Integrating Authentic Engineering Design into a High School Physics Curriculum
Work in Progress
The Framework for K-12 Science Education calls for the integration of engineering practices into pre-college science classrooms , yet many science teachers are ill-prepared to do this in their existing curricular environments , , . For high school science students to successfully engage with engineering practices, engineering design projects need to be authentic, interdisciplinary, and feasible for teachers within existing curricular time, materials, and standards requirements  .
With the support of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the University of ____’s Center for ______, the author developed and implemented a curriculum unit to address these needs. The author, a high school Physics teacher, embedded a neural engineering design project into a complex circuitry unit for 10th graders which addressed both Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) standards  and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) .
This two-week unit therefore was designed to be authentic, interdisciplinary, and feasible. For authenticity, the student project was presented in a neural engineering context in which students designed, built, and refined a model sensory substitution device on a circuit board which met an identified end-user need. Students discussed ethical and practical considerations involved in building and using a device which relies on substituting one sense for another, and included those considerations in their designs. Students then presented their functioning circuit board models in a scientific poster session to the wider school community as culmination to the unit. To establish interdisciplinary connections, the author integrated content standards and practices from IGCSE, NGSS, and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) . To ensure the project would feasibly be student-led yet meet time constraints, the author fabricated circuit boards rather than using commercial electronics kits. Intentional choice of components and layout enabled students to entirely design, build, test, and troubleshoot their own models in a tight timeline without relying on teacher support. Pre-planning with these circuit boards was a significant factor in the project’s success.
Results after one implementation cycle indicate that this unit successfully enabled students to authentically engage in the full engineering design process, while still fitting within classroom constraints. All 16 student groups (61 students) successfully completed their design optimization and poster presentations without the need for teacher-directed problem-solving. Pre- and post- unit surveys developed by the author suggest that students felt more confident in and positive about their ability to engage in the engineering process as a result, and that many are more interested in future engineering work. End-of-unit assessment scores indicate that student understanding of embedded IGCSE standards was superior both to these students’ results on other standards, and to previous years’ students with these same standards.
Following completion of a second implementation cycle, the unit will be disseminated to science teachers as an example of feasibly integrating engineering practices into a high school Physics curriculum, with the hope that more teachers will develop and share units with embedded engineering projects.
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