In Robinson’s Weblog #008: What’s the Big Idea? Part Two: The Big Ideas about Science Education, I wrote that the goal and vision for U.S. K-12 science education articulated in the framework identify the “big ideas about science education”. While exploring these big ideas, I wasn’t too thrilled that engineering is included in the NGSS, but since I do have an aversion to jumping to conclusions without all of the facts, I decided to investigate the rationale for including engineering in these new SCIENCE standards. So here goes….
In this excerpt, the framework defines engineering and technology and discusses the rationale for including them in the new science standards.
“Engineering and technology are included as they relate to the applications of science, and in so doing they offer students a path to strengthen their understanding of the role of sciences. We use the term engineering in a very broad sense to mean any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems. Likewise, we broadly use the term technology to include all types of human-made systems and processes—not in the limited sense often used in schools that equates technology with modern computational and communications devices. Technologies result when engineers apply their understanding of the natural world and of human behavior to design ways to satisfy human needs and wants.”
This excerpt does (sort of) offer a rationale for including engineering in the new standards. But, in my opinion, it is not too convincing. However, it does a good job of defining engineering and technology. This is useful because the line between engineering and technology has always been a bit fuzzy to me. Combining these definitions with understandings about the nature of science outlined in NGSS Appendix H which I wrote about in Robinson’s Weblog #010: What’s the Big Idea? Part Four: The Big Ideas about Science (Understandings about the Nature of Science) gives us:
- Science is a body of knowledge and the process by which that knowledge is developed.
- Engineering is any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems.
- Technology is any type of human-made system or process that is made to satisfy human needs and wants.
Okay, so now that we know what science, engineering,and technology are and the relationships among them; let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between science and engineering.
According to the framework:
“..... the goal of science is to develop a set of coherent and mutually consistent theoretical descriptions of the world that can provide explanations over a wide range of phenomena, For engineering, however, success is measured by the extent to which a human need or want has been addressed.”
“In engineering, the goal is a design rather than an explanation. The process of developing a design is iterative and systematic, as is the process of developing an explanation or a theory in science.”
Although science and engineering share certain elements, they differ in significant ways. The differences are mostly based on the fact that the products of science are explanations, while the products of engineering are solutions. They are similar in that the process of scientific inquiry and the process of engineering design are both iterative and systematic.
Now we shall take a look at where engineering is included in the NGSS, then why it's included in the NGSS.
The framework outlines the content for K-12 science education and has three dimensions, which I wrote about in Robinson’s Weblog #009: What’s the Big Idea? Part Three: The Big Ideas of Science and the NGSS Dimensions. These dimensions are: scientific and engineering practices (SEPs), cross-cutting concepts (CCs), and disciplinary core ideas (DCIs). The dimensions are the foundation upon which the architecture of the NGSS are built. Based on recommendations in the framework, the NGSS include engineering to a greater extent than in earlier science standards. In fact engineering design is integrated throughout the dimensions.
NGSS Dimension 1: Science and Engineering Practices
The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use. The practices are used to deepen student understanding of disciplinary core ideas(dimension 3)and students are expected to use the practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas. The NGSS raise engineering practices to the level of traditional science practices and students are expected to use engineering practices to acquire and apply scientific knowledge.
NGSS Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts
Crosscutting concepts unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields. The crosscutting concepts provide students with a common language for disciplinary core ideas(dimension 3) and help students to recognize that the same concept is relevant across different science and engineering contexts.
NGSS Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas
The disciplinary core ideas are organized into domains that represent the science disciplines. The NGSS also expect students to develop an understanding of some core engineering design principles. Engineering, technology, and applications of science is the fourth discipline, placing engineering as equal to the core disciplines of life science, physical science, and earth and space science.
Disciplinary Core Ideas: Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science
ETS 1: Engineering design
The components of the first core idea give students an understanding of engineering design practices and address the question: “How do engineers solve problems?”
• ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem
• ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions
• ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution
ETS 2: Links among engineering, technology, science, and society
The components of the second core idea give students an understanding of the links among science, technology, science, and society and addresses the question: “How are engineering, technology, science, and society interconnected?”
• ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
• ETS2.B: Influence of Engineering, Technology and Science on Society and the Natural World
The NGSS are organized as performance expectations (PEs) that blend together the three dimensions, which means that the practices are incorporated with the disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts in the PEs.The PEs are what students will be assessed on at each grade level or band and are stated in terms of what students who demonstrate understanding can do.
Engineering design is integrated throughout the standards. A number of PEs in the three traditional science disciplinary areas begin with an engineering practice. These PEs require students to demonstrate their understanding of science content through the application of engineering practices. There are also PEs in the core ideas of engineering design. These PEs require students to demonstrate their understanding of some core engineering design principles.
The Framework gives this rationale for the increased emphasis on engineering:
“Engineering and technology, defined in these broad ways, are included in the framework for several reasons. First, the committee thinks it is important for students to explore the practical use of science, given that a singular focus on the core ideas of the disciplines would tend to shortchange the importance of applications. Second, at least at the K-8 level, these topics typically do not appear elsewhere in the curriculum and thus are neglected if not included in science instruction. Finally, engineering and technology provide a context in which students can test their own developing scientific knowledge and apply it to practical problems; doing so enhances their understanding of science—and, for many, their interest in science—as they recognize the interplay among science, engineering, and technology.”
The framework notes that engineering provides opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of science by applying their developing scientific knowledge to the solution of practical problems.
Applying the core ideas of science in the context of engineering is a powerful motivator for your students because it:
- engages their personal interest in learning the science concepts
- gets them to understand the relevance of various concepts
- puts their scientific knowledge to practical use by applying it to solve engineering design problems.
By incorporating engineering activities where your students create solutions to real-life problems, you can make a bold step that shifts the emphasis from just conceptual understandings of science ideas to their application to real-world problem solving. Connecting science content to the outside world by providing real-world context to otherwise abstract science concepts gets students to understand the applications of science, while at the same time increasing their knowledge and retention of the core ideas.
In Robinson’s Weblog #006: Don’t Throw Baby NGSS out with the Bathwater Part One:Those Problematic PEs, I wrote that I don’t like how the NGSS performance expectations (PEs) restrict the combination of concepts with practices in assessments of student knowledge. Now, I’ll add the fact that engineering is included as a domain of science to the list of things I don’t like about the NGSS.
But, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater is an expression that admonishes not to eliminate something good when trying to get rid of something that is not so good). I don’t want to make the mistake of rejecting the NGSS altogether, just because I don’t like certain aspects of it. So although I don’t think engineering should be included as a science domain, I do like the benefits that incorporating engineering design in science instruction brings to students.
I will write a bit more about incorporating engineering design into science instruction a little later. Stay tuned!