Exploring the Career of Engineering

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SWBAT complete a mathematic model to compare and contrast engineering salaries.

Big Idea

How can I determine the economic impact of a career in engineering?


10 minutes

I like to start a discussion about careers in this assignment. My goal is to get to know the students by allowing them to talk about themselves. In addition I help them anticipate the engineer salary activity. My strategy is using sentence starters because it helps the students to organize their thoughts.

  1. One day I would like to be _______________ because _____________.
  2. The most important part of a job for me is _____________ because _______________.
  3. Another important  part of a job is ___________________ because ______________.

The discussion is conversational. I make comments such as "Wow! Interesting." I never thought of that!" Students typically say money is an important aspect of the job. I end the discussion with a connection into the activity. "We are going to analyze engineering salaries by using a mathematical model." My plan is to tie into the Common Core math standards in two ways. Students will model with mathematics and reason abstractly and quantitatively. 

National Science Foundation has some great short movies about engineering. One of my strategies is to bring in contemporary engineering jobs in an effort to raise student awareness of the types of jobs available in engineering. I like to show one of the movies in this lesson to present unusual and intriguing content to students. The movie below is part of the NSF Multimedia Gallery


Check out Engineers Use the Design Process: Types of Engineers lesson. These two lesson work well together. You can add the following questions. 

  1. Which of these engineers had the highest salary? Which had the lowest salary?
  2. What are some variables that go into career salaries?




30 minutes

I want to promote the use of technology and Microsoft Excel is a fantastic tool for students to quickly make mathematical models. I start with group processing of information. Student groups explore the a data table with the salaries of engineers. I walk from table to table eavesdropping. I encourage questions about the careers and help students sift through any numbers that do not make sense. When there are common concerns, my strategy is to alert the class to common questions, I identify misconceptions, and stop the class to address issues.

Students work in pairs and input data into an Excel spreadsheet. Inputting data is tedious and I want students to work together and attend to precision. 

There are several engineering salary sources. Many colleges offer data from their student body.  I have used career site from University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Penn State also has a nice table of Engineering Average Salaries in its Career Resources.

The worksheet includes the following directions. I want to support the skill of following specific step-by-step directions. 

Find cell A:1             Input your first and last name in the cell.

Find cell A:2             Input Type of Engineer in the cell. Input in all engineering careers.

Find cell B:2             Input High Salary in the cell. Input engineering salary numbers.

Find cell C:2            Input Low Salary in the cell. Input engineering salary numbers

Next is an exercise with If...Then Statements. This sets the stage for understanding how a condition may change.

Use the following If-Then statements with the numbers to plan how you want to format the cell. Choose three conditions and use any color. Light colors are easier to read.

 EX:            If the salary is less than 30,000, then format the cell blue.

                         Numbers: If <30,000=blue

If ____________________________________, then ____________________.

Numbers: ____________________ 

Following the instructions, students will input data, select data, and change the colors of the cell for easy comparison. See instructions below. 

Go to the top of the page. Find the word Format. Click it to find a drop down menu and select Conditional Formatting. From the menu, choose the numbers and colors you used in the If…Then statements.

Input your first condition. Find the word ADD. Input your second condition. Find the word ADD. Input your third condition. Click okay and see what happens.

I offer an instructional movie as a way to differentiate the activity. Some students can understand step-by-step, others need a reference at hand. Refer to the How To: Excel Conditional Formatting as an example of an instructional video. 


15 minutes

Now comes the fun part. With the different colors students can write down facts, inferences, and begin to analyze the data. My strategy is to allow students sentence starters to help them analyze the data. My strategy is to ask for inferences and evidence to back up the inference. 

  1. The color ______________ has the biggest salary. I chose _______  because________________.
  2. There are more salaries of the color _________________ than the others.
  3. The fewest number of salaries has a ___________ color. I chose ______ because _______.
  4. I ask them to make inferences about why one career has a better salary than the other.
  5. I think __________makes more money than_____________because_____________.
  6. I think __________makes the most money because ______________.

To make personal connections, I ask the students think about their career choices using the spreadsheet.

  1. I would like to be a  ________________because_____________.
  2. I would never be a  ________________ because _____________.

After examining the excel document, students can expand their learning with an option of examining the cost of living where they live. Massachusetts Institute of Technology supports a site called the Living Wage Calculator. The students can choose where they live and determine the cost of food, child care, etc. in different cities across the country. My intention is to offer students a way to compare other careers to engineering.   


10 minutes

One of my strategies is to offer reflection questions as an assessment. I want to use content assessment by tying it with an authentic career assessment. 

  1. If you could choose and engineering career based upon salary, which would you choose? Why?
  2. Name the three careers with the best low salary.
  3. Name three careers with salaries between $31,000 to $50,000.
  4. Using the color, what can you say about the jobs with the high salaries?
  5. Why do you think there is such a big difference between the high salary and the low salary in the Aerospace engineer (for example)?
  6. Which job had the closet salary between highest and lowest? Why do you think it is this way?
  7. How did the Excel formatting help you to better understand the data? What patterns did you notice? 
  8. What was the most important thing you learned?