Engineering in Afterschool: Attitude Is Everything!
Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
by Melissa Higgins
A boisterous group of fifth grade girls stand at the front of the room at Girls, Inc., an afterschool program in Lynn, MA. Younger girls sit crowded on the floor before them. They’re waiting for the start of the Bubble Bonanza—a carnival show being put on by the fifth grade engineers who have just finished designing their very own bubble wands.
As the Rihanna song the girls chose to set the mood begins to play, the engineers blow bubbles with their wands. The crowd “oohs” and claps as the first bubble is released.
The excitement that these young engineers show is not just a fortunate byproduct of this activity—it is one of the main intended outcomes. Creating activities that get children excited about engineering is a primary goal of the developers of the Engineering Adventures (EA) curriculum, who created the Bubble Bonanza: Engineering Bubble Wands unit described above. EA is a project of Engineering is Elementary, an education program developed at the Museum of Science, Boston’s National Center for Technological Literacy. The EA project develops free-to-download engineering units designed for 3rd-5th graders in informal learning environments.
Engineering experiences that are designed to build attitudinal gains make a great deal of sense in informal learning environments. Because children participating in out-of-school time (OST) programs may be coming from different schools and different grade levels, the EA team learned early in the development process that it was not possible to rely on any shared science or engineering background. Instead, the engineering skills and experiences must be built “on-site” as a group.
Programs that focus on building positive engineering attitudes and skills in young learners show real promise for making a positive impact on content knowledge and career choices. Research has shown that interest in STEM fields is a critical indicator of the likelihood a student will pursue math and science courses and careers later in life.[i]
The EA team has crafted four belief statements about engineering learning in out-of-school time that help us create activities to build children’s engineering confidence. We encourage you to use them as well, and to check for these key components when choosing or creating engineering activities for your afterschool and camp programs.
Kids will best learn engineering when they:
- engage in activities that are fun, exciting, and connect to the world in which they live
- choose their own path through open-ended challenges that have multiple solutions
- have the opportunity to succeed in engineering challenges.
- communicate and collaborate in innovative, active, problem solving.
Let’s look at each of these individually:
Engage kids in activities that are fun, exciting, and connect to the world in which they live
Engineers solve diverse problems with wide-ranging impacts, from cleaning polluted water to improving the design of cell phones. Being explicit about how this work impacts people helps children connect engineering to their own lives. In EA units, we do this through storytelling—we use a fictional brother and sister duo who travel the world to help introduce global engineering problems. These characters send messages to the children in your program to highlight how the problem presented connects to real life.
Let kids choose their path through open-ended challenges that have multiple solutions
There are many different ways to solve a given engineering problem—the most effective solutions depend on the criteria and constraints of the challenge. In the Bubble Bonanza unit, children define their own goal for the bubble wand they will create. They might decide to create a wand that makes giant bubbles, many small bubbles, etc. Because groups create different solutions, they can each focus on individual successes, while still learning from each other.
Give kids the opportunity to succeed in engineering challenges
The engineering challenges presented in OST programs should pose a
challenge and push children to think outside of the box. With appropriate scaffolding activities children should be able to create a successful design. Scaffolding activities, such as giving children a chance to experiment with materials, along with a bit of persistence and a focus on the “improve” step of the engineering design process, should enable groups to end up with a solution that meets the challenge.
Encourage kids to communicate and collaborate in innovative, active, problem solving
It is important to give children a chance to share the designs they created and their engineering knowledge. Each EA unit culminates in an engineering showcase. We encourage educators to invite families and other OST program members to attend the showcase, ask questions, and learn more about the engineering challenge children explored.
Back at Girls, Inc., the Bubble Bonanza had ended, but the girls are still excited and learning about engineering. Educator Linda Hall holds up a sign that says “I am an engineer because . . . ” “We made bubble makers,” volunteers Tanisha. “We asked questions,” adds Jaslene. “Imagined,” says Amanda. The girls are naming the steps of the engineering design process they used as they engineered their bubble wands. Other girls volunteer, “plan” and “improve.” “What was the most important part for us?” asks Linda. “Create!” the girls cheer.
Our evaluation of Engineering Adventures activities shows that kids who engage in our activities do develop more positive attitudes about engineering and related careers. The potential to empower children as problem solvers is what we see as the true strength and potential of using engineering in OST programs. We encourage you to try engineering activities, such as those in the EA unit “Bubble Bonanza: Engineering Bubble Wands,” in your program. To download this unit—or learn about other Engineering Adventures units—visit our website!
Melissa Higgins is Director of Curriculum Development for “Engineering is Elementary” at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA and was invited to write by CSTA member Valerie Joyner.
[i] (STEM Learning in Afterschool: An Analysis of Impact and Outcomes, Afterschool Alliance, Sept. 2011, http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/stem-afterschool-outcomes.pdf)
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…