Do you have zero engineering experience? Is your engineering experience limited to listening to engineering majors during college complain about trying to solve one problem for 36 hours straight? YIKES- a lot of people (I assume) are overwhelmed by engineering based on their initial experience with the field. Especially if you saw multiple whiteboards covered in formulas, number, and sketches that were well beyond your basic physics classes. I challenge you to somewhat start a new relationship with engineering. Remember, you have to break down engineering in order to match the cognitive level of YOUR students who may range from 5-year-old kindergarten students to 21-year-old biomedical engineer majors in college. And if you are a field-based engineer, remember educators have to break down complicated careers and problems to suit the needs of our students. We have to be careful not to overwhelm our student's minds, or they will shut down.
Teachers, I get it, asking your students to take on the role of an engineer is pretty scary when you have zero experience in engineering. But what if I told you that you are an engineer of sorts? The definition of an engineer is, "A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures." according to en.oxforddictionaries.com. If you have designed and implemented your own lab or lesson plan, then you are an "educational engineer". I bet you have even designed and used some sort of tool to enhance learning in your classroom. If you looked at Pinterest for ideas, consider Pinterest your resource for looking at previous solutions to problems just as engineers look at case studies much for the same reason. Nonetheless, you invented a lesson and actively used that design to create learning. You can certainly ask your students to invent a structure, right? Think of engineering as "inventing".
Okay, so now that we have broken down engineering, let's move on how to address that E in engineering during class time. You need to challenge your students to either 1. design 2. build or 3. maintain a structure. So how in the world can you accomplish this? I would start by combining "design" and "build".
First, defining engineering for your students in simple terms such as the ones I have suggested below.
Elementary: Engineer- an inventor
Middle School: Engineer- a professional who designs and builds structures
High School: Engineer- "A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures." (en.oxforddictionaries.com)
Next, provide your students with some examples of engineers. Just google "examples of engineers" and choose examples that best suite your students. You can include years of school required, basic description of job, and average salary. A basic powerpoint presentation would be appropriate as long as you keep the slides down to a pic and three short bullet points in addition to a youtube or other video about engineering. I'm sure you can find a short video you like.
Alright, now you need to decide on a goal and on building materials. Your goal should include a structure such as "Your goal is to design and build a small desktop structure to organize all of your class materials.". Choose building materials that are readily available to you or are cheap to purchase such as modeling clay, Popsicle sticks, glue, cotton balls, and pipe cleaners.
Next, choose a design method which can range from a paper drawing to a CAD, and ask your students to design a structure to accomplish a goal. Be sure to let them know what building tools will be available to them. A simple example is "Design a structure that would sit on top of your desk and hold all of your class materials. You will be using modeling clay only". As you can imagine, they need to know if they are using toothpicks and marshmallows or modeling clay to accomplish the goal of building a structure to organize class materials. Materials impact design. When students are designing their structures, walk around the classroom and ask intuitive questions about their design such as "Why did you choose this shape?" "How tall is your design?" "Do you think your design will work well for other students? Why or why not?". You can also use this opportunity to suggest modifications to designs such as "Your structure is tall and skinny. Do you think that structure will get knocked over easily? If so, how can you change your design to withstand students' bumping into your desk?" I recommend approving all designs before students are allowed to move into the build phase. This will allow you to 1. save class time, especially if your students are 3D printing or using a machine 2. preserve building materials and 3. interact with your students to aid in creating realistic designs. If your students start producing realistic designs consistently, feel free to skip this teacher approval step or leave it open to the students. Regardless, your job is to actively monitor the design process and ask key questions that lead to design enhancement. Your students need you, so be active and involved during class time.
Alright, we are ready for those designs to come to life! Be sure your students have access to all building materials. Set a time limit, because this is the fun part of engineering and some students can spend hours building. Again, you need to monitor this process and ask key questions such as "Does your model reflect your original design?" "Have you had to make any modifications? Explain why." "Is your model sturdy?". If students finish early, challenge them to use new software to reverse design their final model such as TinkerCad or graph paper modeled to scale. A little reverse engineering is great for our students!
When all students are finished with their model, have a class discussion on characteristics that make a great design. Write down a list of these characteristics on the board, then have the students vote on the best model. Evaluating other models will help your students develop new ideas and modifications for their next design. I almost always allow my students to complete engineering challenges in groups, but they can certainly work alone if needed. As long as the teacher is actively involved, all group members will be participating.
As you continue to develop engineering challenges, you can add in design software, unique building supplies, and creative constraints (design boundaries such as size, shape, etc.). 3D printers, robotics, and lab procedures created by students are also wonderful ways to include engineering in your classroom.
Please share your engineering challenges with me! Tag me on social media, so I can share your accomplishments :)