Lincoln Logs, Legos, Tinkertoys, K’Nex, GoldieBlox. While we may associate these names with simple creative outlets for children, more adults are seeing the opportunity to teach kids about engineering beginning at an early age. With the recent increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), new programs are emerging to keep students engaged in these subjects throughout their academic careers, beginning as early as elementary school.
This past March, Raytheon provided a grant to elementary schools in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to provide teachers with the training and materials necessary to implement the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program. EiE was created in Boston at the Museum of Science (MOS) through the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) as a way to bring engineering awareness, interest and literacy to the elementary-aged group. It is based on the idea that kids frequently engage in engineering-like activities without even knowing it. EiE’s inquiry-based approach—stemming from most children’s inquisitive natures—aims to give students guidance on how to develop the skills they seem naturally disposed to have. The developers of EiE see reaching out to kids’ curiosity as a way to develop their engineering skills, as inquiry is the basis of the scientific method. These developers also created the program out of worry that even as technology becomes more accessible and our society more dependent upon it, fewer adults and children are aware of its uses and implications.
In addition to developing science and math skills, EiE’s main goals include building classroom equity and skills necessary for successful careers in the twenty-first century and teaching students to be engaged citizens. Students who learn the engineering design process at a young age will also come to understand that failure is a critical step in building successful experiments, and that oftentimes, problems hold more than one solution. These students are also working in a collaborative environment with one another, learning to communicate better and critique the work of their peers. This hands-on and project-based style of learning is meant to give students a taste of real-life working environments, whether as an engineer or in a different career. Because students are engaged in the creative side of science and math, they are more likely to consider diverse career options.
Implementing the EiE program includes a “Five E” learning cycle. Students are engaged in challenges that utilize their imagination and explore science and engineering principles. They are encouraged to explain what occurs in an activity, elaborate on what they have learned, and finally, evaluate the learning experience.
EiE, though developed in Boston, has since moved past the Northeast. North Carolina State University (NCSU) promotes the program in its local schools and the Science Museum of Minnesota provides “EiE professional development for educators in the Upper Midwest.”
So the next time you see children playing with building blocks, remember that they have the potential to become successful engineers, and even establish the next tech-giant companies!
Did You Know?
Even as the use and applications of science and technology grow in our society, there is still some stigma attached to careers in these fields. The Mind Trekkers team at Michigan Technological University (MTU) wants students to change their perspectives on what may be considered “geeky” careers. The club, consisting of both graduate and undergraduate students, is one of the programs under MTU’s Center for Pre-College Outreach, and aims to “reveal the mysteries of . . . STEM to students of all ages.” The group travel to bring activities to students and have worked with small groups of 15 students and much larger groups of 15,000. Recently, Mind Trekkers has teamed up with MTU’s Blue Marble Security Enterprise. Recently, the group taught students about circuitry by using a heart monitor, just one example of the many experiences students may have at a young age that could cement an appreciation and knowledge that will aid and guide them later in life.