Engineering design systematically identifies needs, wants, and problems and then devises solutions to address them. A central component of our work is guiding students in the engineered design of solutions to local environmental problems
Science in society and schools must be for all citizens. Reasons include the desire to prepare citizens with the tools and knowledge to address local and global problems. With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, we foster sustained learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for students from primary school through university.
Engineering design systematically identifies needs
Engineering design systematically identifies needs, wants, and problems and then devises solutions to address them (NASEM, 2020). A central component of our work is guiding students in the engineered design of solutions to local environmental problems. Our program follows a seven-step process: Define, Research, Design, Build, Feedback, Place, and Educate.
Using STEM to Design Solutions
We designed a six-week curricular unit for youth ages 11-13 that extends environmental science learning through the seven stages of engineering design. In our program, students Define the problem as a local invasive insect disrupting a local ecosystem. An invasive species is an organism that is not native to the local environment and can harm the economy, environment, or human health. In teams, students conduct Research on one invasive insect, including food, habitat needs, and predators (if any). Next, they brainstorm at least three Designs for a trap that can collect their invasive insect. Student trap designs take into account the phase of the life cycle of the invasive insect, pheromones or lures to attract their insect, trap placement, and the construction of a cost-effective trap that can be maintained over time. Feedback includes sharing designs with other student teams and local environmentalists. Place includes locating the time of year and location for the most effective capture. Finally, Educate includes synthesizing key ideas from their designs to inform local stakeholders about possible implementation in their area.
Great STEM Learning Is Appropriately Challenging and Relevant
Why is it necessary to design pre-university programs that foster the engineered design of solutions?
Research indicates that programs must support students’ engagement and motivation to be effective, as motivation drives the ability to use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in critical decision-making processes (NASEM, 2018). A recent policy document from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM, 2018, p. 67) suggests four design features that promote interest and motivation in STEM learning environments:
- Providing choice or autonomy in learning
- Promoting personal relevance
- Presenting appropriately challenging material, and
- Situating the investigations in socially and culturally appropriate contexts.
Our program emphasizes each of these four design features. The table illustrates what students and teachers said about elements of the curricular program associated with each design feature.
Engineering design programs exemplify our vision for K-16 STEM education
Engineering design programs such as this one exemplify our vision for K-16 STEM education because they provide learners with experiences that foster motivation, sustained engagement, and an appreciation for STEM. They also help learners find meaning and value when their STEM learning is used to solve local problems.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Sciencecand Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25216.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Building Capacity for Teaching Engineering in K–12 Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25612.
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