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How Does High School Mathematics Prepare Future Engineers?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Assessing K - 12 Engineering Education Programs

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.693.1 - 11.693.9



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Paper Authors


Laura Bottomley North Carolina State University

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LAURA J. BOTTOMLEY is the Director of the Women in Engineering and Outreach Programs at North Carolina State University, co-owner of Science Surround, a science education business for children, and is serving as the Division Chair for 2005-2006 for the ASEE K-12 and Precollege Division. Dr. Bottomley received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University in 1992, and her MSEE and BSEE from Virginia Tech in 1984 and 1985, respectively. She has worked at AT&T Bell Labs and Duke University.

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Karen Hollebrands North Carolina State University

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KAREN HOLLEBRANDS is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at North Carolina State University. She completed her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education at The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to attending Penn State, Dr. Hollebrands taught high school mathematics in New York and North Carolina. She is currently serving as the editor of the Technology Tips column in the Mathematics Teacher.

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Elizabeth Parry North Carolina State University

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ELIZABETH A. PARRY is currently the Project Director of RAMP-UP, a K12 math outreach program funded by the GE and the National Science Foundations. She obtained her BS degree in engineering management with a minor in mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1983. After over 10 years with IBM, she resigned to concentrate on raising her children and consulting for NC State University’s College of Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

How Does High School Mathematics Prepare Future Engineers?

Mathematics instruction in high schools varies widely across the country, but movement toward high stakes testing has had undoubted influence on curricular content. In addition, the availability of high tech calculators to students has influenced activities in the classroom and on the test. Research holds that mathematics can act as a strong predictor of future college success. What mathematical concepts are future freshman engineering students taught in high school and are they sufficient preparation for the rigors of an engineering curriculum? This paper will take an introductory look at these questions by examining the North Carolina approach to high school math, through the Standard Course of Study, by selected classroom snapshots and by assessment of selected mathematics skills of college freshmen.

1.0 Introduction

Experience working with teachers1 has show that it is common for teachers at one level to not be aware of what math is taught at the previous and next levels, including the transition from high school to college. In addition, high stakes testing is having a definite impact on high school classroom teaching, and the results are as yet unknown. The increasing use of technology, in the form of graphing calculators, in the classroom, is also having an impact. Research shows that technology can help in conceptual understanding, but does it shift the focus away from basic skills? In addition, other issues such as block scheduling, variability across the state of course offerings and textbooks play a role in what high school mathematics students are exposed to. Less emphasis in the classroom is placed on mathematical algorithms and procedures and how math ideas connect to one another than on solving specific types of problems and learning mathematical concepts2.

2.0 Construction of experiment

The question of mathematical preparation is very broad and not easily answered without complex examination of goals, objectives and methods. A snapshot, however, is easier to obtain and can lend insight into this difficult question. The researchers in this experiment chose to set it up as follows. One high school class was chosen that contains a large number of learning objectives that are important in a wide variety of engineering courses. Of the material in that course, four objectives were chosen from the standard course of study for closer examination. Teachers with varying degrees of experience in teaching in Wake County, North Carolina public schools were chose for interview. In addition, freshman engineering students were asked to assess themselves on the skill encompassed in the chosen objectives through answering test questions and then self-analyzing their results.

Bottomley, L., & Hollebrands, K., & Parry, E. (2006, June), How Does High School Mathematics Prepare Future Engineers? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1119

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015