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Success Stories out of the Institute of Education Sciences' SBIR Program: Future Engineers

Product: Future Engineers logo 

Future Engineers is an online, multi-challenge platform for administering educational contests and challenges in or outside of K–12 classrooms. The platform is designed to be content agnostic and to host a high volume of challenges across science, engineering, and other educational topics. The platform enables students to post their entries to the site's moderated galleries and allows students around the country to participate in the same project. Each challenge is publicly displayed on the Future Engineers platform and offered free for student participation and classroom facilitation. The platform's content management system is used to populate each challenge, select the challenge submission type (text, images, videos, 3D models, etc.), and display associated education resources. The platform also leverages a sophisticated registration system to manage information collection based upon a student's age and/or the presence of a class code. A submission management system generates the appropriate submission portal, entry gallery, and winner announcement based on challenge type.

Research & Development:

Future Engineers was designed, developed, and iteratively refined using an agile process with regular feedback from educators and students. In Phase I, a prototype was created and tested through a pilot study with 43 middle school students in two schools. Results demonstrated that the prototype operated as intended, students were highly engaged, and teachers were able to incorporate the pilot challenge within instructional practice. In Phase II, the team conducted formative research with potential new users to determine best practices for broader implementation. Future Engineers then designed and developed a system architecture to accommodate a large number of challenges operating on a single platform using a registration system, submission management system, and content management system. The platform also has a teacher dashboard to empower educators with effective integration into instructional practice, a student dashboard to manage personal and class challenges, and a judge portal to facilitate scoring of entries. Future Engineers considered all aspects of K-12 student privacy while building these products.

After completing development in Phase II, the research team conducted a pilot study of three challenges in 17 middle school classrooms. Findings demonstrated that the Future Engineers platform operated as intended and successfully supported the implementation of STEM challenges for all classrooms.

Path to Commercialization:

All challenges the Future Engineers platform administers are available at no cost for students and teachers. Since its public launch in 2018, the Future Engineers platform has been used to organize 18 student challenges with more than 50,000 student participants, educators, and judges spanning all 50 states.

In 2019, NASA selected Future Engineers to administer a national contest for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students to "Name the Mars 2020 Rover," the newest robotic scientist to be sent to Mars. NASA used the Future Engineers platform to receive and judge more than 28,000 student entries using an eligible pool of nearly 4,700 volunteer judges and resulted in the name: Perseverance.

In spring 2020, Future Engineers launched a series of challenges in response to COVID-19, including the "Start A Smile Challenge" with Battelle Education, which invited students to invent a way to help someone smile at a distance. The "Next Moon Step Challenge," developed with NASA's Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate, challenged students to share what their famous moon landing quote would be, and the "Reinvent the Rover Wheel Challenge," developed with NASA's Science Mission Directorate, asked students to design a 3D model of a reinvented rover wheel.

In fall 2020, Future Engineers launched several new challenges, including the "Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest," which invited students to imagine leading a one-week expedition on the Moon's South Pole.

Additional Awards:

In 2019, NASA awarded Future Engineers a five-year, Phase III SBIR contract for Challenge Execution and Platform Development.

Selected Blogs and New Stories:

  • 2020: CNN—Mars 2020 rover is officially named 'Perseverance'
  • 2019: NASA Press Release—NASA Selects Partners for the Mars 2020 Name the Rover Contest, Seeks Judges
  • 2019: CNET—NASA Wants a Kid to Name the Mars 2020 Rover
  • 2018: Inside IES Research—ED/IES SBIR Awardee Leads Event Featuring Live Conversation with a NASA Astronaut in Space
  • 2018: ABC New Arizona (video)—Valley teen's tool picked for use on International Space Station
  • 2018: ABC News Northern California—Astronauts to Print South Bay High School Student's Invention in Space