Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Engineering Excellence

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Engineering Excellence

Article excerpt

"E" is the sometimes forgotten vowel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. But this may soon change, due in part to the central role that engineering practices play in both the recent A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the soon-to-be-released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Including engineering in our science classes presents challenges, but the transition may be less difficult than it appears. Helping students learn about engineering practices and the human-built world has always been part of good science instruction, and the Framework and NGSS can be read as simply advocating that teachers make this central component explicit. Any time we ask students to design an inquiry-based investigation, aren't we really asking them to tackle a problem; design, build, and test possible solutions; think about constraints such as time, availability, cost, and waste disposal; and consider trade-offs, costs, and benefits--in short, to engineer a solution?

Science and engineering aren't identical. They differ in their goals--science searches for evidence-based explanations of natural phenomena, and engineering creates new products and processes in response to human needs--but their practices are complementary. Both scientists and engineers begin with questions or problems, construct models, conduct investigations, analyze data, use mathematics, employ reasoning and argument to identify the best explanations or solutions, and communicate their findings clearly and persuasively.

A recent report identifies engineering "habits of mind" that align with essential 21st-century skills and resonate with science practices: systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration, communication, and ethical considerations. …

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