Incorporating Engineering Education into Science Classrooms


This workshop proposal is within the area of engineering education, which is an area of growing importance to the ASTE membership. As states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and with the current national need to produce more highly qualified graduates within STEM fields, especially within engineering (PCAST, 2012), K-12 science teachers are being called upon to incorporate engineering practices into their classrooms and to motivate diverse students to seek engineering degrees. Likewise, science teacher educators need to prepare preservice and inservice teachers to incorporate engineering practices into K-12 classrooms. Although science and engineering practices overlap, differences exist. Matching the public perception of engineering, many science teacher educators and science teachers have few experiences and little knowledge of engineering and engineering education (Yaşar, Ş., Baker, D., Robinson-Kurpius, S., Krause, S., & Roberts, C., 2006). Additionally, this lack of experience has led to educators, particularly elementary educators, not teaching engineering in their classrooms (Yaşar, Ş. et al. 2006).

This workshop will engage science teacher educators and science teachers in an integrated STEM lesson that supports the development of science and mathematics content using the engineering design process and related science and engineering practices. The practical application for teachers and science teacher educators is they will learn to implement engineering design in the classroom using effective science teaching pedagogies that align with the NGSS. In addition, the workshop will provide them with a means to foster the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills while meeting other state standards related to kinetic and potential energy.

This workshop is relevant to science teacher education because it addresses the emerging topic of engineering education. Engineering is a major area within the NGSS and a topic in which many science teachers and science teacher educators have little experience. This workshop aims to provide valuable knowledge and experiences that the participants can integrate into their respective classrooms, whether they are teaching K-12 science students or preparing K-12 science teachers.


In this conference workshop, which will be two-hours, participants will have an opportunity to examine data to dispel myths related to the field of engineering and will be exposed to an effective 3-8 grade lesson on engineering design through engaging in the Water Wheel Challenge.

The following is an outline of the workshop:
5 minutes – The presentation team will begin by welcoming participants, having introductions, and overviewing the workshop goals.

10 minutes – The presentation team will facilitate a group discussion aimed at identifying persistent myths about who can be an engineer and/or implement engineering lessons. This type of discussion has previously worked well in teacher preparation courses and professional developments in which we used preservice and inservice teachers’ perceptions of engineering as a means to guide conversation aimed at busting persistent myths in engineering (e.g. women need more math and science skills to succeed, all engineering requires experiences require building a physical deliverable, and there are groups of individuals that will not be successful in engineering). This same model will be followed for this workshop during the initial introductory period. The conversations will pull in the results of research from this team as well as the established body of literature related to diverse groups’ pursuit of engineering degrees (e.g. Godwin, 2014; Kirn, 2014; Schnittka, 2012).

90 minutes – The participants will engage in the Water Wheel Challenge, which is an integrated STEM lesson. The lesson has three learning objectives for elementary and middle school students:
1. Students will explore the conversion of potential to kinetic energy.
2. Students will design and build an interactive water wheel that will lift weight.
3. Students will engage in the engineering design process to solve the design challenge.

During the lesson, the presentation team will begin by discussing the engineering design process as applicable to this challenge. The participants will also learn about the history, use, and function of water wheels. Then, they will work in teams to brainstorm, design, and build a water wheel that is capable of lifting the most weight when rice is poured across the water wheel and adhere to a materials budget as outlined in the challenge. The participants will sketch both their initial design concept and their final construction, as well as any and all modifications throughout the design process. They will utilize various inexpensive household items including paper plates, paper cups, drinking straws, plastic spoons, string, and masking tape. Metal washers will be used as weights. A tarp will be spread across the floor and rice will be used instead of water in order to prevent making a mess. Once the groups have completed their water wheels, they will be tested and the amount of weight that each wheel can lift will be measured on a scale. Lastly, the teams will revise their water wheel designs in order to improve upon their efficiency. The teams will test their water wheels one final time and attempt to lift more weight than before. The presentation team will conclude the water wheel activity with a discussion of potential variations to the lesson. For example, a teacher could attach nominal costs to each material and require each team to build a water wheel within a specific budget. Furthermore, the presentation team will discuss other STEM connections to this lesson including science concepts related to potential and kinetic energy as well as the mathematics involved in generating a design budget and graphing the success of weight lifted per iteration.

15 minutes – The presentation team will conclude the workshop by reviewing the session and highlighting some of the strategies used to incorporate engineering education into science classrooms. Finally we will provide the participants with our contact information, and for those interested, we will collect email addresses and begin a group email so as to continue valuable discussions after the completion of the workshop.

By the end of the session, each participant should have a better understanding of engineering culture, the engineering design process, and effective strategies used to incorporate engineering education into science classrooms.


This workshop will be of relevance to ASTE members who are science teacher educators as well as science teachers. Participants in the workshop will emerge with experience engaging in the engineering design process and a hard copy of the water wheel lesson plan, which is aligned to the NGSS. This proposal also aligns with requests of the one of the authors by the ASTE membership to present an engineering education workshop at ASTE.

Furthermore, this workshop was intentionally designed to rely on a limited number of resources that are all low cost. The materials used in this project require no special classroom setups or infrastructure improvements. The use of low cost materials opens up low socioeconomic status schools and provides an avenue for students of limited means to explore engineering and engineering concepts. During the completion of the water wheel project the presentation team will take time to address issues in teaming related to gender and minority status of students and provide instructors with tools that can be used to combat students taking or being forced into stereotypical roles.


This workshop is coordinated by three science teacher educators from the University of Nevada. One author is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education whose National Science Foundation funded research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, students’ motivation, and learning experiences. Additionally, he has been recognized as a rising scholar in engineering education by the American Society of Engineering Education: Education Research and Methods Division. The other two presenters are an assistant professor of secondary science education and a professor of elementary science education who have experience incorporating engineering based pedagogies in teacher preparation courses.


We will be able to accommodate up to 25 participants, who are also attending the ASTE conference. Our session can start before the conference begins or occur during the conference.

We will need chairs for 25 participants as well as a large area with no tables or chairs for the 25 participants to test their water wheel designs. The 25 participants will be divided into five groups of five people. We will also need a projector and screen for the opening and closing sections of the workshop. We will provide all other needed materials for the workshop including the lesson plan handouts, a tarp, metal washers, paper, pencils, rice, paper plates and cups, drinking straws, plastic spoons, string, masking tape, and a scale.

There will be no charge to participants in this workshop.