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Board 125: Work in Progress: Development of a Project-based, Differentiated Engineering Curriculum (DEC) for High School Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


James M. Muscarella Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

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Jim Muscarella is a physics and engineering teacher at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Over the past decade, he has created and developed an engineering program for high school students. Jim holds both a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a M.S. in Education from Drexel University.

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Mi Thant Mon Soe Drexel University (Eng. & Eng. Tech.)

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Thant is a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics department at Drexel University where she focuses on developing microfabrication and microfluidics tools for biomedical research. She is interested in cell sorting, drug delivery, and engineering education.

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Jessica S. Ward Drexel University (Eng. & Eng. Tech.)

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Jessica S. Ward serves as the Director of Development for the Center for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning Excellence (CASTLE). During her tenure at Drexel University, Ms. Ward has successfully coordinated with multiple faculty members in the submission of approximately 700 grant proposals, including co-writing, editing and serving as the Program Manager for 9 awarded STEM education grants totaling more than $14M. She has collaborated with University offices, faculty and staff in the facilitation of recruitment strategies to increase the quality and quantity of undergraduate and graduate enrollment in STEM programs. Ms. Ward now manages the fundraising and grant writing for CASTLE, including assisting with hiring and overseeing awarded projects as well as coordinating program evaluation.

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A project-based, differentiated engineering curriculum (DEC) has been developed for high school students and implemented by a STEM high school teacher and an engineering Ph.D. student team. In this paper, we will be documenting the development of DEC and our ongoing work to assess its impact on students. We will be sharing our current survey implementation to understand the ability of DEC to increase students’ general interest and confidence in engineering, understanding of engineering, and impact on their career pursuit through a pre- and post-program survey.

The three-course elective sequence is open to all honors level students in grades 9 through 12. The only requirement is that students are enrolled in, or have taken, any honors level mathematics course. However, DEC has no specific science or mathematics content requirement. This allows students to begin the engineering curriculum with different levels of experience and expertise, driven by their curiosity and interest in the engineering field. Project expectations and outcomes are based upon the content and skill sets students bring to the program. DEC is thus a more flexible curriculum than vendor prescribed curricula, such as Project Lead the Way and Innovative Curriculum for Engineering, since DEC will not require multiple sequential years, allowing students to also explore other interests.

DEC curriculum focuses on five core engineering themes: the engineering design process, engineering analysis, technical communications, prototyping and fabrication, and project management. DEC applies an integrated approach by embedding these core engineering themes within design challenges while at the same time exposing students to related technical fields and engineering disciplines. Differentiation is achieved by giving tech savvy students, experienced math and science students or novice students different tasks in their projects.

Through the DEC, students have an opportunity to practice the engineering design process many times. Projects vary in length – quick design challenges last one period while longer projects may be up to 8 weeks in length. DEC aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for high school engineering. In addition, students are exposed to and develop engineering habits of the mind such as creativity, persistence, optimism, conscientiousness, collaboration and systems thinking. The project-based approach also exposes the students to the academic expectations of a university level freshman engineering programs and will allow them to transition easier into engineering college programs.

Muscarella, J. M., & Soe, M. T. M., & Ward, J. S. (2019, June), Board 125: Work in Progress: Development of a Project-based, Differentiated Engineering Curriculum (DEC) for High School Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32221

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