5 Steps Engineering Instructors Can Take to Engage K-12 Students


In August, SolidProfessor hosted a Virtual Education Summit for educators teaching engineering, architecture, and manufacturing at the K-12 and postsecondary level. The summit included more than 15 sessions from industry experts and seasoned educators alike.

One of the most popular sessions was led by Phillip Ureno, an engineering instructor at Trabuco Hills High School in Orange County, California. With a teaching career that spans nearly two decades, Ureno has taught everything from architecture and engineering to Photoshop and business.

Ureno has developed his own hands-on, high school engineering curriculum that engages his students and draws out their creativity year-after-year. He considers his curriculum to be “living” because it’s constantly evolving to keep pace with changes in the industry.

In Ureno’s session at the SolidProfessor Virtual Education Summit, he covered the five steps you can implement in your classroom — whether they’re taking place in-person, hybrid, or at a distance — to keep students engaged and highly skilled.

5 steps to creating a K-12 engineering curriculum that gives your students the skills the industry requires

  1. Stay on Top of What’s Happening in the Industry

When it comes to teaching students CAD and engineering methods, you can’t just have a “set it and forget it” curriculum. If you want to properly prepare your students for in-demand careers, it’s essential that they have the skill sets employers are actually looking for today. Simply put, if you’re teaching your students old processes, they won’t be prepared for the real-world.

Here are a few ways Ureno recommends instructors keep up with what’s happening in the industry:

  • Join a professional organization like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), or the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). You’ll get access to conferences, message boards, and have the ability to connect with folks one-on-one.
  • Find an advisor or mentor. Many districts are now requiring their teachers to have an advisor — and for good reason. It’s a great opportunity to partner up with a college educator and find out what they’re doing at the postsecondary level. Or, connect with an industry professional and learn about the skill sets they’re looking for in entry-level employees.
  • Subscribe to engineering newsletters. This is perhaps the most simple way to learn about what’s happening in the industry. To get started, we recommend subscribing to engineering.com, SciTech Daily, and our monthly newsletter from SolidProfessor.
  • Take an online course to stay up-to-date with trends, CAD software updates, and more.

Trabuco Hills High School

Ureno teaching a student at Trabuco Hills High School.  Photo credit: Phillip Ureno.

When you have a handle of what’s going on with the latest software, techniques, and newsworthy innovations, you can incorporate that knowledge into your instruction and projects.

  1. Know Your Strengths, Then Run With Them

First and foremost, Ureno believes that you should identify your personal strengths as an instructor and then lean into it. For example, if you have a background in product engineering, consider building your curriculum around that. If you’re engaged, your students will be engaged, too. Your knowledge of the subject matter will be infectious.

  1. Be Professional and Fun

Students will work harder and get more out of class if they enjoy being there. It’s important to find the right balance between being professional and fun. Here are some of the ways Ureno strikes this delicate balance:

  • Shake your students’ hands as they walk in the door. Greeting each of your students gives both parties the opportunity to look at each other in the eye and learn how to give a professional handshake. Plus, it can make a student feel connected. (Although this isn’t an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are ways you can still connect with each of your students.)
  • Don’t be afraid to joke around with your students. Learning should be fun after all!
  • Incorporate real-world projects and assignments into your curriculum. For example, Ureno has students complete weekly time cards, and instead of earning points, they earn dollars for their work. (Don’t worry, it’s not real money.) The more money they earn, the higher grade they get.

  1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Every instructor knows that creating a curriculum takes a lot of time, especially if you’re trying to update it every year to keep up with the industry (see step no. 1). However, Ureno strongly encourages educators to borrow from what already exists and then adjust it to meet the needs of your class. This method frees you up to become a facilitator. Here are a few of Ureno’s favorite resources for online courses, projects, and curriculum:

  1. Put Your Plan into Action

Once you have a plan for how you’re going to achieve steps one through four, it’s time to put it into action!

Watch the full session led by engineering instructor Phillip Ureno on our YouTube channel.

Madie Norris Forcier
About the Author

SolidProfessor content writer and self-appointed World’s Greatest Dog Mom