January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

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.

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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:

Pinterest.com 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

Tryengineering.org There are lots of lesson plans, games, and project ideas here!

pbskids.org/designsquad 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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