COLLEGE PARK – On Oct. 1, the University of Maryland announced plans for a national pilot program educating high school students on engineering principles and design, made possible by a nearly $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Engineering For US All (E4USA)” will be a pre-college course offered in around 40 high schools across multiple states over a three-year period, with nationwide expansion expected to follow after evaluators review teacher training and the curriculum. The university is partnering with Arizona State University, Morgan State University and Virginia Tech, with researchers working to fine-tune practices developed by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the College Board.
Vanderbilt University will be tasked with analyzing the efficacy of the program following completion, along with representatives from NASA Goddard, Project Lead the Way and the College Board.
“In high school, most kids as part of their core curriculum never see engineering,” said Darryll J. Pines, principal investigator and dean of the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. “We want to empower them with these skills and tools.”
Pines said the course will focus on three broad areas of the field, which will be engineering in society, engineering process and engineering practices. These themes will provide students with methods of problem-solving that differ from the typical high school coursework, centering on aspects of the engineering realm that can be applied across many fields. Students will brainstorm problems as a team, analyze issues like climate change and sustainability regarding engineering solutions, and be able to look at the world “through an engineering prism,” explained Pines.
Project Lead the Way (PLTW) has served a similar purpose for the past two decades, bringing engineering practices to students from kindergarten through high school. The PLTW Engineering course consists of a single class in each year of high school, studying the history and practical uses of principles to build up to a final year-long senior project that mimics a professional assignment. Pines said the university and its partners looked through the PLTW curriculum and found gaps they believed could be filled by the E4USA program, namely making it geared more toward college readiness and expanding the scope concerning geography and demographics.
The pilot course is not an extension of the current PLTW offering, though Pines said one of the possible outcomes of the program could be it becoming the senior year project, which would potentially lead to dual college credit. In February of this year, more than 100 U.S. deans indicated they would consider awarding credit to undergraduate students who had completed an introductory engineering course in high school, according to a University of Maryland press release.
A major factor in awarding college credit is creating a curriculum that is consistent across all iterations and available to all students while aligning with the Next Generation Science Standards for K–12 education.
“First National Science Foundation (NSF) helps build the nation’s future engineering workforce, and a key part of that is enabling more students to have access to and preparation for undergraduate engineering education,” said Dawn Tilbury, assistant director of NSF’s Directorate for Engineering, in the university release. “A standardized high school engineering course will help remove the mystery and democratize the learning and practice of engineering.”
This places a greater onus on the educators assigned to teach the inaugural program, which hasn’t been the case in the past. Pines said there is currently no process in Maryland for certifying teachers in K-12 education, and the program may trigger a new standard in that regard. E4USA educators will be grouped as a network to develop a learning community, and an online platform will allow them to share information and support each other.
“The most important element in student learning is the teacher,” said Margaret J. McLaughlin, part of the E4USA team and associate dean for research and innovation and partnerships at the UMD College of Education, in the release. “How we teach students design-based thinking cuts across science standards and other disciplines, which is why it is essential to effectively train teachers to introduce this way of thinking to their students.”
Partners of the program are still working through the school selection procedures, and Pines said the university will meet with NSF to set requirements and ensure a fair geographic representation of Maryland institutions. Schools that already have a relationship with the university will be considered, which bodes well for Prince George’s County. Pines said the university is currently working with at least 10 schools in the county and he expects the region to be heavily involved.