Cockrell School Programs Excite K-12 Teachers, Students About Engineering


For years and through a range of programs, the Cockrell School has taken creative approaches to getting K-12 teachers and students excited about engineering.

Two programs in particular — UTeachEngineering and DTEACh — continue to broaden the Cockrell School of Engineering's approach to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and advance it forward.

Thanks to National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, both programs are growing and finding success in getting students to think about education and careers in engineering.

UTeachEngineering, a STEM program for teachers and students, has increased the number of schools it serves to 80 schools in 13 states for the 2013-14 academic year, an increase of more than 50 schools from last year.

DTEACh, which primarily serves students and teachers from under-served school districts, has grown its after-school programs and summer camps — this is the first year it offered two engineering-based summer camps on The University of Texas at Austin campus.

Both programs focus on hands-on learning projects to demonstrate just how essential engineers are, not only to creating and building most products in our everyday lives, but also to solving big real-world challenges.

Teachers receive training, in curriculum developed by UT Austin that introduces students to STEM education. The curriculum and education activities promote interest and understanding of engineering early on, so K-12 students can make more informed decisions about engineering fields before they enter higher education.

Mechanical engineering professor Richard Crawford co-founded both UTeachEngineering and DTEACh and continues to play a major role in developing curriculum and administering both programs.

“I love the opportunity to work with young people and teachers, to help them learn and to learn from them,” Crawford said. “It’s just fun.”


UTeachEngineering was established in 2008 to address a need for well-prepared high school engineering teachers, as Texas high schools began offering engineering courses for a fourth-year science credit. UTeachEngineering collaborates with the UTeach program in the College of Natural Sciences to offer degree programs for current and future teachers, including a Master of Arts in STEM Education-Engineering program for teachers who want to become leaders in the emerging field of secondary engineering education.

Bobby Garcia, a teacher at Manor New Technology High School in Manor, Texas, went through the master’s program and credits the program with reigniting his enthusiasm for engineering education.

“I was inspired and re-invigorated in teaching engineering,” he said in a June 2013 article by the NSF, which funds UTeachEngineering through its Math and Science Partnership program. “One of the things going right with education is exploring science and math in creative ways.”

While many educators focus on engineering primarily as an interesting and engaging context for teaching science and mathematics, UTeachEngineering believes that engineering classes merit their own place in the curriculum. To support schools across the nation that share that vision, the UTeachEngineering team has created “Engineer Your World”, a year-long high school curriculum for students who want to learn more about engineering and its role in shaping our world.

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Teachers participate in training for UTeachEngineering's course "Engineer Your World."

“Engineer Your World” focuses on helping students develop real engineering skills and habits of mind, which they use to solve a series of design challenges.

The “Engineer Your World” network has grown rapidly since the course was developed three years ago. Initially piloted in just seven schools in Texas in the 2011-12 academic year, “Engineer Your World” is expanding to reach 3,000 students in 80 schools across 13 states this fall.

Keith McCall is one of the 60 teachers joining the “Engineer Your World” team this year, and he can’t wait to get back to his classroom in Philadelphia. “The students are going to love it because the projects are fun and because they’re learning real skills that they can use in their lives,” he said.

Making the connection between engineering and real life is a key component of all aspects of the UTeachEngineering program. In a video about the program, chemical engineering professor and principal investigator for the program David Allen says, “Look in whatever room you’re in right now. Every object in that room has been touched by an engineer.”

At its core, this is what UTeachEngineering aims to help high school students and teachers understand and empower them to explore.

“We are thrilled if our course helps students make an informed decision about what [education] path they choose to follow,” said UTeachEngineering program director Cheryl Farmer, in the NSF article. “We are helping students be more literate about engineering.”

DTEACh (Design, Technology and Engineering for All Children)

Begun in 1992 as an effort to help teachers integrate hands-on science lessons into early elementary teaching, DTEACh has evolved into an effective method that uses design as the context for teaching math and science throughout K-12 education.

Teachers, mainly in elementary and middle schools, attend professional development institutes hosted by DTEACh to learn how to effectively teach robotics and automation using LEGO MINDSTORMS sets — which include building elements, sensors and data-tracking capability — for hands-on experiences.

dteach training

Teachers participate in professional development through DTEACh.

In the past few years, DTEACh has grown its techniques significantly. Working with the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges of the 21 st Century, the DTEACh program is unique in offering curriculum to explore how to solve NAE’s 14 identified world challenges, including access to clean water and better medicines.

"We are pleased to work closely with teachers and students on earning their NAE Grand Challenges certificates by doing innovative engineering designs and entrepreneurship,” said Christina White, who director of both DTEACh and the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars and K12 Partners Program at UT Austin.

In 2010, through an NSF grant, DTEACh partnered with the Del Valle Independent School District to launch the first STEM outreach program in that area. The Beyond Blackboards program offers out-of-class experiences to students and teachers in after-school innovation clubs.

Also in 2010, DTEACh launched the first engineering-based summer camp for elementary and middle school students at UT Austin — something co-founder Rich Crawford had wanted to do for years. Students in the fifth through eighth grades come to campus for a week to learn about engineering through hands-on, team-oriented projects. This year, students worked on projects in either underwater robotics or renewable energy.

The DTEACh programs give teachers and kids an opportunity to understand what engineering is and what engineers do.

These methods help participants realize, “Oh, I can do this, too,” Crawford said, adding that kids at the camps are now saying they want to be engineers.

“Kids are creative, and we’re giving them the opportunity to create their own context,” he said.

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