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Research Suggests Engineering is Elementary Supports Classroom Equity

April 21, 2014

A University of North Carolina at Greensboro researcher who is investigating how teachers use a Museum of Science curriculum at high-needs schools says, Engineering is Elementary® (EiE®) could be a powerful tool for supporting classroom equity. EiE is a project of the Museum's National Center for Technological Literacy®.

"Power differentials between 'smart' and 'struggling' students exist in every classroom," says Dr. Heidi Carlone, who leads the Engineering is Elementary Seed Leadership project. But after observing educators teaching EiE to students in their classrooms, Carlone reports that "engineering has the potential to disrupt status quo definitions of what it means to be smart."

In 2013, Carlone and her team followed a small group of teachers from Title 1 (mainly disadvantaged) schools in the North Carolina Piedmont as they introduced the project-based, multidisciplinary curriculum, which integrates with elementary-school science instruction, in their classrooms. Carlone's team conducted detailed classroom observations and also interviewed teachers and students after they experienced the EiE curriculum.

Study participants identified "smart" students with qualities like "getting good grades," "paying attention to the teacher," and "turning in homework." After working through EiE's hands-on engineering challenges, students and teachers identified "smart engineers" with qualities like exercising creativity and imagination, working well with others, and being able to learn from mistakes.

"We noticed that after experiencing the EiE curriculum, students seemed to express feeling more affiliated with science," Carlone notes. "If borne out by evidence, that will be important in an era when new national standards call for educators to cultivate the next generation of STEM innovators."

Designed for use in grades 1 - 5, the EiE curriculum was expressly created to support learning for students of all backgrounds and abilities. "We definitely find that, because of their creative, collaborative, and open-ended nature, engineering activities appeal to a wide range of students," Carlone says.

Carlone and her team expect to publish the results of their study in fall 2014. A video of preliminary findings from the project is available on the UNCG School of Education website. (

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The Museum of Science, Boston

  1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114  phone: 617-723-2500