with learners of all ages face-to-face, limited though they might be. Yes, I’ll continue to explore opportunities to engage in MOOCs similar to DLMOOC – most likely presently being some sort of professional development. Yes, I’ll continue my most recent passion, play and tinkering in effective learning, with e-colleagues such as Aaron Maurer met through DLMOOC. Yes, …

Oh, and yes, one more commitment: I am keenly aware of my advantages being emeritus faculty in enabling my broad participation in DLMOOC. I am determined to work with others to broaden the time available to teachers as well as other individuals for precisely the personal and interactive efforts promoted by DLMOOC events.

BOTTOM LINE: It is impossible for me to over-exaggerate the improved understanding of Deeper Learning and its importance to meaningful careers AND personal lives – my own and others’ – that comes from my participation. Thanks to all that made it possible.