In a previous post, I described different types of academic fellowships across Washington State and what went into each of them. For more background information on the Engineering Fellowship, please feel free to check it out: http://corelaboratewa.org/engineering-a-fellowship/.
Long Story Short
Washington MESA, Washington STEM, the University of Washington, and several other partners formed a consortium to create an Engineering Fellowship model. The idea being that the engineering components of the Next Generation Science Standards are perhaps the least understood and the most intimidating to elementary-level teachers. The creation of an Engineering Fellowship model that could be copied and spread would help to empower teacher professional development around engineering while simultaneously developing inexpensive “open source” curriculum that any teacher could adopt and use in the classroom. This is something that I like to call “Cardboard Engineering” because the projects utilize everyday materials that are cheap, accessible, and easy to use.
How do we inspire future engineers?
This is a critical question that begs an answer, which, at the moment, escapes most of us in education. The Engineering Fellowship is an effort targeted at answering this exact question with a resounding set of approaches, strategies, and curriculum. The hope is to scaffold engineering education in such a way that elementary teachers feel comfortable and confident adopting an already developed pedagogy.
Where are the engineers that look like me?
This is the question that every student asks themselves (about anything really) when it comes to deciding on a profession like engineering. Does anyone who looks like me do this? Perhaps the question is subconscious, but it’s there and it’s important that we address it. This is a natural bias that we all possess and as I recently learned from a speaker at a National Science Teachers Association Conference: “If you have a ‘brain’ then you have a ‘bias’.”
Getting to know you… and your engineering standards
Our first day was a whirlwind of meeting everyone involved with the project. We met the other teachers, engineering graduate students, and professional engineers that would be working on the project. The idea being that a collaboration among educators, students, and professionals would lead to a better product. The challenges were multifaceted. Students assumed that they knew how an elementary classroom worked but still didn’t realize how much in the way of “behind the scenes” work they were not privy to seeing (most of the hardest work, actually). Professionals struggled to understand what would and wouldn’t work in an elementary classroom. The teachers were intimidated by some of the concepts, afraid to fail, and still developing an understanding of engineering. Together, though, we worked through these challenges while learning many new things.
Week One Behind the Scenes
Once we knew everyone and were situated, then it was time to get to work on learning and applying the Next Generation Science Standards. To start off with, each teacher submitted a tested engineering project that the group could take and develop. This gave our working groups a starting point to go from, test, and develop. The week was a mix of professional development, visiting engineering programs at the University of Washington, conducting our own “teacher” engineering challenges, and designing engineering curriculum for the classroom. By the end of the week each group had 3-4 projects that they could implement over the course of the year.
The Work of the Work in the Classroom
The school year began in a whirlwind, as it always does, and we were off as a program. Many teachers used the engineering challenges for classroom team building activities as well as introducing the applicable science content. We had back-to-school engineering nights and multi-stage engineering projects where students designed, tested, and redesigned a variety of prototypes. Our first monthly meeting was really exciting as we heard about the awesome work that everyone was doing. My students’ first project was a catapult challenge followed by a payload protection system for a rocket. We eventually worked on a platform strength challenge which lead into a hydroponics irrigation challenge. We finished off the year working on a solar car challenge (taking advantage of some June sunshine). As you can probably tell by the titles, a lot of engineering went into these projects. Our monthly check-in meetings helped us to plan, prepare, and refine our challenges so that we conducted numerous iterations of each project over the course of the year as a cohort.
Detailed Overview of a Sample Engineering Project/Challenge
Our version of the catapult activity centered around “squirrel engineering” via “Those Darn Squirrels” and helping students design a “squirrel launcher”. The focus, of course, was still on engineering and the design process. Students were supplied with a set number and type of materials (clothespins, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etcetera) and had to design something that would help launch their squirrel (marshmallow or little plastic squirrel or something similar) into the bird feeder that the squirrels wanted to reach in the story (actually a bucket in our case).
We focused on applying the language in the engineering content and engineering design process utilized in the Next Generation Science Standards. To make this happen, we focused on starting with a design to meet our “want” but that operated within our design “constraints”. Once students had a design then they built and tested. After the first test, students identified “failure points”, redesigned, and tested again as time allowed. Working through this process allowed students to get a feel for how the cycle of design works over time. Please see the following link for a more in-depth description of this lesson: http://corelaboratewa.org/engineering-with-squirrels/.
We had a variety of design challenges created, used, and refined via the Engineering Fellowship teachers—about a dozen or so. While the nature varied, the core ideas and application of standards remained the same. Students solved an engaging, complex problem together in teams via the engineering design process.
Engineering Fellows Version 2.0
As our version 1.0 group finished out the year and finalized our proposed prototypes for each engineering project, inevitably the program looked towards its next iteration. The program organizers and designers will keep what worked well, let go of what didn’t, and try to improve as much as possible. The next group of teachers will pick up where we left off and continue to develop and expand the program. More schools will be represented and more students reached across Washington State.
As a participant in the prototype group (and now proud Engineering Fellows alumni), I’m excited to see how this program transitions from its Beta version to a fully operational and expanding initiative across the region.
Helpful Links and Resources
Previous post on Engineering Fellowships: http://corelaboratewa.org/engineering-a-fellowship/
Engineering in the Next Generation Science Standards: http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/default/files/Appendix%20I%20-%20Engineering%20Design%20in%20NGSS%20-%20FINAL_V2.pdf
Teaching Engineering: https://www.teachengineering.org
NSTA Engineering Section: http://ngss.nsta.org/DisplayStandard.aspx?view=topic&id=23
Washington MESA: http://www.washingtonmesa.org
Washington STEM: http://www.washingtonstem.org
What is Engineering YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POAmtW9bh4E
Engineering is Elementary: https://www.eie.org
Engineering Fellows Website: http://www.washingtonstem.org/engineering#.WYyALFKZN-U
Engineering Fellows Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxPpw1846nM