September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Engineering Made Easy: Understanding the Role of Engineering in NGSS

Posted: Monday, March 14th, 2016

by Cynthia Berger

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) put unprecedented emphasis on engineering as part of K-12 STEM instruction. In fact, the standards recommend that engineering be raised “to the same level as scientific inquiry when teaching science disciplines.”

But your school days are already crowded. Adding engineering to the mix can sound daunting—especially if you don’t have much experience with science or engineering.

Each year, we meet hundreds of elementary teachers that attend our professional development workshops who are new to engineering. We always ask for feedback, and through that process, we’ve identified three key understandings that help teachers feel more prepared to address the new standards.

These understandings may seem simple—but they’re not. And teachers tell us they’re hugely important to master as you prepare to integrate engineering with the other subjects you teach.

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Engineers Solve Problems

First of all, it’s very common to have misperceptions about what, exactly, the term “engineering” means. Many people—not just teachers—think of engineers in fairly narrow terms: engineers build large structures, such as bridges or skyscrapers, they work on computers, or their work involves other devices that require electricity.

Engineers may indeed do all of these things, but these examples are just a small part of a much bigger picture. Here is a more appropriate definition of engineering: It is a systematic approach to solving problems—all kinds of problems—in ways that make peoples’ lives easier and better.

Technology Is What Humans Make or Do to Solve Problems

Second, the term “technology” tends to be just as misunderstood as “engineering.” In particular, many people assume a technology is “something powered by electricity.”

We’ve developed some exercises that help participants broaden their definition of technology to include “anything that humans make to solve a problem.” Sure, computers and cellphones are highly engineered technologies—but so are devices that don’t plug in, like bicycles and books, and even devices that have no moving parts at all—like soup spoons and shoehorns.

Embracing this understanding of what a technology really is can bring about a revolutionary shift in thinking. You see the world around you in a different way, and you come to understand how much of the human experience involves interacting with and using technologies.

Systematic Research and Testing Are an Important Part of Engineering

Even teachers who have strong backgrounds in science may find the NGSS quite complex and challenging to understand. The final key to making connections between the three dimensions of NGSS (science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) is understanding that engineers don’t just think up solutions to problems; they also test their solutions against a standard set of criteria.

Under NGSS this core understanding of engineering stays front and center as students move from kindergarten and elementary school to middle and high school; the specific classroom exercises just become more sophisticated. For example, under the NGSS performance expectations, very young children should be able to recognize what kinds of problems can be solved by engineering; older children should be able to conduct background research on the problem, develop different solutions to a problem, and test these solutions to see which one works better.

Teachers often tell us that they come to our workshops feeling literally terrified at the notion of teaching engineering. With these understandings in mind, it’s exciting to see these same teachers start to self-identify as problem-solving engineers…and to feel confident that they can bring engineering to their classrooms.

Cynthia Berger is manager for communications at Engineering is Elementary, a project of the Museum of Science, Boston.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

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Written by Elizabeth Cooke

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Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.