Our world is becoming more complex, interconnected, and dependent on technology. To succeed and prosper in this century, America needs not only a robust science and engineering workforce, but also a technologically and scientifically literate population. A big component of this literacy is understanding, at a basic level, what engineering is and what engineers do.
A small, but growing percentage of U.S. students have the opportunity to study engineering during their elementary or secondary school years. Research on the effectiveness of these experiences on student learning, interest, and motivation suggests there are real benefits of incorporating engineering experiences into PreK-12 education.
Students engaged in solving engineering or engineering-like problems can learn math and science concepts and skills easier and retain them better. This is because these types of experiences provide real-world context for what may otherwise be abstract concepts.
Engineering design experiences encourage mathematical thinking. Some studies have shown that students who participate in these kinds of experiences perform better on measures related to “process” than students who do not. This would indicate that engineering experience help learners develop deeper understanding of skills like math problem solving or science inquiry – rather than simply memorizing facts and operations.
Successful experiences provide students with multiple opportunities to discuss and try design ideas. These, in turn can stimulate discussions about math or science concepts.
Engineering design is an iterative, open-ended, problem-solving method. Communicating and helping students understand and develop the skills to use this method is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of “teaching” engineering experiences. Once students have grasped this systematic approach to problems, they can develop confidence in their own ability to learn, to design, and to make a difference.
From an interview with Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer
Design experiences can not only help build student confidence, but also provide learners with practical experience and a process with which they tackle new and unfamiliar problems. In addition, the habits of mind cultivated through the engineering design process will help children succeed in any number of careers.
The economic competitiveness or the United States depends in large part on our ability to attract, train, and retain highly qualified, creative scientists and engineers in a variety of fields.
“It takes a lot of third-graders to produce one contributing research scientist or engineer and a very long time to do it.”
Norman R Augustine in Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
Increasing awareness of engineering and the work of engineers is a great benefit to society. It helps students (and their families) appreciate how engineering and science contribute to our economy, security, health, and quality of life.
From an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City
Several studies have shown that students who participate in PreK-12 engineering experiences are more likely to consider engineering (or related) careers. It follows then, that engineering experiences in elementary school could help encourage students to elect to take the math and science courses needed to pursue such a career. These experiences also help students develop essential skills that they will need throughout their lives.
Recognizing technology and how technology is created is an essential aspect of technological literacy. A technologically literate person understands the essential nature of technology and how it influences society. He or she recognizes the factors that shape technology – including systems, trade-offs, and intended and unintended consequences.
From the last interview with Carl Sagan by Charlie Rose on May 27, 1996
PreK-12 engineering experiences provide engaging opportunities for students to explore technology. Studies have shown that students exposed to these types of experiences have a broader and more accurate conception of technology.