Embracing the E: Why Engineering Should be Part of Your Classroom

 

The Top 5 E-Reasons

Engagement:

Engineering is the process that brings the built world into existence. And that is very much the world that our students live in. Activities that challenge young people to do things differently and better are far more engaging than traditional verification labs and routine problem sets. In lieu of a traditional lab to study projectile motion, teachers can cover the same topics by challenging students to design a safe model of a water slide. Additional real-world considerations such as aesthetics, cost, safety factors, and capacity can also be incorporated. The grand finale of seeing objects crash into a basin of water is a lot more fun and engaging than collecting sets of data for the range of a marble rolled off a table or launched with a lab device.

 

Extension:

If we ever hope to develop mastery, application is needed. “Doing” helps us adjust our mental models and brings forth misconceptions, fostering a much deeper understanding. Students working on mousetrap cars develop a much clearer understanding of the role of friction once they realize the car can’t move on the ground without it. They also begin to understand how it is a resistive, non-conservative force capable of slowing their car down if the moving parts experience too much friction at contact points. All of the words in a textbook or lecture will never make those simple ideas as real to them. Countless problem sets focused on finding the coefficient of friction will never be as effective in developing an understanding of real effects.

 

Entrepreneurship:

In a world that is constantly evolving, the principles of entrepreneurship can give students a strong foundation.  Gen Y and Gen Z-ers are constantly connected and want to be heard. They live in a 24/7 world that is becoming increasing entrepreneurial. The solo and siloed nature of most educational activities is contrary to providing the skills that they will need to succeed. They need to be collaborative and creative thinkers. A well-constructed Engineering challenge supports that model far better than any multiple choice test or repetitive lab. Engineering embraces failure as a learning activity and strives to always move forward to improve the solution. It reinforces resilience, systems thinking, and divergent thinking. Much of that is missing in our one size-fits-all education model that is so focused on the quest for that one right answer.

 

Empathy:

Good Engineering Design puts the needs of the end user in the forefront. Products and processes are engineered to solve human problems and to make our lives easier. Students are capable of amazing amounts of empathy, particularly when solving a problem for someone close to them or for other children. We have all read stories about classes and students who have used 3-D printers to make prosthetics and other assistive devices. They are driven by empathy and the idea that they can help someone. Many of the projects we work on ask students to take a global view and focus on the needs of children living in other, less affluent parts of the world. They truly move out of their classrooms as they take what they have learned about electrical circuits and design small pico-PV devices to help children have light to in order to read and play in the evenings. The idea that children their own age have been uprooted and live in refugee camps gives enormous importance to the challenge of using what they have learned about structures and energy to design simple toys. Applications with meaning, clear impact, and a focus on others help reinforce the empathy present in most young people.

 

Empowerment:

The world is a challenging place and statistics are often discouraging. All of our work focuses on developing activities and curriculum meant to empower young people to believe in the promises and possibilities of technology and engineering. There is no doubt that much of the current world condition is due to the technologies and rapid changes we have created in the past. But we are learning and most experts agree that we have the creativity and knowledge to develop solutions to the challenges we face now and in the future. That future is in your classrooms today and change can only happen if we work to develop our students’ confidence that they can make a difference. Young people can engineer a better world for all and they deserve an education that makes that goal real and attainable.

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