Engineering Educational Change

October 1, 2017

Engineering Educational Change

This was originally published in Dimensions, the bi-monthly magazine of the Association of Science-Technology Centers in October of 2017


By: Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston

The mission of the Museum of Science, Boston, is to play a leading role in transforming our nation’s relationship with science, technology, and engineering. We believe young people of all backgrounds must be engaged with engineering and technology to support our nation’s success and our planet’s future and to enhance our ability to solve global problems.

To be successful in our goal to transform preK–12 instruction and learning, we must collaborate with other influential entities. We have developed strong relationships with education policymakers at the state and federal levels to co-design and engineer educational innovations.

Now more than ever, it is important to reflect on the power of collaboration and how science centers can serve as the center of the educational ecosystem bringing all stakeholders together. The museum took a holistic approach to education reform addressing standards, assessments, and federal funding pro-grams to advance preK–12 engineering education.


In the late 1990s, while dean of engineering at Tufts University, I was invited to participate in the revision of the Massachusetts state science standards.

After months of discussion, I persuaded the various stakeholders that students need to understand that technologies are created through the engineering design process and the application of science. So in December 2000, the state’s Board of Education adopted newly revised and renamed Science and Technology/Engineering standards—becoming the first U.S. state to include engineering in its science standards and, shortly thereafter, in its state-wide assessments.

In order to further advance the field of early engineering education, I left Tufts in 2003 to become president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston. I saw the museum as a unique platform to collaborate with numerous entities, and I knew that the museum could leverage its resources to meet the needs of teachers and classrooms statewide. But to really be transformational and move beyond Massachusetts, we launched the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL, nctl) in 2004 to advocate for engineering education, develop preK–12 engineering curricula, and offer related teacher professional development nation-wide. To further our policy reach, we established a Washington, D.C., office in 2005, led by Patti Curtis as director, to focus on national advocacy. (Curtis will accept a Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award for Leadership for the Field, non-CEO, for this work at
the 2017 ASTC Annual Conference in October.)


We became aware of the (U.S.) National Governors Association’s (NGA) interest in enhanced science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in 2007. They really didn’t have much exposure to the T and E in STEM, so we brought to their attention Massachusetts’ leadership in technology and engineering education. The NGA leveraged what we did in Massachusetts and made their recommendations in 2007, including recommending that states should develop standards and assessments in technology and engineering as well as math and science.

This was the first national policy recommendation on this topic to come from such a high-ranking organization. Subsequently, Yvonne Spicer, vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships at the Museum of Science, served as a content expert for the NGA Center for Best Practices as they sup-ported states to implement STEM education efforts (

The (U.S.) National Academies Board on Science Education brought a diverse array of science edu-cation stakeholders together and, in 2012, published a new Framework for K–12 Science Education Standards. This was a cutting-edge development in science education because it included engineering as a core discipline, as well as a cross-cutting concept and key practice ( Expert Museum of Science educators Spicer and Cary Sneider served on the technology and engineering development team.

The final Framework was the foundation for the development of a new set of model science standards called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), giving unprecedented emphasis to engineering as a component of K–12 instruction. Achieve, a nonprofit education organization founded by members of the NGA, brought 26 states together to draft the NGSS. Although the second draft issued for public comment pulled back on engineering skills and practices, the NCTL generated a successful grassroots campaign to reinstate engineering into the final version of the NGSS, which was released in 2013 (

As of August 2017, 18 states and the District of Columbia (representing over 35% of U.S. students) and several large school districts have adopted the NGSS and are working to implement them in class-rooms. These states include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Interestingly, Massachusetts opted to revise their own Science and Technology/Engineering standards in 2016 rather than adopt the NGSS.


Accountability matters. Therefore, it is important that classroom assessments are properly aligned to the new standards.

To date, only the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois have implemented NGSS-aligned assessments. Naturally, student proficiency rates took a hit, but we are not comparing apples to apples. The NGSS way of teaching is widely different from the days when we expected students to memorize science facts instead of perform science experiments and participate in engineering design challenges. Other states, including Massachusetts, are gradually transitioning to new aligned assessments. It will take time for teachers to change their pedagogy, for aligned materials to be adopted, and to show student growth. But the commitment is there, teachers are excited, the kids are certainly more engaged, and I am certain the assessments will show greater success eventually. And then we will likely see a greater output of engineers and computer scientists, especially for girls.

At the national level, I was invited to participate in the revision of the (U.S.) National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, for Science, in 2005 (nces. Again, I pressed for the inclusion of technological literacy. The dramatically revised NAEP Science assessment, first implemented in 2009, included measures of technological literacy and systems thinking, despite initial pushback from some in the traditional science community. They suggested we get our own assessment, and NAEP was listening.

Consequently, the NCTL was invited to help develop a brand new NAEP Technological Literacy Assessment. Consensus for defining the term “technological literacy” proved difficult for the different stakeholders, including education technology interests, technology teachers, and engineers. The NCTL successfully advocated that the assessment be renamed to the Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) Assessment and offer three categories of questions: information and computer technology, society and technology, and systems (and engineering) design to appease all interests. The NAEP TEL was first administered to 8th graders in 2014 (

This first assessment found some interesting results. The media highlighted the finding that female students scored 3 points higher than their male peers. While that is exciting, I find it trouble-some that when 8th graders were asked who taught them most of what they know about building things, fixing things, or how things work, only 13% responded that their teachers did. When asked how often they learned about designing something when there are limited resources, 48% reported either “never” or “only once or twice.” I know science centers do this well, but to reach all kids, all schools should use the engineering design process in their pedagogy.


Although STEM education was a popular policy topic, the NCTL found that no federal programs had the specific goal of supporting engineering in K–12 classrooms. So Curtis took the National Academy of Engineering report, Engineering in K–12 Education, to Capitol Hill in 2009 and engaged several mem-bers of the U.S. Congress in developing a unique K–12 engineering education bill. Key congressional spon-sors include Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), and David McKinley (R-WV), and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The NCTL has consistently supported the introduction of the Engineering Education for Innovation Act in both the 111th and 112th Congresses, and the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act in the 113th and 114th Congresses (2009–16).

Our credibility was growing in D.C. As a result of these legislative efforts, I was invited to testify before the U.S. House Science Committee on the rise of K–12 engineering education in 2009. I also met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan before the Race to the Top grant program was released in 2009—thankfully, it prioritized STEM education.

After 14 years of No Child Left Behind, Congress eventually passed—and President Barack Obama signed—the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in late December 2015. The intent behind the bill was to provide more state authority and flexibility. A number of provisions include STEM references supported by the NCTL and the STEM Education Coalition. In fact, engineering is mentioned 12 times in the law—the first time it has ever been codified in K–12 education policy:

• Title I, Part B, allows states to use their federal assessment dollars to amend their state science standards to include engineering design skills and practices. This comes directly from the NCTL-supported Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act. • Title II provides funds for school districts to provide teacher professional development for STEM subjects. It also creates the STEM Master Teacher effort and STEM-focused Specialty Schools and encourages alternative certification for STEM teachers.

• Title IV, Part A, provides funds for states and dis-tricts to invest in: 1) safe and healthy schools; 2) a well-rounded education including music and arts, STEM, and computer science; and 3) education technology. It was authorized at $1.6 billion but the fiscal year 2017 (FY17) appropriation was only $400 million. The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget proposed eliminating both Title II and IV. To keep abreast of our work, you can sign up for our advocacy newsletter at Our most recent updates can be found at news.php.



When I look back over the past 17 years, I see that a lot has changed. People said I was radical, even crazy, when I talked about engineering education at the elementary and secondary school levels. Now we have standards, assessments, and federal and state funding streams to support it. Additionally, the Museum of Science has created one of the most pop-ular engineering curricular resources—Engineering is Elementary (—which, via our national network of professional development partners and funders, has reached 135,000 teachers and nearly 14 million students. And soon we will release preK and kindergarten engineering curricula. We are proud of our collaborations with influen-tial educational leaders and organizations to inte-grate, embed, and codify engineering education in both informal and formal educational settings, and we will continue to pursue this work. We seek future collaborations with organizations that support engi-neering education more globally. Science centers can be more than a destination—they can change the world.


Press Contact