Getting the Word Out
Richards, Larry G., ASEE Prism
LAST YEAR, ASEE approved a new division in record time. The K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Division attracted over 400 members in its first year. This division draws together a community of engineering and technology educators who have been active in this area for many years, as well as other ASEE members who are just getting involved. In 2002, ASEE established an Engineering K12 Center, led by Eric Iversen, to assemble and provide access to available resources for teachers, students and engineering educators. The center has sponsored three K-12 workshops at ASEE annual conferences. A fourth will be held in Hawaii in June.
Why are engineering educators interested in K-12 outreach? We are responding to a recognized national crisis. There are serious problems in science, technology, engineering and math education, as reflected in (1) declining enrollments of U.S. students in engineering programs; (2) under-representation of women and minorities in engineering schools and in the profession; (3) poor performance of U.S. high school students on science and math tests in comparison to the rest of the industrial world (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study); and (4) widespread technological illiteracy. Although the use of technology permeates our everyday lives, few Americans understand how that technology works. Many of today's political issues involve technology in some way. To maintain an informed electorate, every student needs an understanding of what technology can and cannot do.
Even among students who enroll in engineering, there is little initial awareness of what engineers do or how important engineering is to modern society. The engineering design process is a unique style of thinking; it requires creativity, problem solving, analysis, critical thinking and teamwork. Engineering education initiatives in K-12 classrooms can serve as a vehicle for teaching these skills and integrating science, math, technology, writing and many other subjects into practical lessons that relate to students' everyday lives.
What is already going on? Many exciting K-12 outreach activities are happening at all grade levels. Programs that emphasize the unique nature of engineering include Learning by Design (Janet Kolodner, Georgia Tech); Teach Engineering (Jackie Sullivan, Colorado, see Last Word, page 68); the Center for Engineering Education Outreach (Chris Rogers, Tufts); the Center for Pre-College Programs (Howard Kimmel, NJIT); Engineering on the Road K-12 Outreach Program (Laura Bottomley, NCSU); Engineering K-Ph. …