Last Thursday, Chancellor Linda Katehi testified before the President’s Council on Science and Technology to ask for the implementation of engineering courses in K-12 schools.
Katehi is chair of the Committee on Understanding and Improving K-12 Engineering Education in the United States. She presented a report on engineering education authored by the committee.
The report centers on the findings that engineering applications can provide a more in-depth understanding of science and mathematics classes. It cites a 2007 study that found that students who learned about engineering in school had significantly higher math and science test scores.
“One implication of implementing additional engineering efforts into middle schools may be a lessening of dropouts due to meeting the learning styles of all students,” said Lynn Basham, state specialist for technology education at the Virginia Department of Education. “Providing real world applications of theory is extremely valuable in transfer of learning.”
Katehi believes this implication is one of the main reasons why a program for K-12 students should be implemented.
“By providing a K-12 engineering experience, it can help students comprehend math and science better,” Katehi said. “Through an engineering design, math and science become more relevant.”
The report also lays out a recommended curriculum that K-12 schools could use to implement such a program. It suggests teaching engineering concepts, such as systems and design, and utilizing hands-on tools like a 10-speed bike or a handheld eggbeater to understand these concepts.
A primary concern of the committee’s would revolve around the incorporation of engineering impacting the already rigorous math and science curriculum. Greg Pearson, senior program officer from the National Academy of Engineering indicates that the program does not call for a new subject, but assimilation.
“Our project suggested that engineering should not be simply another new thing added on,” Pearson said. “Rather, we suggest it is possible to incorporate engineering design and other ideas from engineering into existing subjects, including math and science, in ways that actually support learning in these subjects and do not add an extra burden on the teacher or on the school day.”
It is also important to teach engineering so that students who have an interest in engineering can have the foundation prior to entrance into university, Katehi said. This would assist in their learning experience in college and help to solidify scientific and mathematical concepts.
Katehi suggests that the cost of implementing such a program would require being able to provide teachers who have the background to relate such material. In addition, standards need to be defined instead of pure integration into the curriculum; these standards would be what teachers needed to work by to incorporate the subject.
Both Katehi and Pearson agree that teaching engineering at an early age will not only benefit future technology, but will also help to develop and enhance young students’ minds.
“Humans are natural engineers,” Pearson said. “From a very young age, we learn to build things, explore how devices work, figure out ways to solve problems and play in creative ways to work our world a more interesting place to live. This program can enhance most natural human tendencies while developing the brains of K-12 students and maximizing their educational experience.”
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