Evaluating the Risk: In an Age of High Stakes Testing, Should Teachers Integrate Engineering Design into Traditional Science and Math Courses? (RTP)
With an increased focus on STEM and the importance of students using 21st Century skills to solve real world problems, K-12 educators are being encouraged to expose students to engineering design principles. However, in an age of standardized testing and high stakes accountability, many traditional math and science teachers are reluctant to include engineering design projects in courses where students will take statewide assessments or AP exams. As a result, engineering design is often relegated to engineering elective courses or courses not subject to high stakes testing or required academic standards. This is particularly true in states that have not formally adopted the Next Generation Science Standards.
This paper examines the impact of integrating engineering design challenges in traditional math and science courses with required academic standards and high stakes tests that measure student mastery of those standards. Using evaluation and research results from an NSF funded project that involved a partnership between a large research university and surrounding local K-12 school districts, this paper will detail the advantages, as well as the barriers, of integrating engineering design into these courses.
While many educators laud engineering design as a way to engage students and teach problem solving and valuable 21st Century skills, they worry that these projects will require too much instructional time when they have so many standards to teach prior to testing season. Direct instruction is perceived as a much more efficient way to teach a large amount of material in a short period of time.
However, new evaluation data from the NSF project referenced in this paper indicates that engineering design challenges can result in increased mastery of academic content, as compared to traditional instruction. Yet, teaching using design challenges does take more instructional time than didactic approaches, which is a concern for teachers. As a result, teachers need to weigh whether or not the increased mastery is worth the additional time spent and, if so, find creative compromises, such as incorporating several academic standards into one engineering design challenge or reserving engineering design challenges for select standards that are difficult for students to grasp without hands-on activities.
In addition to presenting and comparing pre and post assessment quantitative data from the project participants and a control group, the paper will also examine qualitative data from the participants. In interviews, participants outlined the key benefits and drawbacks of using engineering design challenges to teach math and science content. When creating instructional units featuring engineering design, the participants also identified in writing the reasons they selected certain academic standards to be taught using this pedagogy.
Examining results from all three data sources may help other teachers determine when and how often to incorporate engineering design and which standards are best fits for this type of instruction.
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