Did you know last week was National Engineers Week? Don’t worry if you missed it! You can still introduce your students to engineering before the end of the school year, using resources from the National Engineers Week website or from other awesome organizations like NASA, PBS Design Squad Nation, Teaching Channel, and Engineering is Elementary. With the increasing interest in “STEM” in recent years, some teachers began to use engineering activities to provide for a practical application of math or science. But in today’s classrooms, engineering is for ALL students because it is part of the Next Generation Science Standards and a core discipline of science for grades K-12.
While I've loved science since I was a little kid, I was never introduced to engineering. I thought that if you love science you should be a scientist. After teaching high school science for 12 years I had the unique opportunity to venture out into private industry for a few years and, in doing so, I happened to learn a few things first-hand about engineering. This exposure to the engineering field was exciting - engineering is interesting work! Here are some things I learned:
The company I worked for designs and produces technology for science education. Some of this technology is in the form of hardware - sensors that measure things like temperature, carbon dioxide levels, acceleration, or pH for example. The other type of technology they engineer is software - they write the code for applications on computers, tablets, or even phones that take the data from a sensor and display it for the user in some form (such as a graph of temperature vs. time). So there are hardware engineers who work through problems like, “How do I design a wireless spectrometer that meets the needs of both high school and college science classrooms?” or “How can the principles of optics be used to design a sensor that accurately and easily measures the amount of oxygen dissolved in natural waterways?.” And there are also software engineers that need solve different problems, such as “How do we change the layout of our application’s buttons to fit in the limited space of a phone screen?” or “How should the application be designed so a sensor can send data to a student’s device wirelessly? and “How can other students in a lab group also get the same data at the same time as the device that is connected to the sensor?”
In fact, engineering even extended past the hardware and software design departments into the production area. Engineering not only solves problems through the design of a product, but can also involve designing processes that solve problems. A problem that can be solved by engineering a specific process would be something like, “How can we design a system of work for the production technicians that is most efficient for getting products made and shipped?” and “Should the system be the same for all products, or will employees need to learn a couple of different systems?” The problems the engineers need to solve are not easy, but the engineers have a strong knowledge of science, math, computer coding and the engineering design process - and a good attitude toward teamwork - that allow them to design an effective solution (product or process).
Engineering might sound like hard stuff . . . but even young students can be engineers! Engineering is a perfect place to start if you’re wondering how to begin transitioning to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It can make the transition easier by providing an opportunity to move away from teacher-centered or textbook-focused science lessons and, instead, use more student-centered lessons in which children develop, use and apply science and engineering practices. Engineering is for all students - exposing students to this field will inspire some to become the next generation of engineers, and it will help all students develop a stronger understanding of science concepts as well as problem-solving skills and design-thinking habits that benefit them no matter their career.
Find out more about engineering in the grade level you teach
Read more about engineering in K-12 education (and see classrooms in action!)
Third grade students at Marcum-Illinois Elementary take on the role of geotechnical engineers as they collect and analyze core samples from model building sites. (Part of the "Stick in the Mud" unit from Engineering is Elementary)
@NGSS_tweeps is a community Twitter account: each week a different educator tweets about NGSS, providing a window into their classroom