K-12 Engineering Education

National interest in K-12 engineering education has been growing. Yet, despite the growing prevalence of engineering standards in most states, it is estimated that only a small percentage of K–12 students are exposed to engineering-related coursework in school. Many students and even some teachers are confused about what exactly engineering is.

This Spotlight provides examples of NSF-funded programs that show promise for educating future generations of scientifically literate and engineering-talented adults.

(sorted by grade level, with associated resources)

Pre-Kindergarten Level

Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering: Refining and Testing a Co-constructed Curriculum Approach with Head Start Partners
PI: Christine McWayne, Tufts University
Building upon prior research on Head Start curriculum, this phase of Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering (RISE) will expand to include classroom coaches and community experts to enable implementation and assessment of RISE in a larger sample of classrooms. The goal is to improve school readiness for culturally and linguistically diverse, urban-residing children from low-income families, and the focus on science, technology, and engineering will address a gap in early STEM education.
Recent Publication: Family-school partnerships in a context of urgent engagement: Rethinking models, measurement, and meaningfulness

Elementary School Level

CAREER: Community-Based Engineering as a Learning and Teaching Strategy for Pre-service Urban Elementary Teachers
PI: Kristen Wendell, University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMass Boston)
This is a Faculty Early Career Development project aimed at developing, implementing, and assessing a model that introduces novice elementary school teachers (grades 1-6) to community-based engineering design as a strategy for teaching and learning in urban schools. Reflective of the new Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012), the model addresses key crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and scientific and engineering practices.
Resource: Poster

Design Technology and Engineering Education for English Learner Students: Project DTEEL
Rebecca Callahan, University of Texas Austin
One significant challenge facing elementary STEM education is the varied preparation of English-language learners. This project addresses this with an innovative use of engineering curriculum to build on the English-language learners' prior experiences. This project supports teachers' learning about strategies for teaching English-language learners and using engineering design tasks as learning opportunities for mathematics, science and communication skills.
Resource: Poster

Developing Integrated Elementary Science, Engineering, and Language Arts Curricula Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards
Hasan Deniz, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)
This project is conducting a study to develop and field-test curricula integrating science, engineering, and language arts at the elementary level which is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Exploring the Efficacy of Engineering is Elementary (E4)
Christine Cunningham, Museum of Science
This project is developing evidence about the efficacy of the Engineering is Elementary curriculum under ideal conditions by studying the student and teacher-level effects of implementation. The project seeks to determine the core elements of the curriculum that support successful use. The findings from this study have broad implications for how engineering design curricular can be developed and implemented at the elementary level.
Resources: Poster | Project Website | Video
Multimedia Engineering Notebook Tools to Support Engineering Discourse in Urban Elementary School Classrooms (Collaborative Research: PaughWright)
Patricia Paugh, University of Massachusetts Boston and Christopher Wright, University of Tennessee Knoxville
This collaborative, exploratory, learning strand project focuses on improving reflective decision-making among elementary school students during the planning and re-design activities of the engineering design process. Five teacher researchers in three elementary schools provide the classroom laboratories for the study. Specified units from Engineering is Elementary, a well-studied curriculum, provide the engineering content.
Resource: Poster 
Understanding Space Through Engineering Design investigates how engaging K-5 children from underrepresented populations in the design of packages, maps, and mechanisms supports the development of spatial reasoning and spatial mathematics. The prime conjecture is that engineering design makes spatial mathematics more tangible and purposeful, and that systematic support for spatial reasoning and mathematics, in turn, influences the nature of children's designs and their understanding of how those designs work.
Resource: Poster 

Elementary & Middle School Levels

Integrating Engineering and Literacy
Chris Rogers, Tufts University
This project is developing and testing curriculum materials and a professional development model designed to explore the potential for introducing engineering concepts in grades 3 - 5 through design challenges based on stories in popular children's literature. The research team hypothesizes that professional development for elementary teachers using an interdisciplinary method for combining literature with engineering design challenges will increase the implementation of engineering in 3-5 classrooms and have positive impacts on students.
Resources: Poster | Project Website | Video
Recent Publications: Stable Beginnings in Engineering Design | A Novel Way to Teach Kids About Engineering

Middle School Level

DIMEs: Immersing Teachers and Students in Virtual Engineering Internships
Jacqueline Barber, University of California Berkeley
This project provides curricular and pedagogical support by developing and evaluating teacher-ready curricular Digital Internship Modules for Engineering (DIMEs). DIMES will be designed to support middle school science teachers in providing students with experiences that require students to use engineering design practices and science understanding to solve a real-world problem, thereby promoting a robust understanding of science and engineering, and motivating students to increased interest in science and engineering.
Resources: Poster | Video

Engineering for All (EfA)
Michael Hacker, Hofstra University
This project creates, tests and revises two-six week prototypical modules for middle school technology education classes, using the unifying themes and important social contexts of food and water. The modules employ engineering design as the core pedagogy and integrate content and practices from the standards for college and career readiness.
Using design-based research, with teachers as design partners, the project will create and refine project-based, hands-on robotics curricula such that science and math content inherent in robotics and related engineering design practices are learned. To provide teachers with effective models to capitalize on robotics for elucidating science and math concepts, a design-based Professional Development program will be built using principles of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK).
Resources: Poster | Project Website
Recent Publications: Towards teleoperation-based interactive learning of robot kinematics using a mobile augmented reality interface on a tablet | Interactive mobile interface with augmented reality for learning digital control concepts
Tools for Teaching and Learning Engineering Practices: Pathways Towards Productive Identity Work in Engineering
Angela Calabrese Barton, Michigan State University
Identifying with engineering is critical to help students pursue engineering careers. This project responds to this persistent large-scale problem. The I-Engineering framework and tools address both the learning problem (supporting students in learning engineering design) and the identity problem (supporting students in recognizing that they belong in engineering). 

Middle, High & Post-Secondary Levels

CAREER: Scaffolding Engineering Design to Develop Integrated STEM Understanding with WISEngineering
Jennifer Chiu, University of Virginia
The development of six curricular projects that integrate mathematics based on the Common Core Mathematics Standards with science concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards combined with an engineering design pedagogy is the focus of this CAREER project.

Changing Culture in Robotics Classroom (Collaborative Research: Schunn | Shoop)
Christian Schunn, University of Pittsburgh and Robin Shoop, Carnegie Mellon University
Computational and algorithmic thinking are new basic skills for the 21st century. Unfortunately few K-12 schools in the United States offer significant courses that address learning these skills. However many schools do offer robotics courses. These courses can incorporate computational thinking instruction but frequently do not. This research project aims to address this problem by developing a comprehensive set of resources designed to address teacher preparation, course content, and access to resources.
Resources: Project Website
Recent Publication: Case studies of a robot-based game to shape interests and hone proportional reasoning skills
InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment
Ethan Danahy, Tufts University
This project designs, constructs, and field-tests a web-based, online collaborative environment for supporting the teaching and learning of inquiry-based high school physics. Based on an interactive digital workbook environment, the team is customizing the platform to include scaffolds and other supports for learning physics, fostering interaction and collaboration within the classroom, and facilitating a design-based approach to scientific experiments.
Resources: Project Website

High School-Level

An Examination of Science and Technology Teachers' Conceptual Learning Through Concept-Based Engineering Professional Development
Rodney Custer, Black Hills State University
This project will determine the viability of an engineering concept-based approach to teacher professional development for secondary school science teachers in life science and in physical science. The project refines the conceptual base for engineering at the secondary level learning to increase the understanding of engineering concepts by the science teachers. The hypothesis is that when teachers and students engage with engineering design activities their understanding of science concepts and inquiry are also enhanced. 

Engineering Teacher Pedagogy: Using INSPIRES to Support Integration of Engineering Design in Science and Technology Classrooms
PI: Julia Ross, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
This Engineering Teacher Pedagogy project implements and assesses the promise of an extended professional development model coupled with curriculum enactment to develop teacher pedagogical skills for integrating engineering design into high school biology and technology education classrooms.

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Chiu | Magana-de-Leon | Xie)
Jennifer Chiu, University of Virginia and Alejandra Magana-de-Leon, Purdue University and Qian Xie, Concord Consortium
This project investigates how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment.
Resources: Poster