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What the E? A Modern Understanding of Engineering in STEAM

Session 5
Sylvia Martinez

Engineering is a confusing topic for many educators. It is one of the components of STEAM education, but many educators do not know what engineering really means. Is it a job? Is it simply hands-on science? Do you need a special curriculum? Is it only for high school students who are thinking of engineering as a college major?

We know that early experiences are crucial for children’s identity as being interested in STEM, yet we also know that many elementary educators don’t feel like they understand what scientists do, much less engineers. Adding to this is the fact that elementary education majors have one of the highest self-ratings of math anxiety of any major. How can schools address teachers’ reluctance, even anxiety, about these topics?

The Next Generation Science Standards state that for modern science courses, engineering design should be elevated to the same level as the scientific method – yet there are few resources that really explain what that means. Does that mean in all science courses K-12? If this is new, what does it replace? New ISTE standards emphasize programming and real world experiences, which are the heart of all modern engineering projects and key to inclusive experiences for underserved populations. The 2016 NMC Horizon Report forecasting emerging trends for K-12 education mentions engineering in nearly every section, including augmented reality, adaptive computing, wearable technology, artificial intelligence (knowledge engineering), and robotics.

The question is – are we ready, and if not, what needs to be done?

Conversational Practice

As you can see, the proposal is mostly questions. I plan to present very little, because there will be a lot of educators at Educon who are grappling with this in their own schools. I will talk a bit about my own experiences as a woman engineer, and how I narrowly threaded the needle of expectations about who gets to be an engineer.

I’d like to hear from any participants who do have engineering in their schools, how they feel it integrates with other subjects, who teaches it and when, and if it’s inclusive and open to non-typical students. Then I think that a discussion about needs of those who are in schools where engineering is already taught vs. those who are not would be interesting. I’d also love for there to be someone from SLA to help explain how you have tackled it.

I think this could easily be captured in a wiki or Google doc, as people discuss the different aspects.

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