Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) is a partnership-driven K–12 economic development initiative underway in Mobile, Ala., that is spearheaded by a local nonprofit education entity in collaboration with a large urban school system, higher education, and area business and industry. Its purpose is to produce high school graduates eager and able to meet the growing demand for tech-savvy workers who are also innovative problem solvers. EYE uses engineering design challenges to bring practical relevance and rigor to K–12 math and science curricula. At the middle-grades level, local and National Science Foundation funding are enabling EYE to develop a set of integrated STEM instructional units, the EYE modules, to inspire and motivate all middle-grades students, especially those typically underrepresented in STEM, to take the high school courses needed in preparation for 21st century workforce needs. Each EYE Module is designed such that students use engineering practices and apply required mathematics and science content to develop solutions to relevant problems facing humans today, fostering the development of engineering “habits of mind.”
The set of eight EYE modules are comprehensive and extensive instructional guides for middle-grades teachers to implement collaboratively in mathematics and science classes. The modules address standards-based STEM content and practices that fill gaps between state-mandated and tested content and what business and industry say they need, including innovative problem solving, communication, and teamwork skills. Module-specific professional development and implementation materials kits accompany each module. The modules are not a complete engineering, technology, or STEM curriculum; rather, they supplement and support the existing mathematics and science curriculum. They are a set of comprehensive and extensive instructional guides that use design challenges and the engineering design process to engage middle-grades students in pursuing STEM careers and academics. The set of eight modules with their grade-level “Launcher” lessons involve about 50 hours of STEM exposure for each student during the three middle-grades years (6, 7, 8). Each EYE module requires from 6 to 10 lessons implemented in a combination of math and science classes. While the modules are designed to be used as a set, they may be implemented as independent units as well.
A longitudinal comparison study of the impact of the EYE modules on students was begun in 2011 and is following the cohort of sixth-grade students as they experience the finalized set of eight modules. This study will be completed in 2014. Other studies involving cohorts of students who experienced early drafts of the modules in grades 6–8 are producing encouraging indications of their impact on students, teachers, and the district. Initial results show the draft modules positively impacting students’ interest in STEM careers and STEM capacity. These data also indicate that EYE students know more about engineering, are more interested in work resembling that found in STEM careers, are more receptive to science labs and other hands-on activities, and are more likely to have had a teacher or counselor talk about STEM fields than those in a matched comparison school. Standardized test data are showing a positive impact on module-specific science and mathematics content and that EYE may also be having an even greater impact on groups underrepresented in STEM, such as African-American students.
Qualitative data from multiple sources indicate a new and beneficial collaboration between the mathematics and science teachers following multiple years of using the modules. In addition, teachers report they now see strengths in many of their students that previously had gone unrecognized, specifically students receiving special education services. Often the special education students become the team leaders, gaining newfound respect from their classmates.
One compelling summative finding has already emerged from the study: the modules have served as a catalyst for a large urban school system (60,000 students, 17 middle schools, over 70% below poverty level) to initiate STEM reform. According to the superintendent, as a direct result of the EYE modules, the school system has developed and implemented revised mathematics and science standards that incorporate engineering. And, to ensure sustainability of these reform efforts, the school system has established a new district-level position, STEM resource teacher, and filled the position with one of the teachers involved in the EYE module development and field tests.
As the nation is calling for K–12 schools to better prepare students to meet industry’s need for STEM-literate workers and innovative problem solvers, there is an unprecedented demand for quality-integrated STEM curricula that include engineering and supports both mathematics and science content to produce these students. The EYE modules are showing their potential to engage students around STEM careers, producing students with engineering habits of mind, and, as importantly, serving as a catalyst for districts to include integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into their core curriculum.
Besides using the EYE modules to bring integrated STEM to core middle-grades mathematics and science classes, other applications of the modules are emerging. One involves using the EYE modules as part of a STEM professional development offering for districts in the Boston region that are interested in integrated STEM at the middle grades. Districts send grade-level pairs of middle-grades teachers to learn about integrated STEM through study and implementation of the EYE modules. Graduate-level course credit is provided for participants who complete the week-long summer workshop, implement the modules, and complete follow-up activities, including gathering implementation data.
Another interesting application of the modules is their use in building leadership capacity for STEM sustainability in the Mobile area. Multiple tiers of leaders are being developed—including business/industry leaders, school district administrators, instructional specialists, informal and formal educators of teachers, and classroom teachers. The EYE modules are used as a tool to deepen understanding of the “what, why, and how” of STEM, enabling these potential STEM leaders to better advocate for and support STEM education for all students.