September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Getting Started with Engineering

Posted: Thursday, September 15th, 2016

by Meredith Casalino

Having been in the classroom for nine years, I have seen all sorts of crazy things. One of those things is that kids will rise to virtually any challenge you give them, and if you let them build something you will have them completely hooked!  For the last three years I have had the incredible privilege to work on a strong 9th grade team at Da Vinci Communications, dedicated to interdisciplinary project based learning. Through this experience I was given the freedom, guidance, and support to integrate engineering into my physics classroom and have seen the power of this practice first hand.

Teaching kids processes to use in order to think and create like an engineer is a great way to get started. In my classroom I used the Project Lead the Way engineering design process, but there are lots of different takes on the engineering design process out there. I do recommend teaching your kids an engineering design process and sticking to it in order for them to have a richer, more meaningful engineering experience. Many schools or districts have one that they prefer so you many not even have to find one on your own. An engineering design process should include lots of flexibility, as well as ways to generate, evaluate, test, and revise multiple solutions to a single problem.



Engineering practices can be incorporated in different ways, for different purposes, and at different scales in a science classroom. I have used basic engineering challenges when students have switched groups. These may or may not connect to the current physics content the kids were working on but they definitely required collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills of all members of the new group. I have introduced my kids to engineering games, both hands-on and digital. I have given kids individual engineering challenges and projects that they had to complete individually, and some they needed to complete as a group. We have even done projects where kids had an individual design challenge, which they then had to incorporate into a larger group deliverable. The vast majority of the time projects combined both science and engineering content, but there is also a time and a place to practice engineering skills, especially since it can help enforce 21st century skills along the way.

I have included brief descriptions of some of the larger projects my students completed, along with some of the beginning details to give you some ideas of where you could start integrating engineering, too. There are also some resources at the end to find other engineering challenges and projects both big and small.

Be Heard is a signature project that all of the Da Vinci high schools do. Our team has done this project in a couple different ways over the years, incorporating everything from poetry and Romeo and Juliet in English, to statistics and music mixing in math and computer science, but it always involves the students making headphones in my class. In physics I usually pair this project with electricity, magnetism, and electromagnetic induction topics. My students usually completed a project on circuits previous to this project which allowed me to focus on magnetism, electromagnetism, and, of course, engineering. Headphones are much easier to make than it seems like they should be, and with some wire, a neodymium magnet, and an audio jack you can have your very own working headphones.

Our team has also put on TEDx events, and my kids completed two different projects for these events. For two years my kids had to complete an individual lighting structure in which they had to use a combination circuit to light up a certain number of lights. This structure also had to be representative of their TED talk that they wrote in English class and was displayed at the actual event. One year the kids created a hands-on demonstration of a certain physics topic and put on a small physics demo fair before the TEDx event. The kids had to physically construct the demonstration and present it to all of our guests before the event.

During our Cultivating Community Project, my kids learned all about energy through the lens of renewable energy and green spaces. They had to design and construct a green space for our school’s blacktop area and write up an energy profile of our school, their home, and their home city. These profiles incorporated their knowledge and understanding of energy including conservation of energy, types of energy, transformation of energy, and renewables, as well as how green spaces can impact those energies. They presented their findings to a panel to persuade the city to incorporate more green spaces, as well as actually constructing their own green space at our school.

Resources: It may sound funny but there are TONS of great ideas on how to incorporate engineering and various engineering challenges. Often all you need is an idea, a challenge question, and a possible list of supplies There are lots of lesson plans, games, and project ideas here! While the site seems like it is more for younger kids, a lot of the projects can be easily adapted for big kids!
Meredith Casalino is a CSTA member who taught at Da Vinci Communications High School the last 3 years and recently became the STEM coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

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:

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.