The Practices for an Engineering Mindset represent common ways that engineers engage in their work to solve problems. Each practice highlighted here represents an important aspect of engineering work that, when youth have repeated opportunities to use these practices during learning activities, helps them to develop a set of values, attitudes, and thinking skills associated with engineering, collectively referred to as an “engineering mindset”.
The ten practices highlighted include:
Use an engineering design process: Engineers solve problems using a systematic, iterative process called the engineering design process.
Explore materials: Engineers consider the properties of materials as they select those that most appropriate for the task.
Envision multiple solution: Engineers think innovatively, brainstorm and analyze multiple solutions, compare the effectiveness of various designs, and make informed recommendations about open-ended problems.
Consider real world problems: Engineers design solutions to specific, real-world problems. They consider the context, background information, needs of the client, and the implication of solutions.
Apply math and science: Engineers use knowledge of science and math to solve problems.
Balance Criteria and Constraints: Engineers design to specifications that detail criteria for success and limiting constraints. Oftentimes, balancing these entail trade-offs.
Persist and Learn from Failure: Engineers learn from failure to revise and improve the designs. This requires perseverance and improving through multiple iterations.
Evaluate and iterate: Engineers test their designs to see how well they work. They collect and analyze data to revise and improve solutions in an iterative process.
Identify as engineers: When youth engage with engineering practices to solve meaningful problems, they begin to envision themselves as engineers.
Work in teams: Engineers work together to bring a diversity of knowledge and perspectives to the problem. Communicating and negotiating effectively are important skills for teamwork.
The Practices for an Engineering Mindset is a framework developed by Dr. Christine Cunningham of Youth Engineering Solutions at Penn State University, in collaboration with Million Girls Moonshot. The practices are more fully described in educational research articles (Cunningham, 2018; Cunningham & Kelly, 2017).