Frequently Asked Questions

Why engineering?
Where does this course fit in the high school curriculum?
Who should teach this course?
Which department has responsibility for this course?
What are the goals of this course?
Why focus on energy?
What do students need to know about safety?
Why is teamwork important?
What math and science will students learn?
What facilities and equipment are required?
What teaching methods are used in this course?
How do the Tasks incorporate the "Five Es?"
Why are readings and discussions important?
Why is the course organized around Projects?
What are the Tasks?
Why is it important to collaborate with other teachers?
How can you best communicate with your school community?
How can you learn more about ETF?
What references were used by ETF?
What other programs should I be aware of?
Who should I contact if I have a suggestion or a correction?
How do I order materials?

Why engineering?

Engineering and technology are two sides of the same coin. Technologies are the processes and products that people have developed to solve problems or meet human needs and desires. Engineering is the practice of modifying or creating new technologies. The term "engineering" has been selected for the title of this course rather than "technology" for the following reasons (Wicklein, 2003):

Just as science education is associated with professional "scientists," engineering education is associated with professional "engineers." Both engineers and scientists are well-compensated and highly respected career pathways, and it's important that all students learn about these professions before they make choices in their school careers that would rule either of them out.


Where does this course fit in the high school curriculum?

Engineering the Future is NOT intended to provide training in specific vocations. It IS meant to help all students — whether they eventually choose to attend a university, another tertiary education institution, or enter the world of work — better understand the designed world and the wide variety of career paths that a person might take in designing, manufacturing, maintaining, or using technologies.

For some students, the course will open career interests that would otherwise have lain dormant, until it is too late for them to enroll in elective science and math courses, and gain entry to technical studies at a college or university. Consequently, the intended placement of this course is in the first year of a high school student's career.

Alternatively, Engineering the Future can serve as a capstone course for high school juniors or seniors, so that students can apply to practical situations all that they learned in high school, ranging from science and math, to history, social studies, communication — even art and music. You may also use this course to provide an excellent introduction to the field of engineering for students who are considering technical careers.


Who should teach this course?

The most important qualification for teaching Engineering the Future is a desire to foster students' creative talents and analytical skills. Other valuable qualifications include the ability to lead discussions that encourage students to question their assumptions and consider new ideas as well as to help students work effectively in teams to brainstorm ideas, make decisions, and to build and test prototypes.

Regarding educational background and professional licensure, teachers who have a state license to teach technology/engineering in grades 6-12 are already fully qualified (under No Child Left Behind legislation) to teach this course. However, we envision that licensed physics and mathematics teachers will not find it difficult to learn the additional skills they will need to teach this course. The Museum of Science has created and testing an online program to enable teachers to gain the additional knowledge and skills that they need to teach this course, and to receive graduate credit towards further certification and licensure.


Which department has responsibility for this course?

Engineering the Future is designed for all students, not just those in an accelerated program to become engineers, or for students in vocational tracks. Because it has a strong science laboratory component most schools include it in their science department, along with chemistry, physics, and biology. However, it could also be included in the technology department. Some schools have even changed the name of their science departments to "Science and Technology" to recognize the value of integrating these two fields. While any of these solutions is feasible, it will be important to choose the solution that best supports acceptance of the new course by students, parents, and guidance counselors and best demonstrates the integration in math, science, technology and engineering.

Whatever "home department" is chosen for Engineering the Future, the course should not be considered in isolation but as one step in a sequence of courses that students take as they progress through high school. When students complete this course they will have a broader understanding of the wide variety of technical careers that are open to them. Some students may wish to take more courses in science or math or more specialized courses in technical fields. However, not all students will wish to become involved in science and technology as careers. By providing alternative sequences, students will have opportunities to choose pathways that are consistent with their current interests and desires while keeping open their options for the future.


What are the goals of this course?

Engineering the Future was designed with a "backwards design process," as described in the book by Wiggins and McTigh, Understanding by Design (1998). In this approach it's important to be explicit about the evidence that we would accept that students have attained the goals of the course. We have operationally defined the five course goals as follows:

Goal 1. Students will develop a deep and rich understanding of the term "technology."

Goal 2. Students develop their abilities to use the engineering design process.

Goal 3. Students will understand the complementary relationships among science, technology and engineering.

Goal 4. Students will understand how advances in technology affect human society, and how human society determines which new technologies will be developed.

Goal 5. Students will be able to apply fundament concepts about energy to a wide variety of problems.


Why focus on energy?

Energy concepts are difficult to learn; yet understanding energy is essential for virtually all fields of science and engineering. In biology it's important to understand how organisms obtain and transform energy for life processes, and how energy flows through ecosystems and food webs. In Earth and space science students learn that energy from the Sun drives wind and ocean currents, and that thermal energy inside the Earth moves continents and causes volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In physics the law of energy conservation is one of the most important ideas that students are expected to learn and apply in solving problems. And our daily use of electricity and fuel keeps hundreds of thousands of engineers employed designing more efficient ways to generate energy and reduce our impact on the environment.

In this course we have decided to focus on energy for several reasons:

If students are to benefit from learning about energy early in their high school experience, they need to learn it in a way that they can apply it readily in new situations. This is the idea of transfer of learning. Educational research strongly indicates that transfer will occur more readily if the concept to be taught is presented in different contexts; and if students are guided in recognizing how the abstract concept can be applied in those different contexts (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999). Those abstract concepts are the energy principles listed above, which students apply in three different contexts.


What do students need to know about safety?

A safety briefing is an important part of any class where students are constructing projects. There are several areas where safety needs to be highlighted: using power tools, large machine tools, smaller tools such as utility knives or hot glue guns, and preventing skin contact and inhalation of adhesives, paints, and fine particles. Students should also be aware of the emergency equipment around the room such as fire extinguishers, exits and evacuation maps, eyewashes, and communication procedures in the event of an emergency. Some teachers have students and their parents sign a safety contract that lists the tools that the students will be using, the safety rules, and explains why it's important for students to act responsibly.


Why is teamwork important?

Our extensive interviews with engineers have confirmed that good engineering requires a team effort. Therefore it is vitally important for students to learn to work effectively in teams. There is some tension between the encouragement of teamwork and independent work, given the need for teachers to assign individual grades for students. The tension is considerably reduced if expectations are clearly presented to the students for each activity. Suggestions for how to do this will be offered at various points in the Teacher Guide and built into the Engineer's Notebook.


What math and science will students learn?

In this course the students do more than read about engineering. They also take on the role of engineers themselves. Like engineers, they are asked to undertake projects to meet certain human needs. Unlike much of schoolwork that has right answers and wrong answers, the projects can be completed successfully in a variety of ways.

The course is divided into four sections, called Projects, each of which takes about eight weeks to complete. The primary purpose of Project 1 is to engage students in using the engineering design process to meet human needs. The students are encouraged to be creative while meeting the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Engineering is characterized by the application of math and science to ensure that designs are not only pleasing to the eye; but they also function as intended. Students practice fundamental mathematical skills and the engineering design process in all four projects, and apply science concepts and processes in Projects 2, 3, and 4.


What facilities and equipment are required?

Engineering the Future is a laboratory course in which students will be expected to design, build, and test prototypes. While students will learn a great deal from their textbooks and discussion sessions, they will not be able to understand what engineering is all about unless they have opportunities to actually do it themselves. The list of laboratory facilities, equipment, and consumable materials needed to teach the course is included in this guide. These materials have been kept to a minimum to keep costs as low as possible.

Project 1 and 2, which comprise the first semester, require materials such as cardboard, tape, glue, graph paper, and tools such as scissors, utility knives, etc. These materials are widely available and best purchased locally. Projects 3 and 4, the second semester of the course, involve more specialized materials: syringes and tubes for hydraulic and pneumatic activities, Snap Circuit™ electricity kits, etc., which must be purchased from a limited number of suppliers. Details for purchasing kits for these materials are included in the Materials section of this Teacher Guide.

Regarding facilities, some sort of shop or laboratory will be needed where students can fabricate their inventions with cardboard, glue, wood, and nails, and conduct experiments involving water and electricity. However, a wood shop is not absolutely essential for teaching the course. Teachers can modify the requirements for constructing scale models and prototypes based on the facilities available and their own expertise in teaching students how to use various tools. Also, it is important to have space to store student projects between classes.

Moveable tables and chairs will enable students to interact in small teams as they work on their projects, and still allow them to assemble for large group discussion.


What teaching methods are used in this course?

A variety of teaching methods are used in this course, including textbook reading, small group and large class discussions, and both individual and team design challenges. These different methods are suggested with the understanding that not all students learn the same way. Some have a greater need to explore and invent on their own, while others need more structure. There is a guiding philosophy to this course.

First, we recognize the importance of the ideas and skills that students bring to the learning situation. Students are therefore encouraged to share their initial ideas and approaches to problems and to consider these initial ideas in light of new information and insights provided by the teacher, the course material, and other students. That is why small and large group discussions are essential.

Second, we recognize that conceptual change is not always easy or immediate. Sometimes students need to struggle with conflicting ideas so that they may construct a more meaningful and consistent understanding of the content. For example, it is often difficult for students to understand that engineers do not consider the "failure" of a model design to be a bad thing. Failures help engineers find weaknesses, so that their next design will provide a better solution to the problem.

Third, it is simply not possible for students to learn the engineering design process from the textbook alone. The activities are absolutely essential. In many cases high school students have no previous experience solving problems that require them to think "outside the box," while at the same time subjecting their designs to specific criteria and constraints. Finding an elegant solution to a problem can be immensely satisfying to your students, but it can also be very frustrating. That is why they are called "design challenges."

Fourth, the engineering design process is at the heart of what engineers do. Even though most engineers do not follow this cyclical process step-by-step, it nonetheless provides a pathway for thinking, just as the inquiry method does for scientists.

Finally, there is no substitute for a teacher who is sensitive to the various learning styles of their students and capable of modifying a lesson on the spot or taking advantage of a "teachable moment" to help students raise their understanding to a higher level.


How do the Tasks incorporate the "Five Es?"

Each task of a project in ETF addresses at least one of the "Five Es"; Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, or Evaluate (Bybee, 1966). Demonstrations, quick-builds, or focus questions motivate engagement. Students do hands-on explorations that lead to discovery. Once students have explored the concepts questions naturally arise, so they are ready for the teacher's (or another student's) explanation. Activities that involve the students in applying what they just learned give them opportunities to elaborate and extend their understanding. Finally benchmark questions and rubrics help the students evaluate their own work with input from the teacher.


Why are readings and discussions important?

The textbook chapters provide information and encourage thinking that would not be possible with hands-on projects alone. Citizens are rarely asked to vote on whether or not they would like to see a new technology developed and introduced. Nonetheless, as workers and consumers in modern society, we collectively make those decisions every day. All new technologies that enter the mainstream — such as automobiles, telephones, and more recently, cell phones — result from the collective actions of millions of individuals. These technologies, in turn, have a profound effect on human societies. The readings and questions encourage students to think about the effects of technological revolutions of the past and recognize how their own actions will affect the world of the future. Class discussions about the readings are a very important means of helping your students fully grasp these important ideas.


Why is the course organized around Projects?

Student learning is often measured by "on demand" tests. However, a person's performance in the world of work is rarely measured in that way. Instead, employees at all levels are evaluated based on their productivity and their ability to work well with others. Projects are an excellent way to encourage teamwork and individual contributions to the efforts of a group. Projects are an engaging vehicle for communicating key concepts and providing opportunities for students to develop skills related to technology and engineering. Consequently, instead of using the term "Unit" to name the major divisions of the activities in the course, we refer to these as "Projects." While in common language the term "project" means any planned undertaking, engineers use the term to mean a major piece of work with a clear goal, process, and endpoint. Engineering projects almost always involve teams of people with complementary skills who apply their knowledge and creativity to reach the overall goal.


What are the Tasks?

Each Project is further broken down into "Tasks." Each Task is an essential learning experience for the students. Tasks range in length from one to ten class sessions. They typically begin with a "focus question" to orient the students to what they will be doing, and a set of "objectives" to guide the teacher in ensuring that the students are moving toward specific understandings and skills. Breaking large projects into small tasks provides an effective strategy in cases where students may at first be overwhelmed by a major project.


Why is it important to collaborate with other teachers?

As a teaching method, collaboration with other teachers at the school site can make it possible for students to see the connections among various school subjects. Connections with science and math are obvious, but there are often good connections with art and graphic design teachers, as well as English and social studies teachers. For example, if you are aware that your students are studying American history, you might want to add a reading on Benjamin Franklin's role in understanding the nature of electricity while they learn about his role as a diplomat and statesman in their history class.


How can you best communicate with your school community?

Parent's Night or Open-House is an obvious way to get feedback from parents. You might also want to send a note home on occasion asking parents to share what they have heard from their students about the class and to offer any suggestions they might have. Parents and others in the school community often have great connections to local industries that are willing to contribute materials to schools. As well, identifying engineers and technicians that are in contact with the students, such as friends and relatives, and inviting them to come speak to the class is a great motivator for learning. Finally, to build interest and enthusiasm for engineering in your school, it is a good idea to communicate with the rest of the faculty and student body about what your students are doing. Arranging for displays of student projects is an excellent way to share your students' work with the school, and the video about Engineering the Future that is provided on the DVD in this Teacher Guide is another way of communicating what this course is all about.


How can you learn more about ETF?

Teaching this course for the first time may be challenging for many teachers. Science teachers might be unused to supervising students in the safe use of tools, or the logistics involved in building projects, especially if there is no shop space available. Technology teachers may be unfamiliar with the energy concepts that they are expected to teach their students, or techniques for engaging students in the inquiry process. To help teachers meet these challenges, the developers of Engineering the Future have also created professional development programs and materials.

Professional development materials include this Teacher Guide, which comes with a DVD that provides an overview of the course, and Teacher Tips, which are short video clips about key concepts in the unit. Programs include presentations at teachers' conferences, multi-day teacher institutes, an online professional development course, which can be taken for graduate credit, as well as an online discussion forum. To learn about programs currently available, please continue to check the Engineering the Future websites at the Museum of Science in Boston and at Its About Time.


What references were used by ETF?

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1993). Benchmarks for Science Literacy, New York, London: Oxford University Press.

Bransford, John D., Brown, Ann L., and Cocking, Rodney R. Editors (1999). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, National Research Council. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Bybee, R. W. (Ed.). National Standards and the Science Curriculum: Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publishers, 1966.

Eliot, Charles W. Chair (1893). "Report of the Committee of Ten," to the National Education Association, as reported in The Graves of Academe, by Richard Mitchell.

International Technology Education Association (ITEA, 2000), Standards for Technological Literacy (STL): Content for the Study of Technology.

Koehler, Chaterine M., Faraclas, Elias W., Giblin, David, Moss, David M., and Kazerounian, Kazem (2007). "The Nexus Between Science Literacy and Technical Literacy: A State by State Analysis of Engineering Content in State Science Frameworks," Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) 2007 Conference Proceedings, available online at http://aste.chem.pitt.edu/proceedings/2007proceedings/index.htm.

Meade, Shelli and Dugger, William (2004). "State of Technology Education in the US," Technology Teacher, October, 2004.

Massachusetts Department of Education (2006). Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework, May 2001, is available online at http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/scitech/2001/0501.pdf.

National Research Council (NRC, 1996). National Science Education Standards, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Pearson, Greg, and Young, A. Thomas, Editors (2002). Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Wicklein, Robert C. (2006). "5 Good Reasons for Engineering as THE Focus for Technology Education," The Technology Teacher, 65(7), 25-29, Available online at http://www.uga.edu/teched/conf/wick_engr.pdf.

Wiggin, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


What other programs should I be aware of?

The Engineering is Elementary (EiE) project aims to foster engineering and technological literacy among elementary school children. EiE is a research-based, standard-based, and classroom-tested curriculum that integrates engineering and technology concepts and skills with elementary science topics. EiE materials also connect with literacy, social studies, and mathematics. The Engineering is Elementary project also helps elementary school educators enhance their understanding of engineering concepts and pedagogy through professional development workshops and resources. You can find out more information at http://www.eie.org.

The Educator Resource Center (ERC) at the Museum of Science, Boston, has reviewed technology and engineering curriculum with results that can be viewed online. The materials found in the Technology and Engineering Curriculum (TEC) Review are a particularly innovative collection within the ERC. They showcase preferred K - 12 technology and engineering curricula for teachers looking to incorporate technological literacy into their classrooms. These materials are linked to national and state standards in technology and engineering, and they have been examined in accordance with how well they satisfy certain teaching characteristics, such as types of design activities, forms of student assessment, and teacher support materials. You can start your search at http://www.mos.org/educators.


Who should I contact if I have a suggestion or a correction?

The remainder of this Teacher Guide provides detailed suggestions for presenting the four projects and each Task of the course. In order to improve these materials, your input is absolutely essential. As you complete each project, please take notes, and then write to tell us what you and your students have done, what worked, what didn't work, and what we can do to improve the course. Send your suggestions to:

contact@its-about-time.com.


How do I order materials?

The Engineering the Future textbook, Engineer's Notebook and Teacher's Guide are available for order via our publisher, It's About Time. For ordering information, visit: http://www.its-about-time.com/etf.