UNCG Research

Making Engineering Elementary: Teachers explore hands-on strategies for the classroom

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 by Sangeetha Shivaji.
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Repost from UNCG Now

There are real problems to be solved. Global problems.

A young girl in Africa needs help designing a solar oven.

In Russia, twin sisters need advice on how to replicate a petroglyph.

A cohort of fourth and fifth-grade teachers tackled these problems head-on this summer during a free, four-day Engineering is Elementary workshop offered by the UNCG School of Education.The six teachers, from public schools in Guilford and Chatham County, will use case studies like these — and the hands-on learning required to solve them — to teach engineering this fall.

Yes, engineering.

“With this curriculum, students can literally apply and have a purpose for what they’re learning,” says Jason Brewer, a fifth-grade teacher at Siler City Elementary. “They’ll learn that they can be engineers, that there’s an engineering part of them inside.”

Engineering is Elementary, designed by the Museum of Science in Boston, aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards suggested for adoption by state public education systems across the country. Heidi Carlone, a UNCG education researcher, is contracting with the museum to study implementation of the curriculum locally.

The Next Generation standards, published in March, exemplify “what quality science education should look like,” Carlone says. “Engineering is Elementary really humanizes engineering as a career and makes it more real to students. It opens their world to potential jobs they didn’t even know existed. It gives them a reason to learn about science.”

While engineering has until now been relegated to a back burner in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curricula, Engineering is Elementary could change that.

“This is chance for students to focus on the human-made world,” Carlone says. “It’s a chance to apply their knowledge of science and math, and their creativity, to problems that help us improve our lives.”

Carlone hopes the teachers in her workshop will serve as a “seed leadership team,” paving the way for optimal implementation in their schools and districts.The group will meet again in the fall and UNCG educators will help them as they put the new material to work in their classrooms.

Shayla Thompson, a K-5 science specialist at Bluford STEM Academy, a magnet school in the Guilford County system, shares Carlone’s enthusiasm for Engineering is Elementary.

“I am really excited that I am able to bring in an engineering aspect of STEM,” Thompson says. “This curriculum is providing structure for me to teach engineering to students, and it also integrates literacy, math and science.”

UNCG Now story posted by Michelle Hines ( mkhines@uncg.edu )