At ProjectEngin we firmly believe that Engineering is the “secret sauce” in your STEM/STEAM program. And we spend a lot of time working with teachers and schools to convince them that it can plan a role in classes from K-12. Read on to find out what some of our clients find to be the most compelling reasons to include more Engineering in the curriculum.
We live in an “engineered” world. Basically, if something doesn’t grow on trees, begin life as an embryo or seed, or evolve over millenia – it is engineered. The young people in our classrooms are and will be citizens of a highly designed world. As educators, we are all committed to preparing our students to be knowledgeable, involved citizens of the future. Basic literacy about the products and processes of the designed world need to be a part of every young person’s education. The ease of access to information has freed educators from simple transmission of information. Including the process of design lets you introduce the skills that underlie the creation and the evolution of the built environment.
Engineering is a way to bring that “real world” into your classroom. There are big challenges facing us now and in the future. Many of those challenges will require engineered solutions and the development of technologies that we can barely imagine. Teaching the same material the same way it was taught 50 years ago is a disservice to the young people we have such an opportunity to impact. Teaching facts in isolation is not realistic. Energy solutions impact climate and resources. Technologies designed to provide clean water for all can have high energy costs and create the need for new agricultural technologies. Many of the decisions that need to be in health care technologies have significant ethical impacts. One can’t consider any one of the UN Global Goals as being totally unrelated to any of the others.
Nothing in the modern world exists in an isolated, siloed environment. Except for our classrooms. Engineers have to be systems thinkers, weighing all inputs and outcomes. They have to optimize, finding the solutions with more positive impacts than negative consequences. They need to understand the economic, political, and cultural factors surrounding a problem. And they need to know their end-user. That is the real world. Very few of the learning challenges in most classrooms encourage such holistic thinking. All of our Engineering projects are based on “real world” challenges that require synergetic, systems-based solutions.
We are all natural engineers. Many of the teachers we work with are initially “terrified” of teaching Engineering. They share a common public misconception that all engineers are socially inept math and science geeks. As a result, teachers do not feel that they are qualified to even discuss Engineering, let alone actively include it in their curriculum. Engineers solve problems by designing helpful products and processes. You actually engineer every day. You engineer your chosen outfit by thinking about what you need to do and how you want to look (criteria). You then look in your closet to see what you have (constraints) and follow a process to create a preliminary “look”. Depending on your age level and social life (think teenage girl), you modify and optimize your outfit. You had a problem, defined your design space, considered the possible solutions, prototyped the best option and solved the problem as best as you could. That is the Engineering Design Process. We are all engineers on a daily basis. So why isn’t that a part of what we teach?
Engineering is the “secret sauce” that you need to really have STEM curriculum. We view Engineering as the linking verb in STEM or STEAM. Engineers use Science and Math to design and build Technolgies to solve problems and to meet human needs. A good Engineering project brings project-based learning into your curriculum with a platform that enables you to clearly connect math and science concepts. Well-designed Engineering curriculum creates a “need to know” for students, leading them to develop a better understanding of concepts in order to apply them to achieve the desired results. In post-interviews, we have actually had a significant number of students express surprise that any of the science knowledge they had been taught “actually made something work”. More proof that we need to stop teaching concepts in isolation.
Engineering is fun and creative. Try it! We can almost promise that your students will want more. A well-planned Engineering activity or project has room for all learners, not just the ones who can find the right answer on a test. One of the main reasons that ProjectEngin began was the number of students who reported that their senior year Engineering course was the first time they had fun in science since the primary grades. How can we hope to attract creative and innovative thinkers to STEM fields when we teach science in a rote, fact-focused manner? Learning should be messy, not linear. Constructing a cognitive model is creative and it is a process. It should always be about the questions, challenges, and possibilities, not just the answers.