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Study Indicates Engineering is Elementary Sparks Students Underrepresented in STEM

October 10, 2011

After teachers' reports that the Engineering is Elementary® (EiE®) curriculum was particularly effective for students who were traditionally underrepresented or underperformed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the Museum of Science commissioned Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI) in 2010 to investigate EiE's impact on students more systematically.

The study, "Engineering is Elementary: Impacts on Students Historically-Underrepresented in STEM Fields," released in May 2011, surveyed a small sample of EiE teachers about the impact of this National Center for Technological Literacy® curriculum on students from low-income families, minorities, those with individualized education plans, and English-language learners. While not representing all teachers using EiE, the teachers surveyed indicated their students enjoyed and were engaged during EiE activities. Many teachers indicated that student engagement was higher with EiE than in either science or school in general for at least some sub-groups of students. Teachers also indicated students' experiences with EiE led to positive impacts on their school performance and their attitudes towards engineering, science, and school.

Said one teacher, "My students knew practically nothing about engineering or the science/math involved. Through the EIE curriculum, they gained an insight into their world and became interested in how things around them work." Said another, "They often can be seen drawing creations of new machines or gadgets that they have invented. It also encouraged my students to think outside the box and find the answer to a question through trial and error."

Starting with storybooks featuring boys and girls from various backgrounds, EiE units culminate with design challenges offering opportunities for students to use their new engineering skills to solve real-world problems. Adaptable for students of different ages and abilities, the units allow them to try an idea, see how it works, and then try again. This allows those who might struggle to build knowledge and skills, increasing the likelihood they will be successful in later, more challenging, activities.

Another educator reported, "Underrepresented students are as capable in EiE activities as all my other students." Most of the teachers interviewed indicated that EiE's hands-on, scaffolded activities allow them to tailor their approach to meet the needs of different students. Almost all the teachers surveyed reported that students learned more and performed better because of EiE. While these findings are promising, the Museum plans to commission more extensive studies.

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The Museum of Science, Boston

  1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114  phone: 617-723-2500   information@mos.org