Engineering in Your Classroom – Five Activities to Try
Change in the classroom can be an overwhelming process.
Here are some ideas to try in your classroom in order to disrupt practices that have been in place for decades. Once you see how your students respond, you will be ready to make the leap to engineering a whole new kind of learning experience.
1. Silly Synthesis: Focus on creativity and innovation.
Give pairs of students two cards with two very different items on them. Challenge them to design something (s) by combining both. Think telephone plus computer equals smart phone. What seemed impossible less than 40 years ago is commonplace today. Think big, think crazy, innovate, and invent.
2. Imagination Innovation: Focus on improvement of current products or processes.
Give students chart paper or white boards and ask a team to re-design the classroom for students in 2030. You will learn a lot about how they view their learning space and needs. You may even get some ideas of what you can do now. Explain that everything can be engineered better. What stops us?
3. Failing Forward: Focus on failure as a learning experience.
Have groups of two or three students build towers out of three sheets of newspaper and 10-12 inches of Scotch tape. The tower must be free-standing and at least 18 inches tall. 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?
4. Engineering with empathy: Focus on the end-user.
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. Most of our teachers who choose to do a prosthetic hand project start with this type of “research.”
5. You inner engineer: Engineering solutions to daily challenges; identifying constraints and criteria.
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: “Can you make a tasty (criteria) lunch out of the ingredients in a refrigerator (constraints)?” Have them think about how they dress 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?
These activities all highlight different steps in the Engineering Design Process in a fun, low-risk manner. By starting with challenges, ideas, and objects that are familiar to your students, you can present engineering as a different way of thinking and problem-solving. It is a great way to “test the waters” with little upfront cost to you in terms of preparation, direct instruction, or class time.
Start small and you can begin to engineer big changes in your STEM classes!
About Our Sponsor
Ann Kaiser is a former engineer with 15 years of experience in secondary education. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (B.S. Metallurgy and Materials Science) and the School of International and Public Affairs (Masters in International Affairs), she is a lifelong advocate of engineering as an agent for creative global problem-solving and innovation. In 2013, Ann was named a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher and conducted 6 months of research in Singapore. Her work, which was published as a technical paper, focused on the use of Engineering Design to frame performance tasks in secondary physics. ProjectEngin was founded in 2014 and is a firm dedicated to creating meaningful change in STEM education. We bring the real world into your K-12 classrooms through engaging projects and curriculum centered on the Engineering Design Process. We combine our firsthand knowledge of engineering with the talents and expertise of your classroom teachers to develop and support practices and curriculum that engages the learner. Our goal is to help teachers educate young people who are equipped with the skills and information needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.