Monday, March 25, 2013

The E in STEM

When we think of engineering happening in the K-8 setting are we thinking the students need to know mathematics beyond calculus?  Well most of us think of engineering as being associated with a lot of math and high-level thinking.  Is this what we are talking about when we want to introduce engineering in the primary grades?  No not really, it’s more of a mindset or a way of thinking.  It is the process and application of the engineering discipline that we want to build into our curriculum.


Engineers want to make things work and they are persistent in that task. We want to teach our students how to be persistent in a task and not to give up but to try different approaches by appropriately defining and then researching a problem.  These are some of the qualities you can find in an engineer.  The engineering process starts with defining a problem, researching information around the problem, identify what is needed to solve the problem and develop a potential solution.  The next part of this process is to develop a prototype solution and then test the prototype.  If there are any issues then the prototype is redesigned until it works.  The final step is to communicate results of the prototype testing.

How can we apply this concept in the classroom?  Providing students with design challenges will enable them to utilize this process.  Allowing students to use their creativity and allow time to fail at first will help them to think about what is needed to make a prototype work.  In other words we can encourage “fast failure” wherein they learn to quickly iterate possible solutions. A more enriched learning experience occurs when something doesn’t work the first time.  This type of thinking can also take place when a problem is presented to the students.  In order for students to have a reason to pursue a problem it starts with a driving question. This allows students to create with a purpose and is also where critical thinking begins.

Dr. David Thornburg spoke at the CUE 2013 conference and discussed the importance of a driving question in order for the students to ask “why?”.  His foundation called the Knights of Knowledge promotes inquiry-based learning through STEM education.  His team has put together sample videos in many subject areas to help pique interest in students around a topic in a specific subject area.  He also discussed importance of setting expectations; not limiting what the teacher expects the students to achieve, but keeping it open or limitless.  This gives the students the opportunity to stretch farther.  He surmised that if you start at the floor students could reach beyond the ceiling.    

Engineering in education is about giving students the opportunity to go through the process and developing an approach to problem solving and critical thinking.  The idea or concepts of engineering are built into the Next Generation Science Standards.  With the implementation of Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards the content is not the forefront of the objective anymore rather it is the process by which you get to the content has become the focus.  It is the actions that the students take through analyzing and applying knowledge.  The engineering process is one method that will get us there.

The world is desperately seeking out engineers.  There is a company that is even willing to provide you with a free dinner for a year if you find them an engineer!  So find that driving question and let your students build and explore.  They just might develop into future engineers.

By Karen Wilson, STEM Coach
Twitter:  @kwilson_klw

No comments:

Post a Comment