Research Findings

Houston, We Have a Problem!
The future of engineering lies within the creativity and innovation of our nation's youth. However, as many recent papers and studies have chronicled, kids today are not pursuing futures in science, math, engineering and technology (Sullivan 2006; Rising Above the Gathering Storm; Duderstadt). Research studies show that students begin to lose enthusiasm for science in elementary and middle school (Greenfield 1996; Jovanovich & King 1998). One study showed that middle school students responded unfavorably when asked if they want to pursue a career in engineering (Mooney & Laubach 2002). Waning enthusiasm is more pronounced for girls as they exhibit lower science achievement scores than boys at the middle school level (Stake & Mares 2001). Standardized test results also illustrate decreasing math proficiency in the middle school years. To steer young students towards futures in engineering and technology, particularly girls and ethnic minorities, we must impress upon them the creativity, influence, and societal impact of engineering and the motivation to learn science and math during the critical K-12 years. Whether teaching stand-alone engineering classes in elementary, middle or high school or through integrating engineering activities into subjects like science, math, geography, etc., research shows that engineering-like education works!

Why Use Engineering?
Aside from being flat out fun, incorporating engineering activities into your classroom in a proper way is directly aligned with many instructional practices known to improve student learning. First of all, the process of engineering design where students identify and define a problem, formulate the right questions, conceive multiple possible solutions and evaluate those solutions through analysis and testing, is very similar to scientific inquiry. The National Science Standards (AAAS, 1989; National Research Council, 1996) have labeled the use of inquiry that promotes scientific reasoning as a central strategy for teaching science. The use of an inquiry based approach in a science classroom leads students to realize the way science is authentically carried out. Many studies have found that inquiry-based science activities have positive effects on student achievement, cognitive development, laboratory skills, and understanding of science content as a whole when compared with students taught using traditional approaches (Burkam et al. 1997, Freedman 1997).

Engineering lessons and activities are typically inquiry-based and incorporate problem solving, critical thinking and cooperative learning for all students. Research has shown that cooperative activities facilitated more active roles (Baker 1990, Johnson & Johnson 1999, Meyer 1998) and higher retention rates for female students (Kahle & Meece, 1994). Studies have also shown that African American and Hispanic students performed better in cooperative environments (Atwater, 1994, Bonangue 1992). Additionally, studies have shown that students in inquiry based classrooms have improved attitudes toward both science and school as compared to traditional methods.

Engineering curriculum often involve hands-on activities that are open-ended (more than one correct answer). Research has shown that students who participate in hands-on activities and perform their own science experiments learn more than those who do not (Burkam et al. 1997, Freedman 1997). Teachers who have implemented engineering activities have indicated that the open-ended, inquiry-based, and team-oriented approach encouraged the involvement of students who normally do not participate in class (Mooney & Laubach 2002). Teachers indicate that the hands-on inquiry approach is particularly appealing to students with disabilities, allowing them to learn using kinesic and verbal modalities, pictorial representations and creativity - traits that are strengths of students with learning disabilities (Mastropieri et al. 1999). And, the use of hands-on project based learning has been proven effective in educating English as a second-language students (Gersten & Baker 2000).
Stay Tuned
Research into how children learn and particularly how children learn science and math is clearly evolving rapidly. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Heath, and the Department of Education are funding numerous research efforts. So check back from time to time to keep up to date on these important research findings.

American Association for Advancement of Science. (1989). Science for all Americans: Project 2061 New York: Oxford University Press.

Atwater, M.M.  “Research on cultural diversity in the classroom,” In D.L. Gable (Ed.) Handbook of research on science teaching and learning, 1994, Macmillon Publ. Co. (pp. 558-576.

Baker, D. “Gender Differences in Science:  Where They Start and Where They Go,” Paper Presented at the Meeting of the National Association for Science Teaching and Research, April, 1990.

Burkam, D.T., Lee, V.T. & Smerdon, B.A. 1997. “Gender and Science Learning Early in High School: Subject Matter and Laboratory Experiences,” American Educational Research Journal, 34, 297-331.

Bonangue, M.V. “Long Term Effectiveness of the Calculus Workshop Model, a presentation as part of Increasing Minority Participation in Math-Based Disciplines, A Chautauqua Shortcourse, University Extension Services, California State University Long Beach, April, 1992.

Duderstadt, James J. Engineering for a Changing World: A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice, Research and Education. February 2008. The Millennium Project, 2001 Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2094.

Freedman, M.P. 1997. “Relationships among Laboratory Instruction, Attitudes toward Science, and Achievement in Science Knowledge,” J. Research in Science Teaching, 34, 343-357.

Gersten, R. and Baker, S. 2000. “What We Know About Effective Instructional Practices For English-Language Learners,” Exceptional Children, 66(4), 454-470.

Greenfield, T.A. 1996. “Gender, Ethnicity, Science Achievement, and Attitudes,” J. Research in Science Teaching, 33, 901-933.

Johnson, R.T. and Johnson, D.W., “Cooperative Learning and the Achievement and Socialization Crisis in Science and Math Classroom,” Students and Science Learning, A.B. Champagne and L.E. Horning (Eds.), Washington.

Jovanovic, J. & King, S.S. 1998. “Boys and Girls in the Performance-Based Science Classroom: Who’s Doing the Performing?” American Educational Research Journal, 35, 477-496.

Kahle, J.B. and Meece, J. Research on gender issues in the classroom. In DL. Grable (Ed.) Handbook of research on science teaching and learning, 1994, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, pp. 542-557.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Magnusen, M. “Activities-oriented science instruction for students with disabilities,” Learning Disability Quarterly, 1999, 22, 240-249.

Meyer, K. 1998. Reflections on Being Female in School Science: Toward a Praxis of Teaching Science,” J. Research in Science Teaching, 35, 463-471.

Mooney, M.A. and Laubach, T., "Adventure Engineering: A Design Centered, Inquiry Based Approach to Middle Grade Science and Mathematics Education." J. Engineering Education, ASEE, 2002, 91(3), 309-318.

National Research Council (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Ramirez, M. III and Price-Williams, D.R. “Cognitive Styles of children of three ethnic groups in the United States,” J. Cross-cultural Psychology, 1974, 5, 212-219.

Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future


Stake, J.E. & Mares, K.R. 2001. “Science Enrichment Programs for Gifted High School Girls and Boys: Predictors of Program Impact on Science Confidence and Motivation,” J. Research in Science Teaching, 38(10), 1065-1088.

Sullivan, J. “A Call for K–16 Engineering Education,” The Bridge, 2006, 36(2).