May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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,

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.