Engineering Education

National interest in K–12 engineering education has been growing, especially since engineering was included in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Yet, there is a need for more research, professional development, curricula, and assessments. The National Science Foundation has been addressing this need, in part, through the DRK–12 program.

This Spotlight features NSF-funded and evidence-based programs, approaches, and resources that show promise for educating future engineers and scientifically literate adults.

In This Spotlight


Community Voice: New Directions for Engineering Education Research—Building the K–12 Agenda

Christine Cunningham, PreK-12 Engineering & Science Educator

Christine CunninghamTwo decades ago when I started thinking about doing engineering with K–12 students, it was a new idea and there was paucity of research in this area. Conducting a literature review related to preK–12 engineering yielded almost no articles. Very few resources, curricula, tools, or frameworks existed. The small number that did exist focused exclusively on the middle or high school level. It was very clear that much work needed to be done, including designing and creating curricula, instructional strategies, and assessments informed by research.

Today it’s exciting to survey the field. The introduction of the discipline of engineering into classrooms, informal settings, and state and national standards has been accompanied by research that has helped to shape the field. Researchers and materials developers have probed what age-appropriate engineering looks like from preschool through high school. Frameworks for thinking about what and how children and educators can or should learn about core concepts and practices of engineering have been articulated. Research-based curricular and professional development materials have been developed and pressure-tested in the field. Digital tools and scaffolds provide engaging experiences for students. Research instruments and methodologies are being created. And importantly, a burgeoning corpus of high-quality research related to preK-12 engineering education is being produced that can guide further development of the field. Read more

Featured Projects

These DRK–12 projects focus on various aspects of engineering education (e.g., design, problem solving, and identity) and teaching, learning, and assessment. The more mature projects have publications, websites, curricula, and other resources. Click on the links below to read more about the projects’ innovations, findings, methodologies, products, and more.

Pre-K and/or Elementary Level

Developing Integrated Elementary Science, Engineering, and Language Arts Curricula Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards
PI: Hasan Deniz
This project designed elementary lessons integrating engineering, science, reading, and writing that allowed teachers to address the Next Generation Science Standards while making reading and writing an integral part of the engineering design process and science content learning in grades 3–5 elementary classrooms.
Full Description | Findings/Results
Publications | Presentations | Workshop Resources | Views of Nature of Engineering Questionnaire

Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering: Refining and Testing a Co-Constructed Curriculum Approach with Head Start Partners
PI: Christine McWayne | Co-PIs: Betty Zan, Daryl Greenfield, Jayanthi MistryRISE
Project RISE is a community-based research collaboration with Head Start programs in Boston, MA, currently undergoing a randomized controlled trial in 40 preschool classrooms for the benefit of dual language learning (DLL) children’s early education.
Full Description | Findings/Results
Products: Publications | Website

Middle School Level

Broadening Participation of Latina/o Students in Engineering Using an Integrated Mathematics, Engineering and Computing Curriculum in Authentic, Out-of-School Environments (Also known as Advancing Out-of-School Learning in Mathematics and Engineering (AOLME))
PI: Sylvia Celedon-Pattichis | Co-PIs: Marios Pattichis, Carlos LopezLeiva
The AOLME project brings together faculty from bilingual/mathematics education and electrical and computer engineering to implement an integrated curriculum in two bilingual middle schools, one urban and one rural.
Full Description | Findings/Results

DIMEs: Immersing Teachers and Students in Virtual Engineering Internships
PI: Jacqueline Barber | Co-PIs: Padraig Nash, Eric Greenwald, Naomi Chesler, David ShafferDIMES
The Lawrence Hall of Science, in cooperation with Amplify Science, has developed six Virtual Engineering Internships (VEIs) that provide compelling, immersive experiences at the intersection of science and engineering work.
Full Description | Findings/Results
Virtual Engineering Internships in Amplify Science

DR K–12: Teaching STEM with Robotics: Design, Development, and Testing of a Research-based Professional Development Program for Teachers
PI: Vikram Kapila | Co-PIs: Jasmine Ma, Magued Iskander, Orit Zaslavsky, Catherine MilneDRK-12 Robotics
This STEM teacher professional development (PD) program has introduced 44 teachers of NYC middle schools to engineering by providing them with hands-on robotics experiences and supporting them in developing robotics-enhanced science and math curricula with the mission to enhance teaching and learning for underserved student populations.
Full Description | Findings/Results | Theory of Change| Theoretical Framework | Methodology
Presentations | Sample Lessons

Scaffolding Engineering Design to Develop Integrated STEM Understanding with WISEngineering (CAREER Award)
PI: Jennifer Chiu
WISEngineering uses technology from the Web-based inquiry environment to help students and teachers engage in engineering design practices. WISEngineering projects feature the use of interactive simulations to help students learn necessary mathematics and science concepts or test design ideas.
Full Description | Findings/Results

Tools for Teaching and Learning Engineering Practices: Pathways Towards Productive Identity Work in Engineering
PI: Angela Calabrese Barton | Co-PIs: Scott Calabrese Barton, Edna TanI-Engineering
I-Engineering addresses two pressing challenges faced by middle school youth from underrepresented backgrounds: (1) opportunities to learn engineering meaningfully, and to apply it to understanding and solving real-world problems (“learning”), and (2) the desire/ability to see oneself as an important contributor to engineering (“identity”).
Full Description | Findings/Results | Theory of Change | Theoretical Framework | Methodology
Publications | Briefs | Lesson Plans | Teaching and Learning Tools | Website

High School Level

Building Informed Designers
PI: J. Blake Hylton | Co-PIs: Bruce Wellman, Patrick Herak, Todd France
This project is developing and deploying curriculum activities and assessments for high school science educators to use in incorporating engineering-problem-framing content into their science courses. We are focused on discrete design modules that can be incorporated into an existing course as part of the regular curriculum.
Full Description | Findings/Results | Theory of Change | Theoretical Framework | Methodology

Engineering Teacher Pedagogy: Using INSPIRES to Support Integration of Engineering Design in Science and Technology Classrooms
PI: Jonathan Singer | Co-PIs: Christopher Rakes, Richard Weisenhoff, Mary Boswell-McComas, Julia RossINSPIRES
The INSPIRES (INcreasing Student Participation Interest & Recruitment in Engineering & Science) research program supports the integration of engineering design into high school biology and technology curricula and classroom practices.
Full Description | Findings/Results | Methodology
Products: Publications | Lesson Plan | Modified RTOP instrument

Science and Engineering Education for Infrastructure Transformation
PI: Charles Xie | Co-PIs: Pankaj Sharma, Senay Purzer
This project is developing and testing the Virtual Solar Grid, a hypothetical power system in which students explore the planet’s solar energy potential, and the Smart High School, an Internet of Things (IoT) platform on which students design intelligent systems for their schools.
Full Description | Findings/Results
Products: Virtual Solar Grid

K-12 and Undergraduate

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research)
PI: Alejandra Magana-de-Leon | Co-PI: Brenda Capobianco
This project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, a computer-aided design (CAD) system that supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment. These engines will allow SmartCAD to analyze student design artifacts on a scientific basis and provide automatic formative feedback in forms such as numbers, graphs, and visualizations to guide student design processes on an ongoing basis.
Full Description | Findings/Results
Publications | Presentations

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research)
PI: Charles Xie | Co-PI: Saeid Nourian
This project is developing and testing a revolutionary artificial intelligence (AI) engine to automatically assess student designs in an integrated computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) environment that we have created for learning and teaching engineering design.
Full Description | Findings/Results

Additional Projects


Engineering Associations and Initiatives