At ProjectEngin, we focus on some core skills when encouraging teachers to think of Engineering Design as a powerful pedagogical tool. Before jumping into a full blown Engineering Design project, we help teachers to think about changing their classroom culture from passive to active, from individuals to collaborative groups, from routine to innovative, and from perfect to failure. Here are some ideas to try in your classroom in order to disrupt practices that have been in place for decades. We are convinced that once you see how your students respond, you will make the leap to engineering a whole new kind of learning experience.
- Focus on creativity and innovation. Give pairs of students cards with two very different items on them. Challenge them to design something (s) by combining both. Think telephone plus computer equals smart phone. A combination that seemed impossible and unwieldy less than 40 years ago is commonplace today. Think big, think crazy, innovate, and invent.
- Focus on failure as a learning experience. Have groups of 2 or 3 students build towers out of newspaper and a limited amount of Scotch tape. Load them with books or other objects and film the failure. Did they tip, twist, or crumple? Based on what you saw happening, could you improve your building?
- Develop empathy. Have students learn what it means to function differently. Have them hold one hand behind their backs and complete simple tasks or close their eyes and cross part of the room. What simple technologies (tools or ideas) can help to make things easier for someone who functions differently? The best engineering starts with understanding the needs of your end-user.
- Find their inner engineer. Give students a selection of appropriate objects (photos or images work well) and ask them to engineer a solution based on limitations (constraints) and criteria (goals). For example make a tasty (criteria) lunch out of the ingredients in a refrigerator (constraints). Or put together an outfit for school or some other specific event. You are limited by the clothes you have (constraints) and your sense of style (criteria). Can students think of other situations in which they “engineer” solutions?
- Focus on improvement of current products or processes. Give students chart paper or white boards and ask team to re-design the classroom for students in 2030. You will learn a lot about how they view learning and what makes them comfortable. You may even get some ideas of what you can do now. Explain that everything can be engineered better. What stops us?