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Learning through Engineering Design is a k-12 engineering-education research effort that designs, develops, implements, and disseminates inquiry-based learning experiences through hands-on engineering projects aimed at increasing learner interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Learning through Engineering Design is based on research-based strategies such as cognitive apprenticeship, project-based learning, engineering-design process, and inquiry-based instructional planning.

Funding Sources

This effort began in Fall 2007 with funding from the National Science Foundation's Division for Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (Award # 0737616). In addition, funding from the Science Foundation of Arizona's Graduate Research Fellows K12/Industry programs has provided support for graduate students in science and engineering to be engaged in K-12 engineering and science education.


The initial National Science Foundation award (2007-11) allowed for the iterative design and implementation of novel engineering-based learning experiences in after-school programs in four area middle schools. Participant educators were provided with professional development and curricular offerings were iteratively refined. Industry partners, undergraduate students in engineering, and university faculty provided cognitive apprenticeships to participating middle school students. Participant middle school students developed leadership skills by offering hands-on experiences for younger peers and visitors of the Arizona Science Center through summer youth-docentships. Renewable energy internships offered via the SRP—local water and energy service provider, allowed for students to interact with professional engineers and scientists in their workplaces. Participants and their family members were involved in learning about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and career pathways.

Funding from the Science Foundation of Arizona (2009-11) allowed for doctoral students in science and engineering to engage with K-12 education. Through the ASU Citizen Scientist-Engineer @ K-12 Schools program, participant Graduate K-12 Fellows have collaborated with K-12 schools and educators to design and implement learning experiences for middle school students on topics such as urban ecology, solar energy and energy storage, design of smart prosthetics, microbes and their role in our eco-system, and access to clean water. This effort has allowed for the development of doctoral students as future scientists-engineers who will foster awareness, enjoyment, interest, opinion forming, and understanding of science and engineering in themselves and others as personal responses to their own role as public intellectuals.

In 2010 the project has expanded its efforts to work with middle school educators to develop in-school integrated STEM education where engineering design challenges form the crux of the learning experience. K-12 educators drawn from multiple disciplines, including language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies have been provided with opportunities to explore the engineering design process first hand and learn about the engineering habits of mind through professional development.

What They Say

"I am thinking of becoming a mechanical engineer. I am very creative and am enjoying this program. Teachers in the program ask me, 'What do you think will be most effective? and Why?' I have learned how to use my imagination."
-- Celeste Mesito, age 13

"The most important thing I've learned about is it's very important to work together as a team. I have learned that it is okay to make mistakes. Sometimes things don't always work the first time, so you have to try something new and that is what engineering is all about. I have learned that I am smart and creative!"
-- Andrew Olson, age 12

"Through my engagement in this project over the last two years, I have changed my perspectives on teaching and learning. Primary changes for me, surround the importance of student-centered learning, and allowing student performances to modify and shape the teacher's behavior. Education is about teaching students, not curriculum despite the external pressures to focus on basic curricular needs."
-- Janette Walsh, 7th grade science teacher

"Students really seem to benefit from the engineering-design process as they explore and problem solve. As a teacher I am always looking for effective and engaging strategies and lessons that will help students learn new concepts and skills like the strategies and lessons used throughout the Learning through Engineering Design program."
-- Dan Cummings, 8th grade science teacher