Greg Pearson Scholar National Academy of Engineering

The Role of Research in K12 Engineering Education

PostedFriday, May 19, 2017 at 12:00 PM

In my years leading NAE projects in K-12 engineering education, I have run across many well-intentioned programs with ambitious visions that fail to include a research element to determine if their innovations actually are achieving their goals.  Thus I was delighted to learn that LinkEngineering member Christine Cunningham, who directs the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program at the Museum of Science, Boston, was just awarded the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.  

Christine and her team were one of the first to collect data on how students and teachers understand (or do not understand) engineering, and these findings helped shape early versions of the program. EiE has consistently used rigorous research methods, including extensive field testing, to demonstrate how the EiE curriculum is meeting its goals of supporting STEM learning and inspiring all children to see themselves as engineers. Like many of the best engineering curriculum projects, EiE emphasizes contextual and hands-on learning experiences, but it also ties in reading literacy and integrates science concepts, making it more useful and accessible to elementary teachers. EiE’s extensive use of field testing and close work with teachers has helped the project successfully scale. There are now EiE classrooms in every state.  

Education research is tricky, because of the large number of variables that contribute to or hinder student interest, motivation, and learning. Doing good research takes time, expertise, and resources, as well as patience; some of the most important findings may require years of data collection. Despite the challenges, all those interested in improving the quality of K12 STEM education, and K12 engineering education in particular, should tip their hat to the likes of Christine, who provide a model for what evidence-based education reform can look like.

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