Engineering design is not simply a useful tool for teaching science and mathematics content, but a unique discipline in which science and mathematics are employed as tools for solving design challenges. The UTeachEngineering project at The University of Texas, in partnership with NASA, has undertaken to demonstrate how rigorous engineering content can be deployed in secondary classrooms by developing and piloting Engineer Your World, a year-long high school engineering course built on a foundation of solid research in the learning sciences, couched in the context of a rigorous engineering design process and scaffolded to build engineering skills and habits of mind.
Engineer Your World actively engages students in authentic engineering practices to build engineering skills and habits of mind. The course scaffolds student learning over six units, each of which is structured as an engineering design challenge. The Engineer Your World classroom is a project-based environment in which approximately 80 percent of students’ time is spent in hands-on activity, and the balance is spent on documenting and reflecting on their work, preparing presentations and reports, and participating in direct instruction. Students in the course employ a standardized engineering design process to address design challenges that can only be completed through the purposeful application of engineering principles and relevant mathematics and science concepts. These concepts, which may include both prior knowledge and new knowledge, are employed when and only when they are necessary for students’ successful completion of the challenge at hand.
Prior to teaching Engineer Your World, teachers attend a targeted two-week professional development workshop designed to enhance both their engineering content knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge. The workshop, the content of which is aligned to the course and its underlying learning standards, is appropriate for teachers from diverse backgrounds. It emphasizes active engagement and problem solving, conveys clear ideas about effective teaching and learning, and offers participants frequent opportunities for critical reflection on teaching.
Once in the classroom, Engineer Your World teachers have access to additional support from virtual sources (e.g., online videos, discussion boards) and, for teachers involved in an upcoming pilot project with NASA engineers, in-person mentors. It is anticipated that many of these supporting resources will eventually be connected to one another and to the course content through a hybrid of a learning management system and an online collaboration tool.
Engineer Your World is being piloted by eight teachers with more than 230 students in seven Texas high schools during the 2011–2012 academic year. The pilot schools range from rural to suburban to urban, with student populations between 860 and 2800 students. The smallest pilot class has just seven students, while the largest has 30. Half of the pilot teachers have an engineering degree or engineering work experience. Teaching experience among pilot teachers ranges from two to 20 years.
All pilot teachers are participating in research and evaluation activities. Early feedback has come from examination of student artifacts and pre-/post-tests, evaluator-led focus group results, and informal feedback gathered during classroom visits. This information has led directly to such revisions as modifications of course scaffolding, reorganization of materials to support the development of engineering classroom norms, and initiation of efforts to develop validated assessment instruments.
The original target student audience for Engineer Your World was defined by the opportunity to which the UTeachEngineering project has responded: the approval of Engineering Design and Problem Solving to be offered for fourth-year science credit to students in an academic track in Texas. While Engineer Your World was developed assuming knowledge of Geometry, Algebra II, Chemistry and Physics, the development team has since identified adaptations that make the course appropriate for use with students in earlier high school grades.
Engineer Your World aligns with the emerging Next Generation Science Standards and is anticipated to satisfy all engineering learning requirements for high school students under those standards. During the 2012–2013 academic year, through a partnership with NASA, teachers in up to eight additional states will be paired with engineer mentors who will support them in offering Engineer Your World in urban, suburban, and rural settings; in comprehensive high schools and STEM academies; to single-gender and mixed-gender populations; and in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. Feedback from this effort will offer a broader picture of the course’s effectiveness in a variety of settings, allow for refinement of the mentorship model, and inform project decisions about courseware and online resources.
For More Information
For detailed information about the course development and the underlying research- and practice-based design principles, as well as a view into the course content and future plans, please see:
- Farmer, C., Allen, D., Berland, L., Crawford, R., and Guerra, L. (2012). Engineer Your World: An Innovative Approach to Developing a High School Engineering Design Course. American Society for Engineering Education: accepted for publication in annual conference proceedings.
For a contextualized exploration of the research- and practice-based course design principles, please see:
- Berland, L., Allen, D., Crawford, R., Farmer, C., and Guerra, L. (2012). Learning Sciences Guided High School Engineering Curriculum Development. American Society for Engineering Education: accepted for publication in annual conference proceedings.
For an explanation of the design process underlying the course content, please see:
- Guerra, L., Allen, D., Berland, L., Crawford, R., and Farmer, C. (2012). A Unique Approach to Characterizing the Engineering Design Process. American Society for Engineering Education: accepted for publication in annual conference proceedings.
This work was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award DUE-0831811). Support was also provided by NASA through an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement.