Implementing K–12 Engineering Standards through STEM Integration

Tamara Moore

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) integration at the K–12 level is gaining national and international attention. Many U.S. national documents have laid the foundation for the connections between the disciplines. Engineering can be considered the integrator in STEM integration. However, a clear definition or tradition of what constitutes a quality engineering education at the K–12 level has not been established. At the college level, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has guided the development of engineering programs through its accreditation process, but there is no similar process at the K–12 level. As a result, we are left with a number of questions about the best methods by which to effectively teach engineering at the K–12 level and how that plays into the integration of the other STEM disciplines.

The purpose of the current research has been the development of a framework for describing and evaluating engineering at the K–12 level in order to help further our understanding and development of robust engineering and STEM education standards and initiatives. A Framework for Quality K–12 Engineering Education is the result of a larger research project focused on understanding how engineering and engineering design are implemented in K–12 classrooms at the classroom, school, district and state levels. The framework is designed as a tool for evaluating the degree to which academic standards, curricula, and teaching practices address the important components of a quality K–12 engineering education.

Development of the K–12 Framework for Engineering
The framework’s key indicators for a quality K–12 engineering education were determined based on an extensive review of the literature, established criterion for undergraduate and professional organizations, and in consultation with experts in the fields of engineering and engineering education. The order of the key indicators within the framework was carefully chosen based on the degree to which the benchmark is unique or central to engineering as compared to other disciplines. Key indicators that appear near the beginning (e.g., Processes of Design) are thought to be defining characteristics of engineering. Whereas, key indicators that appear later (e.g., Communication), although essential for engineering education, are concepts that are required for success in multiple disciplines.

An abbreviated form of A Framework for Quality K–12 Engineering Education is below:

  • Process of Design (Comp-POD): Design processes are at the center of engineering practice. Solving engineering problems is an iterative process involving preparing, planning, and evaluating the solution. Students should understand design by participating in:
    • Problem & Background (POD-PB): Identification or formulation of engineering problems, and research and learning activities necessary to gain background knowledge.
    • Plan & Implement (POD-PI): Brainstorming, developing multiple solutions, and judging the relative importance of constraints and the creation of a prototype, model, or other product.
    • Test & Evaluate (POD –TE): Generating testable hypotheses and designing experiments to gather data that should be used to evaluate the prototype or solution, and to use this feedback in redesign.
  • Apply Science, Engineering, and Math Knowledge (SEM): The practice of engineering requires the application of science, mathematics, and engineering knowledge, and engineering education at the K–12 level should emphasize this interdisciplinary nature.
  • Engineering Thinking (EThink): Students should be independent and reflective thinkers capable of seeking out new knowledge and learning from failure when problems within engineering contexts arise.
  • Conceptions of Engineers & Engineering (CEE): K–12 students not only need to participate in an engineering process, but they must also understand what an engineer does.
  • Engineering Tools & Processes (ETool): Students studying engineering need to become familiar and proficient in the processes, techniques, skills, and tools engineers use in their work.
  • Issues, Solutions & Impacts (ISI): To solve complex and multidisciplinary problems, students need to be able to understand the impact of their solutions on current issues and vice versa.
  • Ethics (Ethics): Students should consider ethical situations inherent in the practice of engineering.
  • Teamwork (Team): In K–12 engineering education, it is important to develop students’ abilities to participate as a contributing team member.
  • Engineering Communication (Comm-Engr): Communication is the ability of a student to effectively take in information and to relay understandings to others in an engineering context.

Potential Applications
The framework has uses as an evaluation and development tool for policy and research regarding K–12 engineering and STEM education. Additionally, the framework can be useful for curriculum development both for the development of units of instruction and for the development of scope and sequencing throughout the K–12 curriculum. As part of this work, a set of curriculum materials called PictureSTEM are in various stages of development for grades K–5. These materials use the framework to guide their development. There is also the potential for using this framework as a guide for school-level engineering education reform.

For More Information
Moore, T. J., Tank, K. M., Glancy, A. W., Kersten, J. A., & Ntow, F. D. (2013). The status of engineering in the current K–12 state science standards (Research to Practice). Scientific paper to be presented at the 2013 American Society of Engineering Education, Atlanta, GA.

Tank, K. M., Moore, T. J., Pettis, C., & Fehr, A. (in press). Designing animal habitats with kindergartners: Hamsters, picture books, and engineering design. Science and Children.

PictureSTEM curricula can be found at Contact Tamara Moore at with questions regarding the overall work from the CAREER STEM Integration project.