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Board 129: Integrating Authentic Engineering Design into a High School Physics Curriculum (Work in Progress)

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Alexandra M. Pike Juanita High School

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Alexandra Pike is a National Board certified Physics teacher at Juanita High School in Kirkland, WA. She received her B.A. in Physics and French from Grinnell College, her M.Litt in Celtic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, and her M.I.T. in Secondary Science from the University of Washington. Alexandra has participated in the NSF-funded Research Experience for Teachers program at the University of Washington’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering for two summers, engaging in engineering research and writing pre-college engineering curricula. Her research interests include physics and engineering education and teacher professional development.

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Integrating Authentic Engineering Design into a High School Physics Curriculum Work in Progress

The Framework for K-12 Science Education calls for the integration of engineering practices into pre-college science classrooms [1], yet many science teachers are ill-prepared to do this in their existing curricular environments [2], [3], [4]. For high school science students to successfully engage with engineering practices, engineering design projects need to be authentic, interdisciplinary, and feasible for teachers within existing curricular time, materials, and standards requirements [5] [6].

With the support of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the University of ____’s Center for ______, the author developed and implemented a curriculum unit to address these needs. The author, a high school Physics teacher, embedded a neural engineering design project into a complex circuitry unit for 10th graders which addressed both Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) standards [7] and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) [8].

This two-week unit therefore was designed to be authentic, interdisciplinary, and feasible. For authenticity, the student project was presented in a neural engineering context in which students designed, built, and refined a model sensory substitution device on a circuit board which met an identified end-user need. Students discussed ethical and practical considerations involved in building and using a device which relies on substituting one sense for another, and included those considerations in their designs. Students then presented their functioning circuit board models in a scientific poster session to the wider school community as culmination to the unit. To establish interdisciplinary connections, the author integrated content standards and practices from IGCSE, NGSS, and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) [9]. To ensure the project would feasibly be student-led yet meet time constraints, the author fabricated circuit boards rather than using commercial electronics kits. Intentional choice of components and layout enabled students to entirely design, build, test, and troubleshoot their own models in a tight timeline without relying on teacher support. Pre-planning with these circuit boards was a significant factor in the project’s success.

Results after one implementation cycle indicate that this unit successfully enabled students to authentically engage in the full engineering design process, while still fitting within classroom constraints. All 16 student groups (61 students) successfully completed their design optimization and poster presentations without the need for teacher-directed problem-solving. Pre- and post- unit surveys developed by the author suggest that students felt more confident in and positive about their ability to engage in the engineering process as a result, and that many are more interested in future engineering work. End-of-unit assessment scores indicate that student understanding of embedded IGCSE standards was superior both to these students’ results on other standards, and to previous years’ students with these same standards.

Following completion of a second implementation cycle, the unit will be disseminated to science teachers as an example of feasibly integrating engineering practices into a high school Physics curriculum, with the hope that more teachers will develop and share units with embedded engineering projects.


[1] National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012. [E-book] Available:

[2] T. Kelley and G. Knowles, “A conceptual framework for integrated STEM education,” International Journal of STEM Education, vol 3 no. 11, 2016. [Online] Available:

[3] L. Nadelson, A. Seifert, and J.K. Hendricks, “Are We Preparing the Next Generation? K-12 Teacher Knowledge and Engagement in Teaching Core STEM Practices,” in 122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition Proceedings: Making Value for Society, ASEE 2015, Seattle, WA, USA, June 14-17, 2015.

[4] D. Meltzer, M. Plisch, and S. Vokos (eds), Transforming the Preparation of Physics Teachers: A Call to Action. A Report by the Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics (T-TEP), College Park, MD: American Physical Society, 2012.

[5] S. Coppola, A. Madariaga, and M. Schnedeker, “Assessing Teachers’ Experiences with STEM and Perceived Barriers to Teaching Engineering,” in 122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition Proceedings: Making Value for Society, ASEE 2015, Seattle, WA, USA, June 14-17, 2015.

[6] S. Brophy, S.Klein, M. Portsmore, and C., Rogers, “Advancing Engineering Education in P-12 Classrooms,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 97, no. 3, July 2008. [Online]. Available:

[7] Cambridge Assessment International Education. Cambridge IGCSE Physics 0625 Syllabus. UCLES, 2017.

[8] NGSS Lead States. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013.

[9] National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards (English Language Arts). Washington D.C., 2010.

Pike, A. M. (2018, June), Board 129: Integrating Authentic Engineering Design into a High School Physics Curriculum (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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