April 2022: Integrating Engineering Across the STEM Curriculum

This month's theme addresses how engineering can be integrated into the STEM classroom and provides the perspectives of curriculum developers, researchers and teachers. Curriculum developers and researchers have created engaging instructional materials to integrate engineering across STEM, but what challenges have teachers encountered when implementing these in their schools? What strategies have they employed to make it successful? How can we measure the impact on students? The webinar, video playlist, and resources will provide a broad lens to innovative engineering programs, particularly at the middle school level. View Synthesis >>

Theme's playlist

Expert Panel

April 2022: Integrating Engineering into Middle School Curriculum: Challenges, Strategies and Impact


Date Recorded: April 13, 2022 at 4:00 PM ET

Description: Marion Usselman, Principal Research Scientist and Associate Director for Educational Innovation and Development at Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC), will moderate a panel of researchers and teachers who will share their experiences of how they integrated engineering into the middle school curriculum. They will discuss benefits, successes and challenges. This will be a one hour panel followed by an interactive 20 minute breakout session. Come, listen, comment, and share! See you there.

View Recording     See Panelist Bios



Read the discussion related to this theme.
Public Discussion
  • Icon for: Marion Usselman

    Marion Usselman

    April 14, 2022 | 11:13 a.m.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the Engineering Integration webinar.  There are lots of questions about this complicated topic that couldn't really be addressed in the short panel format but were clearly of concern by the audience.  I would love to hear the views of this group.  Feel free to pose questions for the group.  I will begin with one, and hope others add questions.   

  • Icon for: Marion Usselman

    Marion Usselman

    April 14, 2022 | 11:23 a.m.

    One question posed ahead of time was “Which engineering standards are most accepted by the panelists?”.  I would like to expand on this a bit and ask: What standards or learning goals are most emphasized in your project, or should be emphasized when teaching "engineering"? Is there one set of standards that should be emphasized in order for it to be considered “engineering integration”?  These questions pertain to the initial blog for this panel, and is a question that educators and researchers in this field have been debating for years.  Why integrate engineering into K-12 education?  What are the most important learning goals?

  • Icon for: Nidaa Makki

    Nidaa Makki

    April 14, 2022 | 09:48 p.m.

    These are great questions! When designing our project, we were focusing on addressing both science learning goals and engineering learning goals, and aligning them with NGSS and state standards. We found that having students use science concepts and investigations to inform the engineering design activities can support deeper learning by having students revisit science concepts, and apply them in new contexts. This doesn’t mean to use engineering design as “applied science”, but rather a model were both learning outcomes are important. Integrating engineering provides an opportunity for students to practice solving open ended problems, and they can see the relevance of science and mathematics which increases motivation to learn. There is always the limitation of time constraints in the classroom, and adding engineering design activities means something else has to be taken out. But that’s always a balance teachers work with, which goes back to having a clear rationale for why integrating engineering is beneficial for students. 

  • Icon for: Isabel Huff

    Isabel Huff

    April 14, 2022 | 11:59 p.m.

    I agree--what great questions! In our project, we were focused on aligning with the Massachusetts State Engineering and Technology frameworks. There are two major topics for 6th graders--engineering design, and materials & tools. We decided to create a unit for each of these two topics. We also decided to create a number of shorter lessons that would align to NGSS science topics.

    As much as any particular set of standards, it's important for students to be exposed to engineering in general. Research has revealed that introducing girls to engineering in high school or later is often too late to spark their interest in pursuing engineering as a career. So, we want to give students an authentic look at what engineering is all about--that engineers work together to design things to help people. Just as Nidaa described, we think it's essential that students have opportunities to explore open-ended questions and try the engineering design process for themselves.

  • Icon for: Marion Usselman

    Marion Usselman

    April 15, 2022 | 10:28 a.m.

    One issue we struggled with on a previous project (Science Learning Integrating Design, Engineering and Robotics (SLIDER)--a DRK-12 project) was that because we were developing 6-8 week units that had very defined physical science learning goals, we had to impose lots of constraints on the degree of open-endedness that we could allow the students if we wanted to make sure they effectively learned the science concepts.  Once the activity is longer than a week or so, if you are in a core science classroom, you have to ensure that students grapple with the science concepts deeply enough to gain mastery, since the activity can't be implemented as a confirmation of previously taught standards--it has to actually teach the science.  We were following the model from Kolodner et al in Learning By Design, and in the later Project-Based Inquiry Science materials.  We proposed having students design their own Lego Mindstorm robots, learning structural build concepts and rudimentary programming skills in the process of exploring the science of force and motion.  For a bunch of reasons, in the end we had them all build the same pre-designed robotic truck from a pre-bagged set of Lego pieces, and had them merely modify the computer program rather than doing the programming themselves.  That way the robot behaved predictably, and we could create activities that allowed the students to accurately "discover" the fundamental science principals.  The kids still loved it, and constraining the number of Lego pieces needed made the curriculum much easier to implement for the teachers.  (A hazard to using something like Lego Mindstorm is that Lego kept changing the kit, which meant that to keep the curriculum up-to-date, we needed to keep changing the build instructions.)

    NGSS came out in the middle of that project, and we were able to successfully incorporate criteria and constraints and a small design challenge where kids came up with their own solution to a problem, but the standard about optimization was beyond what we could do--teachers rebelled against any more than 3 iterations at the maximum due to time constraints and student attention span.

    Our basic lessons learned that we then used in AMP-IT-UP was that modules or lessons to be implemented in the core math or science class were best constrained to a being only a week long, and that we could do much more inventive things in an engineering or STEM semester-long connections class.

    We still have all our SLIDER curriculum materials and are very willing to share them.  I would love to resurrect them.

Related Resources

Author(s): Fortus, D., Dershimer, R. C., Krajcik, J., Marx R. W., Mamlok-Naaman, R.
Publication: Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Apr 2004)

Design-Based Science (DBS) is a pedagogy in which the goal of designing an artifact contextualizes all curricular activities. Design is viewed as a vehicle through which scientific knowledge and real-world problem-solving skills can be constructed. Following Anderson and Hogan’s (1999) call to document the design of new science pedagogies, this goal of this article is twofold: (a) to describe DBS, and (b) to evaluate whether significant science knowledge was constructed during consecutive enactments of three DBS units.

Author(s): Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., Puntambekar, S., Ryan, M.
Publication: Journal of the Learning Sciences

This article tells the story of the design of Learning by Design(tm) (LBD), a project-based inquiry approach to science learning with roots in case-based reasoning and problem-based learning, pointing out the theoretical contributions of both, classroom issues that arose upon piloting a first attempt, ways we addressed those challenges, lessons learned about promoting learning taking a project-based inquiry approach, and lessons learned about taking a theory-based approach to designing learning environments.

Author(s): Purzer, S., and Quintana-Cifuentes, J.P.
Publication: Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research (Nov 2019)

This position paper is motivated by recent educational reform efforts that urge the integration of engineering in science education. We argue that it is plausible and beneficial to integrate engineering into formal K-12 science education.

Author(s): TEEMS project
Publication: https://teemsproject.com/

This NSF-funded research project provides a free engineering curriculum for 6th-grade science classrooms that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards for engineering; integrates with 6th-grade science topics; and comes with a detailed curriculum guide and extensive support for teachers.

Author(s): AMP-IT-UP Project
Publication: ampitup.gatech.edu

Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Integrated to Unlock Potential (AMP-IT-UP) is a NSF Math and Science Partnership to promote workforce development and to identify and cultivate the next generation of creative STEM innovators. Check out their middle school math and science modules that promote inquiry.

Author(s): Roxanne Moore, Sunni Newton, Meltem Alemdar
Publication: National Academy of Inventors (Feb 2019)

The K-12 InVenture Prize is an invention experience and competition for students that operates in partnership with the Georgia Tech. In this paper, the authors summarize several years of data related to teachers’ experiences with the program and teachers’ perceptions of how the invention experience impacts students.

Author(s): Ellis, G., Pina, J., Mazur, R., Rudnitsky, A., McGinnis-Cavanaugh, B.
Publication: American Society for Engineering Education Conference 2020 (Jun 2020)

This paper examines the use of Imaginative Education (IE) to create an NGSS-aligned middle school engineering curriculum that supports transfer and the development of STEM identity. In IE, cognitive tools—such as developmentally appropriate narratives, mysteries and fantasies— are used to design learning environments.

Author(s): Newton, S., Alemdar, M., Hilton, E., Linsey, J., Fu, K.
Publication: International Journal of STEM Education (Jul 2018)

A redesigned curriculum for teaching engineering graphics was adopted in an introductory mechanical engineering course. The rollout of this curriculum was staggered, allowing for comparisons of student perceptions across the newly revised and previous instructional approaches. The DBER framework was used to investigate the manner in which the new curriculum was implemented and student reactions to this change.

Author(s): Koskey, K. L., Makki, N., Ahmed, W., Garafolo, N. G., & Visco Jr, D. P.
Publication: School Science and Mathematics (May 2020)

Although there is an increasing interest in research in and practice of integrating engineering in K-12 science education, to date only a few studies have focused on the development of an assessment tool to measure students’ understanding of engineering design. This study applied many-faceted Rasch measurement to the modified ECA for eighth-grade (ECA/M8) and a newly constructed rubric applied by five judges across 497 eighth-grade students’ responses after experiencing an integrated learning unit on the engineering design process.

Author(s): Garafolo, N., Makki, N., Halasa, K., Ahmed, W., Koskey, K., & Visco Jr, D.
Publication: Science Scope (Sep 2017)

Build and race soap box derby cars as part of a unit on force and motion. The goal of this module is for students to apply science and mathematics concepts to solve real-world problems. This design module follows a unit on forces and motion, and assumes students are familiar with concepts of interactions of forces and motion, as well as kinetic and potential energy.

Author(s): Koskey, K. L. K., Ahmed, W., Makki, N., Garafolo, N., Kruggel, B. G., Visco, D. P.
Publication: Proceedings of the 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (Jun 2018)

This 3-year ITEST project focuses on integrating engineering design concepts and practices in the middle school physical sciences curriculum. The goal is to increase students’ interest in STEM and expand their access to opportunities to experience integrated STEM activities. In this poster session, we will share key findings from the research. We will also share lessons learned from implementing a STEM program across multiple classrooms in a large urban district.