Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

By Metz, Steve | The Science Teacher, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions


Metz, Steve, The Science Teacher


When I was in high school many years ago, I had no idea what an engineer was. I was good in science and math, and yet no teacher or guidance counselor ever suggested that I might consider becoming an engineer. My experience was similar to that of agricultural engineer Erin Webb, featured in the Career of the Month column in this issue (p. 60), with one crucial difference: Her high school math teacher suggested she try engineering.

I was thinking about this as I was putting together this issue of The Science Teacher. It got me wondering about how well our current generation of young people understand the field of engineering and whether they appreciate how science and engineering are different.

Two science and engineering practices (SEPs) from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) encapsulate the essential differences between science and engineering:

* Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

* Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

Science is all about asking questions and constructing explanations, while engineering focuses on defining problems and designing solutions. I think of science as the quest for timeless truths and engineering as the search for design solutions to problems rooted in a particular time and situation, even though the resulting technologies can have long-lasting impact.

To be sure, there is overlap. …

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