AUSTIN, TEXAS—March 8, 2011
We all hear about the importance of improving STEM education for K-12th graders and getting more people excited about the vast possibilities with engineering innovations. Two of the award-winning professors here at the Cockrell School of Engineering answered that call by creating the Design, Technology, & Engineering for All Chilren (DTEACh) program and Professional Development Institute (PDI) almost 20 years ago. Over the past 18 years, more than 700 educators and 60,000 students have been impacted by the program, which features integration of engineering design challenges into other disciplines… from literature to science and mathematics to art. DTEACh provides K-12 teachers with engineering design pedagogy and design-based, project-based, hands-on activities for teaching applied mathematics and science. Since 1998 the PDI has used LEGO MINDSTORMS robotics as the focus for hands-on experiences. Recently, DTEACh curriculum, teaching, and designs are framed within the Engineering Grand Challenges of the 21st Century.
Throughout human history, imagination has come to fruition through engineering, which has driven immense advances in civilization. These advances can be seen with significant engineering feats that drastically changed societies – ships that created innovative channels for trade and travel; sanitation systems for improved health and quality of life; widespread development and distribution of electricity and water; automobiles and airplanes; telephones; computers; space exploration; and the Internet are but a few of the most notable. Reflecting on the 20th century and looking forward in our first decades of the new millennium, the National Academy of Engineers (NAE) sought innovative ways to identify formidable challenges as the population grows and its needs and desires expand . The NAE gathered a team of leading thinkers with a wide range of experiences who are dedicated to improving the quality of life around the globe. This team explored broad realms of human concern – sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living – and generated 14 specific 21st Century Grand Challenges that await engineering solutions.
Over the almost two decades of DTEACh, there has been an evolution of curriculum and pedagogy to shift with the dynamic nature of engineering education ecology. The DTEACh evolution is inspired by the dynamic needs of our students as global citizens. This new era calls for students to think differently than ever before so that they can effectively learn skills that will help them to be successful lifelong learners. These 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and multiple literacy practices are key components of design. DTEAChers embark on journeys to discover how engineering can enhance all learning; the importance and value of engineering to society; and how to excite their diverse students to choose a world-changing career. It provides opportunities to understand that anyone with an engineering education can be a positive change agent for society. For example, teachers and students investigate ways to "restore and improve urban infrastructure" in an effort to (Re)New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill. Exploring Energy guides students in understanding ways to critically think about ways to capture, store, and use clean energy with a focus on solar and wind alternatives. Working with Water facilitates learning experiences about capturing, transporting, cleaning, and storing water.
DTEACh and Beyond Blackboards
Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded DTEACh co-founder Dr. Richard H. Crawford with a $1.5 million grant towards Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) through an outreach program, Beyond Blackboards. Beyond Blackboards collaborates with Round Rock Independent School District and the Del Valle Independent School District (DVISD). The Beyond Blackboards teachers and students worked on biomedical engineering projects with robotic solutions throughout the past several months in Innovation Clubs. UT undergraduate engineering students and UTeach graduate students mentored in these after school clubs and will continue to mentor for the Beyond Blackboards summer camps. In addition to the UT mentors, industry mentors from local companies such as National Instruments and Skillpoint Alliance work closely with the DVISD teachers, students, and families. During the biomedical project, DVISD teachers and students met on campus with several UT student members of Biomedical Outreach and Leadership Team (BOLT) to learn more about innovations in biomedical design. Del Valle's entire school district embraces the idea of improving STEM education for their students, teachers, families, and administrators. From the elementary campuses to board meetings, the DVISD community has actively worked to integrate many opportunities for UT engineering outreach, including hosting the local FIRST LEGO League tournament. Indeed The University of Texas at Austin, Central Texas schools districts, and industry are forming a strong network supporting innovative engineering education.
From natural disasters to overcrowded cities, from pandemics to more than a billion people without access to safe water, ours is a world filled with affliction and catastrophe – yet it is a world of possibilities and opportunities for hope and solutions. The 14 Grand Challenges embody these possibilities and opportunities, creating a landscape of hope and meaningful endeavor in STEM education. The DTEACh and Beyond Blackboards communities strive towards hope in this challenging time. We do more than hope for a better, safer, and more accessible world because we put that hope into action with our work and research. Margaret Mead once wisely advised, "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Commensurate with her notion, we face the Grand Challenges locally with student-facilitated projects and globally as a network of activists.