Exploring Content Standards for K-12 Engineering Education

 Project Summary
Workshop Agenda
 National Academy of Engineering

Recently, considerable national attention has focused on the role of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in supporting the United States’ high, standard of living and capacity for innovation. Although much less developed as a school subject than its three STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) counterparts, engineering is gaining ground as a content area in the K-12 classroom. Numerous programs around the country, some of them quite large (e.g., Project Lead the Way, Infinity Project, Engineering is Elementary, Engineering by Design, Children Designing and Engineering), are developing and delivering curriculum and teacher education in engineering at the pre-college level.  

One of the foundations of systemic improvement in U.S. education has been the development and implementation of rigorously developed content standards. Such standards exist in K-12 science, mathematics, and technology education, but not in engineering.  As the number of K-12 engineering curriculum development efforts grows and policy makers look more closely at the potential of engineering education for enhancing student achievement in the STEM subjects, the absence of standards will become more problematic. The difficulty of developing such standards should not be underestimated, however. Experience in mathematics, science, and technology education suggests the process of standards creation takes significant funding, strong leadership, and the organized efforts of dozens if not hundreds of individuals over a period of many years. The development of content standards for engineering education at the K-12 level will face additional challenges. For example, there is little research suggesting what the core concepts and capabilities are in engineering or how these concepts and capabilities might translate across the span of ages in K-12.  An additional challenge will be determining how the content of engineering standards ought to relate to the content in existing standards for mathematics, science, and technology.  

The goal of this project is to assess the potential value and feasibility of developing and implementing content standards for engineering education in K-12. It has the following specific objectives:

  1.  The project will take place over an 18-month period and will include the commissioning of several background papers, a workshop, three meetings of the project committee, and publication and dissemination of a workshop report. 
  2. Review existing efforts to define what K-12 students should know and be able to do related to engineering, both in the United States and other nations.
  3. Identify elements of existing standards documents for K-12 science, mathematics, and technology that could link to engineering.
  4. Consider how the various possible purposes for K-12 engineering education might affect the content and implementation of standards.
  5. Suggest what changes to educational policies, programs, and practices at the national and state levels might be needed to develop and successfully implement K-12 engineering standards. 

The project is overseen by the 13-member NAE Committee K-12 Engineering Standards, chaired by NAE member Robert White, Carnegie Mellon University (emeritus). The committee includes classroom teachers, engineers, individuals with experience in K-12 standards development, representatives from industry, and an expert in the cognitive sciences. Funded for the project is provided by the National Science Foundation with additional support from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Parametric Technologies Corp. 

Workshop on Standards for K-12 Engineering Education
Additional Information on the project
Study Director for the project is Greg Pearson.