Everyone is familiar with the term STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. But while three of those components have earned their own subjects and core objectives within the K-12 curriculum, ‘engineering’ seems to lack the same presence.
To address the issue of the missing ‘E’ in STEM, Engineers Canada and Engineers of Tomorrow announced at the end of March, the creation of a collective impact project to facilitate change. Engineers Canada will act as a backbone of coordinating organizations, sharing a mutual agenda, that will create the common messaging and metrics that will allow advocates to mutually reinforce their collective impacts in increasing engagement of engineering in students.
The formation of this collective impact project comes as a result of recent research into engineering in the K-12 space. In 2022, Engineers Canada commissioned a report from MQO Research as part of the first steps in examining current engineering-related K-12 activities. Together with MQO and Engineers of Tomorrow, Engineers Canada presented the results of the “Where is the E in STEM?” report in a virtual National Engineering Month presentation at the end of March, to a lively and engaged virtual audience.
The report completed an environmental scan of the K-12 system to get a sense for the current state of engineering within the education system. Surveys and key informant interviews were held with educators, associations, NGOs, and engineer advocacy groups. They discovered four key conclusions:
- Engineering-specific targets are missing from many K-12 curriculums nationally.
- There is a lack of understanding of what constitutes engineering among K-12 educators.
- There is a measurement problem when it comes to assessing the delivery of engineering education in Canada.
- There are several organizations doing good work promoting engineering to young people across Canada.
The lack of a centralized curriculum means that there is wide variation on how and when engineering is introduced to students. Often, engineering activities and concepts are described as belonging to the other STEM subjects without receiving any credit or recognition. Without a clear definition of engineering, students don’t recognize engineering as a potential career option for their future. In order to address these issues, a common set of goals and best practices for engagement in engineering in K-12, along with a method for data collection, will be required.
The participants of the virtual panel engaged in a lively discussion surrounding these topics, the problems they had experienced personally, and the potential solutions identified in the report.
The report made four main recommendations:
- Advocate for explicit inclusion of engineering in curricula across Canada, identified in K-12 learning objectives and outcomes.
- Focus on language used by educators. Promote use of the word “engineering,” and increase educator confidence by establishing simple-to-understand shared definition and messaging.
- Establish a mechanism to gather and use shared data.
- Increase communication and collaboration.
The creation of the Engineers Canada-Engineers of Tomorrow collective impact project came at the end of the March event. More information about this project will follow in the months ahead.