A Disturbing Post From ASEE On K-12 Engineering Education

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

From ASEE Connections of 06/23/15:

PURDUE STUDY FINDS K-12 ENGINEERING PROGRAMS LACKING
“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…

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