September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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,

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.