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SEAS Outreach to K-12

Educating Engineers of the Future or Engineering School Reaches Out to K-12

Throughout its rich 175-year history, the U.Va. Engineering School has educated generations of engineering leaders in its classrooms and labs and through participation in hands-on activities and projects. Faculty and students enjoy sharing their interest in engineering, especially with students in middle and high schools, through open houses, class projects, competitions, virtual labs, teaching kits, exhibits and more.

Learn more about the Engineering School’s exciting K-12 programs and activities below!

Assessing and Recognizing Engineering Design Knowledge

Led by Professor Leigh Abts at the University of Maryland, a group of schools, including the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Tennessee Tech have developed and are validating a detailed scoring rubric for assessment of student knowledge of the engineering design process. With funding support from the National Science Foundation and the Kern Family Foundation, the partners have teamed with Project Lead the Way to develop the Innovation Portal through which students in the K-16 arena can submit e-portfolios of their engineering design work. Having created an e-portfolio, students can grant portfolio access to evaluators of their work – their teachers (for course grades), the scoring rubric development team (for rubric validation and refinement), and perhaps someday to college credit assessment teams (for Advanced Placement® and college admissions consideration). Additional partners include FIRST® Robotics and SeaPerch. Presently, the College Board is monitoring the team’s efforts and helping to guide rubric validation efforts, recognizing that the rubric could evolve into the assessment framework for an Advanced Placement® program in engineering design.

Engineering design in K -12 education
Through the Virginia Middle School Engineering Education Initiative, teams of students and faculty at the University of Virginia develop and test Engineering Teaching Kits (ETKs) to introduce middle school students to the engineering design approach to problem solving. Topics are identified from science, math, and technology that have interesting engineering applications, and then lessons are constructed to help students learn science and math in the context of engineering design.

For example, in Save the Penguins, students are challenged to create dwellings that reduce heat transfer in order to keep a penguin-shaped ice cube from melting. ThisETK is designed to address student alternative conceptions about heat, heat transfer, and temperature, address state and national science standards, increase student interest in science, and give students the opportunity to learn more about engineering through the engineering design process. In RaPower, teams of students design and build model solar cars. Through a series of lessons, they learn how solar cells and motors work; but they also conduct experiments and take measurements, analyze data, and draw conclusions. They determine which solar cells, motors and tires would work best for their car. Then they design and build a model solar car that can pull a cart loaded with weights.

Over 50 ETKs have been developed to date on a range of topics, including Solar Cars, Submersible Vehicles, Hovercraft Design, Heat Transfer, Global Warming, Bridge Building, Designing for withstanding earthquakes or extreme weather events, and Water Filtration and Purification. We have made our most popular ETKs widely available to teachers and colleagues in Virginia and around the country for their outreach activities. Visit:

Explorations in Engineering
Through Explorations in Engineering, a virtual course designed to help high school students understand the difference between science and engineering, U.Va. Engineering School faculty are answering the call for increased efforts in K-12 engineering education — literally. The distance learning course was developed after the (now former) director of the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor's School called to request that the Engineering School hold a course for governor's school students throughout Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, Nelson and Orange (Va.) counties. Visit:

FIRST Robotics
Each winter, the School of Engineering and Applied Science co- hosts the FIRST Robotics challenge's Shenandoah Valley Regional Qualifier at the University of Virginia. The competition brings together dozens of high school and middle school robotics teams from around Virginia to compete against each other for a chance to go to the state-level competition in the spring. Students have six weeks to create robots measuring between two and three feet in each direction using a modular robotics platform. Student teams design, build and program their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. Utilizing a kit of common parts used to build the core system for the robots, students, coaches, mentors and volunteers must develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles.

Technology-based Evaluation of Classroom Learning
The University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and its Curry School of Education have a significant ongoing research relationship focused on facilitating the assessment of student engagement in undergraduate and graduate engineering courses though automated analysis of data collected by video cameras and other sensors in the classroom. This growing research collaboration integrates the work of researchers from the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in the Curry School of Education, led by Professors Robert Pianta and David Feldon, that have been engaged in development of new methodologies for educational assessment and researchers from the Systems and Information Engineering Department, led by Professor Peter Beling, that have been engaged in the mathematical and technological aspects of decision modeling and systems development.

WISEngineering: A Web-Based Engineering Design Learning Environment
WISEngineering is a free, online technology-based curriculum delivery, assessment and feedback system that guides precollege students through engineering design projects. It is led by Jenny Chiu of the Curry School of Education. The open-source WISEngineering system is currently being developed by a partnership of engineers, educational researchers and teachers at the University of Virginia, Hofstra University, and the City University of New York. WISEngineering uses engineering design pedagogy to facilitate engineering habits of mind such as systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration as well as standard-based mathematics and science concepts. In these modules, students use CAD technologies and digital fabrication to create, build, and refine their designs. The environment includes technologies such as an electronic design journal, portfolio and “design wall” that enables students to create, share, critique, and communicate with their peers. WISEngineering offers technologies that enable individual as well as group assessment and teacher monitoring and feedback tools. WISEngineering aims to give students context and real-life applications for learning math and science concepts. With the support of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, WISEngineering is currently piloting units in high-needs middle school mathematics classes. Visit:

NanoDays: Informal Science Education and Outreach
The University of Virginia’s NanoStar Institute and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering annually reach out to the public through the NSF-sponsored NanoDays initiative. NanoDays helps the public, especially K-12 students, develop greater understanding and familiarity with nanoscience and nanotechnology. Including a major public open house at the University, along with multiple K-6 school visits, K-12 teacher workshops, and summer experiences, NanoDays in 2011 reached over 1300 learners. Furthermore, NanoDays gives STEM undergraduate and graduate student volunteers crucial experience, learning the art and skill of explaining complex science to the general public, helping them appreciate the value of research and development in their lives.

"U.Va. Virtual Lab" public science education website
Over the last ten years this NSF funded site has employed 3D animation to develop an intuitive, math and jargon free "gateway" into micro and nano technology, and to their underlying science. Driven by UVA ECE Professor John C. Bean, the site provides over 50 multi-scene presentations covering topics ranging from basic electrical circuits, to simple electrical devices (including the "treachery" implicit in Van de Graaff Generators), to detailed virtual recreations of common scientific instruments (e.g. SEMs, STMs and AFMs), to full 3D models of nanoscience structures, to explanations of how semiconductors and transistors work, to depictions of manufacturing tools, processes and factories. The site has now accumulated 7.5 million webpage and podcast views, including visitors from over 2000 indentified U.S. and foreign universities and colleges, as well as over 1000 K-12 schools (including schools in every single U.S. state). The almost half million member IEEE acknowledged this site by the award of their 2009 Undergraduate Teaching Medal. Visit

Additional SEAS STEM Outreach Activities
Faculty and students from the School of Engineering and Applied Science participate in K – 12 outreach activities at the local, state, and national levels. We have worked with schools in Charlottesville and surrounding counties (Albemarle, Orange, Fluvanna, and Madison) including both public and private schools middle and high schools. Our engagement has varied from week-long engineering design projects to afternoon visits with talks and demonstrations. Last year, with the help of Rolls Royce, we held a workshop for teachers in the Hopewell VA area to introduce them to our Engineering Teaching Kits (ETKs). Over 30 teachers and 6 students attended and enthusiastically participated in the design activities. As a result, we were able to bring three of our projects into middle schools near the new Rolls Royce Crosspointe Facility. Although ETKs have been targeted at middle schools; they have been used in both high school and elementary school classes. They have also been used in summer programs, including an Introduction to Engineering for high school students and the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp for middle school students and the Summer Enrichment Program run by the Curry School of Education.

We have also conducted summer programs for women at Central Virginia Community College and Sweet Briar College, participated in the Children’s Engineering Conference held annually in Richmond VA, and presented at annual workshop for Females in STEM in Abington VA. In 2009, several faculty teams were invited guests at the Virginia Governors Conference on STEM. The School of Engineering sponsors an annual Open House that attracts students and their parents from around Virginia and the region. Sessions include an overview of the admissions process, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, “Engineering Greats: How engineers change the world”, and the Sights and Sounds of Space.

UVA is participating in two STEM projects with other schools: STUDIO STEM -an NSF iTEST grant to Virginia Tech uses our teaching materials in an afterschool program with the Shawsville Boys and Girls club; and a Virginia Math Science Partnership VA STEM CoNNECT with Longwood University will work with school systems around Virginia providing professional development and instructional materials to teachers.

SEAS faculty are active at the national and international level with the K 12 Engineering Education and Outreach Division of the American Society for Engineering Education. Since 2003, ASEE has held a K 12 Engineering Workshop in conjunction with their annual conference. The target audience is precollege teachers. We have conducted hands-on sessions for teachers in Chicago (2006), Honolulu (2007), Pittsburgh (2008), Austin (2009), and Vancouver B.C (2011). In 2010 in Louisville, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia organized a plenary panel followed by a series of focus groups for teachers and administrators. We had over 300 folks attend and held 27 focus groups. The format was designed to let the teachers tell us what they need for K 12 engineering education, and what works in their schools. A report based on the results has been submitted to ASEE 2012. We have also conducted K 12 workshops at the annual ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. This year we hope to offer these workshops in San Antonio and Seattle.