PITA Fiscal Year 2007 Projects

Courses and Outreach Programs

Connecting Science with Engineering and Technology (C-SET)
We are requesting seed funding for the pilot of a teacher professional development project to incorporate engineering principles and competencies into science courses. This material will be developed as instructional modules on a “cognitive tutor” platform, an environment that has been shown to enhance learning (www.cmu.edu/oli/). Instructional units on principles and practice of engineering science and engineering design will be developed in alignment with state science and technology standards for high school. The goal is to prepare content in modular form that is relevant for high school students and is easy to incorporate into high school science courses. The material is both for teacher instruction and with some modifications, for use as classroom material. There are several reasons why the introduction of engineering concepts and competencies are useful –even vital – to introduce in K-12 education as we meet the need to educate our students in science and technology as needed for a competitive workforce and an informed citizenry. The applied nature of design shows explicitly the connections between science and the relevance of science knowledge in students’ daily lives. This can have good effects on motivation and attraction to science and engineering careers, and on technological literacy. College bound high school students receive little formal exposure to engineering in any form in their coursework at present. Many students would benefit from exposure to engineering concepts for a number of important reasons. These include increasing their knowledge about engineering as a profession, the demonstration of how science and engineering are intimately connected and the general application of engineering problem-solving skills to the challenges posed in many other disciplines. This will help students be better informed about choosing college majors and will better prepare students to be more competitive in engineering majors in college. This is particularly true for students for students from rural, inner city areas and other areas with teacher limitations.

With this funding, we plan to develop two model instructional units and test them at a Teachers’ Institute (with funding from other sources). These units will be developed on the "Open Learning Initiative" (OLI) platform, developed at Carnegie Mellon. OLI enables the design of web-based instruction, based on the cognitive principles of learning to complement and enhance classroom learning. The content for these instructional units will be developed by the PI and co PIs. While providing level appropriate background, it will require the student to use a combination of math and science skills to design something new or solve a problem. We will develop the content in terms of overarching fundamentals of engineering, for example, topics covered will include resistance and capacitance relevant to electrical, mechanical, chemical and materials science through heat and mass transfer and electric circuitry concepts. The idea of engineering flowing systems will be threaded through the content; its relevance to fluid dynamics and the flow of electricity, heat and mass will thus become evident. Professional development programs will have two goals—providing in-service and pre-service teachers with engineering content for the classroom via the OLI platform and use of the teacher’s expertise by the PIs to direct the appropriate level needed for the student as well as connection to appropriate courses in the current high school curriculum. This will ensure that high school students who choose engineering study as the path that will lead them to the workforce will have a better understanding of the area of study that they are selecting.