Public Release:  K-12 education should include engineering

National Academy of Sciences

WASHINGTON -- The introduction of K-12 engineering education has the potential to improve student learning and achievement in science and mathematics, increase awareness about what engineers do and of engineering as a potential career, and boost students' technological literacy, according to a new report from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. The report examines the status and nature of efforts to teach engineering in U.S. schools.

"The problem solving, systems thinking, and teamwork aspects of engineering can benefit all students, whether or not they ever pursue an engineering career," said Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "A K-12 education that does not include at least some exposure to engineering is a lost opportunity for students and for the nation."

Engineering education at the K-12 level should emphasize engineering design and a creative problem-solving process, the committee said. It should include relevant concepts in mathematics, science, and technology, as well as support the development of skills many believe essential for the 21st century, including systems thinking, collaboration, and communication.

While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instruction is collectively referred to as "STEM education," the report finds that the engineering component is often absent in policy discussions and in the classroom. In fact, engineering might be called the missing letter in STEM, the report says.

In preparing the report, the committee conducted an in-depth analysis of 15 K-12 engineering curricula; reviewed scientific literature related to learning engineering concepts and skills; evaluated evidence on the impact of K-12 engineering education initiatives; and collected preliminary information about pre-collegiate engineering education programs in other countries.

The committee found that engineering education opportunities in K-12 schools have expanded considerably in the past 15 years. Since the early 1990s, the report estimates, about 6 million children have been exposed to some formal engineering coursework. However, this number is still small compared with the overall number of students in K-12 schools (approximately 56 million in 2008). The committee noted that many challenges remain to expanding the availability and improving the quality of these programs, including the absence of content standards to guide development of instructional materials, limited pre-service education for engineering teachers, and structural and policy impediments to including this new subject in an already crowded school curriculum.

With these challenges in mind, the committee recommended that:

  • the National Science Foundation or U.S. Department of Education fund research to determine how science inquiry and mathematical reasoning can be connected to engineering design in curricula and professional development;
  • foundations and federal agencies with an interest in K-12 engineering education conduct long-term research to confirm and refine findings of studies of the impacts of engineering education;
  • the American Society of Engineering Education begin a national dialogue on preparing K-12 engineering teachers, and on the pros and cons of establishing a formal credentialing process; and
  • philanthropic foundations or federal agencies with an interest in STEM education and school reform identify models of implementation for K-12 engineering education that will work for different American school systems.

The committee also noted the importance of clarifying the meaning of "STEM literacy" and of developing curricula that would particularly appeal to groups typically underrepresented in engineering, such as girls, African Americans, and Hispanics.

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The study was sponsored by Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., chairman (ret.) and director, Bechtel Group Inc., with additional support from the National Science Foundation and Parametric Technology Inc. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of ENGINEERING IN K-12 EDUCATION: UNDERSTANDING THE STATUS AND IMPROVING THE PROSPECTS are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at HTTP://WWW.NAP.EDU. In addition, a podcast of the public briefing held on Sept. 8 to release this report is available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG/PODCAST.

[ This news release and report are available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG ]

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING AND NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education Board on Science Education

COMMITTEE ON UNDERSTANDING AND IMPROVING K-12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES

LINDA P.B. KATEHI * (CHAIR)
Chancellor
Office of the Chancellor and Provost
University of California Davis

LYNN BASHAM
Specialist for Technology Education
Virginia Department of Education
Richmond

M. DAVID BURGHARDT
Professor and Chair of Engineering, and Co-Director
Center for Technological Literacy
Hofstra University
Hempstead, N.Y.

KATHLEEN CONN
Assistant Professor
Neumann College
Aston, Penn.

ALAN G. GOMEZ
Engineering Instructor
Sun Prairie High School
Sun Prairie, Wis.

CRAIG KESSELHEIM
Senior Associate
Great Schools Partnership in Maine
Portland

MICHAEL C. LACH
Officer, High School Teaching and Learning
Chicago Public Schools
Chicago

RICHARD LEHRER
Professor
Department of Teaching and Learning
Peabody College
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tenn.

DEBORAH MCGRIFF
Partner
NewSchools Venture Fund
Boston

ROLAND J. OTTO
Director
Education Outreach and the Global Teacher Academy
Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics
University of California
Berkeley

RICHARD J. SCHAAR
Executive Adviser
Texas Instruments
Plano

MARK SCHROLL
Program Coordinator
Kern Family Foundation
Waukesha, Wis.

CHRISTIAN D. SCHUNN
Associate Professor
Learning Research and Development Center
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

JACQUELYN F. SULLIVAN
Associate Dean for Student Cultivation
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado
Boulder

ROBIN WILLNER
Vice President of Global Community Initiatives
IBM Corp.
Armonk, N.Y.

STAFF

GREG PEARSON
Study Director
National Academy of Engineering

* Member, National Academy of Engineering

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