Integrated STEM education has been a much-debated topic for several years. With STEM related skills and knowledge increasingly needed across a broader range of fields, educators worldwide, as well as business and industry leaders, are highlighting the need to lift the STEM achievements of students. Price Waterhouse Coopers (2016) emphasised that “building a STEM capable workforce begins with education and the primary years are crucial in establishing foundational skills, knowledge, and curiosity about STEM concepts”. Many teachers universally struggle to make connections across STEM, with students consequently losing interest in mathematics and science as they fail to make any meaningful link to crosscutting ideas and real-world applications (Kelly & Knowles, 2016). English’s projects contribute significantly to nurturing the early STEM foundations highlighted in national and international initiatives by engaging young students in future-oriented STEM experiences while focusing on solving challenging problems in real-world contexts.

In particular, engineering design is considered a powerful vehicle for solving authentic problems. Engineering design processes involve iterative thinking in dealing with a complex problem– that is, scoping the problem, creating solution ideas, designing and generating models, testing, redesigning and revising/refining—as well as working in teams and communicating current ways of thinking (English & King, 2015; Moore & Smith, 2014). The focus however, is not just on process iteration towards a solution model but also iteration toward discipline understanding and learning generation (cf., McKenna, 2014).

The integration of the STEM disciplines through design is recognized as an increasingly important area of research (Crismond & Adams, 2012; McFadden & Roehrig, 2018). Design has received substantial attention in studies of engineering education as well as technology, especially in the secondary school and university years (e.g., Fan & Yu, 2017; Froyd & Lohmann, 2014; Mentzer, Becker, & Sutton, 2015). The contribution of design to mathematics and science education has received less attention, however, particularly in the elementary grades (Fan & Yu, 2017; Jones, Buntting, & de Vries, 2013; Kelley, Brenner, & Pieper, 2010). Of concern is the common view that design is beyond young children’s capabilities, along with teachers’ lack of knowledge and confidence in implementing design-based experiences (Bagiati & Evangelou, 2018; McFadden & Roehrig, 2018).


Bagiati, A., & Evangelou, D. (2018). Identifying Engineering in a PreK classroom: An observation protocol to support guided project-based instruction. In Early engineering learning (pp. 83-111). Springer.

Crismond, D. P., & Adams, R. S. (2012). The informed design teaching and learning matrix. Journal of Engineering Education, 101(4), 738-797.

English, L. D., & King, D. T. (2015). STEM learning through engineering design: Fourth-grade students’ investigations in aerospace. International Journal of STEM Education, 2(14), 1-18.

Fan, S.C., & Yu, K. C. (2015). How an integrative STEM curriculum can benefit students in engineering design practices. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 27(1), 107-129.

Froyd, J. E., & Lohmann, J. R. (2014). Chronological and ontological development of engineering education as a field of scientific inquiry. In A. Johri & B. M. Olds (Eds)., Cambridge handbook of engineering education research. Cambridge University Press.

Jones, A., Buntting, C., & de Vries, M. J. (2013). The developing field of technology education: A review to look forward. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 23(2), 191-212.

Kelley, T. R., Brenner, D. C., & Pieper, J. T. (2010). Two approaches to engineering design: Observations in sTEm education. Journal of sTEm Teacher Education, 47(2), 4.

Kelley, T. R., & Knowles, J. G. (2016). A conceptual framework for integrated STEM education. International Journal of STEM Education, 3(1), 11.

McFadden, J., & Roehrig, G. (2019). Engineering design in the elementary science classroom: supporting student discourse during an engineering design challenge. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 29(2), 231-262.

McKenna, A. F. (2014). Adaptive expertise and knowledge fluency in design and innovation. In A. Johri, & B. M. Olds (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of engineering education research (pp. 227- 242). Cambridge University Press.

Mentzer, N., Becker, K., & Sutton, M. (2015). Engineering design thinking: High school students’ performance and knowledge. Journal of Engineering Education, 104(4), 417-432.

Moore, T. J., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Advancing the state of the art of STEM integration. Journal of STEM Education, 15(1), 5 – 7.

Price Waterhouse Coopers. (2016). 21st century minds: Accelerator program.