Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Core Ideas of Engineering and Technology: Understanding a Framework for K--12 Science Education

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Core Ideas of Engineering and Technology: Understanding a Framework for K--12 Science Education

Article excerpt

Last month, Rodger Bybee's article, "Scientific and Engineering Practices in K--12 Classrooms," provided an overview of Chapter 3 in A Framework for K--12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2011). Chapter 3 describes the practices of science and engineering that students are expected to develop during 13 years of schooling and emphasizes the similarities between science and engineering.

This article addresses Chapter 8 of the Framework, which presents core ideas in technology and engineering at the same level as core ideas in the traditional science fields, such as Newton's laws of motion and the theory of biological evolution. Although prior standards documents included references to engineering and technology, they tended to be separate from the "core content" of science, so they were often overlooked.

Giving equal status to engineering and technology raises a number of important issues for curriculum developers and teachers, a few of which I will discuss in this article:

* How does the Framework define science, engineering, and technology?

* What are the core ideas in Chapter 8?

* Why is there increased emphasis on engineering and technology?

* Is it redundant to have engineering practices and core ideas?

* Do we need to have special courses to teach these core ideas?

* Will teachers need special training?

* What will it look like in the classroom?

How does the Framework define science, engineering, and technology?

The meaning of these terms is summarized in the first chapter of the Framework as follows:

In the K--12 context, "science" is generally taken to mean the traditional natural sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, and (more recently) Earth, space, and environmental sciences. ... We use the term "engineering" in a very broad sense to mean any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems. Likewise, we broadly use the term "technology" to include all types of human-made systems and processes--not in the limited sense often used in schools that equates technology with modern computational and communications devices. Technologies result when engineers apply their understanding of the natural world and of human behavior to design ways to satisfy human needs and wants. (NRC 2011, pp. 1-3, 4)


Notice that engineering is not defined as applied science. Although the practices of engineering have much in common with the practices of science, engineering is a distinct field and has certain core ideas that are different from those of science. Given the need to limit the number of standards so that the task for teachers and students is manageable, just two core ideas are proposed in Chapter 8. The first concerns ideas about engineering design that were not addressed in Chapter 3, and the second concerns the links among engineering, technology, science, and society.

What are the core ideas in Chapter 8?

As with core ideas in the major science disciplines, the two core ideas related to engineering and technology are first stated broadly, followed by grade band endpoints to specify what additional aspects of the core idea students are expected to learn at each succeeding level. Following are brief excerpts from the rich descriptions in the Framework:

Core Idea 1: Engineering Design

From a teaching and learning point of view, it is the iterative cycle of design that offers the greatest potential for applying science knowledge in the classroom and engaging in engineering practices. The components of this core idea include understanding how engineering problems are defined and delimited, how models can be used to develop and refine possible solutions to a design problem, and what methods can be employed to optimize a design. (NRC 2011, p. 8-1)

* By the end of second grade, students are expected to understand that engineering problems may have more than one solution and that some solutions are better than others. …

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