how things work

g.. with STEM programs. There are going to be a lot of students who go into college who may want to be engineers and then find themselves doing something else. The reasoning may change, where they are interested in the work, but those basics are going to be a barrier either way.

  • Basics as barriers or something else?
  • Would it be a good thing if there were more qualified engineering gradates?
  • Is engineering more difficult than medicine?
  • Would it be useful to society as a whole if people had a better understanding of engineering in general?
  • Would high school math and science teaching and learning be improved if these included or were linked to engineering?
  • Are there high school students who could be good engineers not going into engineering? Didn’t know what engineering is? Didn’t know they needed high school pre-req courses?

Assuming that the objective is to have more engineers who meet the usual rigor and breadth of knowledge, what are some ways to prepare kids to follow that path and be successful? Working backwards, kids have to complete high school ready to be successful in the college engineering program of their choice. Most of that is required coursework and adequate SAT and/or ACT test scores for admission. However, study skills, problem solving, critical thinking and time management are essential as well.

There are studies that have looked at the relevance to test scores to success in college engineering, particularly for women and minorities. With extra introductory skill building in spatial reasoning and 3D visualization, these students go on to be as successful as their peers to had developed these skills before college.

Medicine is able to attract and keep many students who might be successful engineers based on high school course work and test scores. Many explicitly reject engineering as a college and career choice. I’m not smart enough. I’m not that good at math. Sitting alone at a computer all day pushing around numbers isn’t a job that interests me. Compared with the perceived benefits of medicine to make a difference in the lives of many people, benefiting society in general, engineering isn’t attracting many of these kids. Although most engineers work collaboratively in groups, often with customers and vendors and other disciplines, the perception of the nerdy engineer remains. Engineers are responsible for making all the stuff that ultimately benefits humanity through research and development, construction and problem solutions.

The Engineering Design Process is a great model for lifelong learning and general real life problem solving. These are valuable life skills presented in context. Could introducing engineering as a framework for science and math in primary and middle school change the perception and readiness for future engineers? It can’t hurt. Let’s find out.

Including a big helping of “the way things work” would be great. Start with interesting things, then dig into the math and science involved. The engineering design process is a better framework for routine problem solving than the scientific method. There is a lot of emphasis on problem based learning that sort of uses the process.

Some of the science and math curriculum could be tweaked to be more engineering-centric. Adding an application example to the basic concepts like the water cycle, force, energy, waves, planets, plants, animals even. It doesn’t need to be too complex – more about awareness and connections. That would be a good start.

Very few k-5 classroom teachers were math or science majors. Some schools have a separate science teacher. By middle school, teachers have to have subject qualifications, usually including degrees in the subjects they teach. Few if any have engineering degrees.

K-8 teachers are willing to try adding or substituting some engineering into regular course work. This will be a mash-up with how things work, simple machines, engineering design process for problem solving into upcoming science lessons. There will be some questions about how to make some of these connections.