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Opportunities For Developing Standards For Engineering Education

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By Author: moni catsfbd
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The opportunities for standards for engineering education can be summed up in a short phrase-the time is right. A convergence of conditions has created a climate conducive to the emergence of engineering as a viable component of K-12 education.

In a recent editorial in Science, John Holdren, President Obama's science and technology advisor, presents four practical challenges for the Obama administration: bringing science and technology more fully to bear on economic recovery; driving the energy-technology innovation we need to reduce energy imports and reduce climate-change risks; applying advances in biomedical science and information technology; and ensuring the nation's security with needed intelligence technologies. One can argue that all four challenges have essential connections to, and reliance on, engineering.

In the same editorial, Holdren introduced what he calls "cross cutting foundations" for meeting the challenges. One of the foundations was "strengthening STEM education at every level, from precollege to postgraduate to lifelong learning." (Holdren, 2009, p. 567). Since the National Science Foundation ...
... (NSF) introduced the term STEM as an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,' it has become widely used to refer to STEM education. But the truth is, the acronym usually refers to either science or mathematics, or both. It seldom refers to technology and almost never includes engineering. So, although the nation is concerned about STEM education, the T is only slightly visible and the E is invisible. A major opportunity for standards in engineering education is to make the E in STEM education visible. Standards for K-12 engineering education would define the knowledge and abilities for the E in STEM education and clarify ambiguities in the use of the acronym. However, unless engineering education standards are developed with tact and care, they could perpetuate the politics and territorial disputes among the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. Given the history of the sovereignty of educational territory, I suggest that standards and engineering education, with support from business and industry, could provide leadership by providing a contemporary vision of STEM.

Another opportunity is implied in a current theme and the stated outcomes of education- the development of 21"century skills. The National Research Council has presented a summary of those skills (see Table 3). Based on this list, K-12 activities that center on engineering design could substantially contribute to students' development of these skills. In this case, this may be a three-for-one opportunity. Students have opportunities to: (1) develop 21" century skills; (2) make connections to other STEM subjects; and (3) learn about careers in engineering. Overall, experience with engineering design would probably raise the level of students' understanding of engineering and, by so doing, expand their interest and motivation, so that many of them may one day pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

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