introduction to engineering

Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Engineering is…

  • the use of science and math to design or make things.
  • the discipline and profession of applying scientific knowledge and utilizing natural laws and physical resources in order to design and implement materials, structures, machines, devices, systems, and processes that realize a desired objective and meet specified criteria.
  • the silent E in STEM or STEAM. Why? Because most K-8 educators have little or no background in engineering. Teaching materials rarely address engineering concepts or practices. There is lots of information online to explore and learn about engineering.

Science and Engineering

  • Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been. — Theodore von Kármán
  • Scientists typically seek multiple strands of evidence to support or refute claims about the natural world (Scientific Method), while engineers use an iterative problem solving process to meet specific, often human-related, needs (Engineering Design Process).

Intro to Engineering videos

  • NASA for Kids: Intro to Engineering (video 2:42) What is engineering, and who exactly is an engineer?
  • Think Like an Engineer (video 5:06) Do you like using your imagination to build things that solve problems? If you do, you’re thinking like an engineer! Learn how engineers identify and solve problems, then help Jessi with a big problem of her own!
  • What is Engineering? (4:17) – Engineering explained – from mobile phones to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), computer games and toothpaste to the Sydney Harbor Bridge and airplanes.
  • NASA Now: Designing a New Martian Rover (6:20) – Aerospace engineer Jennifer Keyes shows how NASA engineers developed a concept rover capable of traveling large distances on Mars. Engineering Design Process (starts 4:33)

Q: Do these descriptions help you understand what engineering is? Have you seen a better explanation? Share a link to a resources.

Meet the Engineers

People who do engineering are called engineers. They learn engineering at a college or university. Engineers usually design or build things. Some engineers also use their skills to solve technical problems. There are different types of engineers that design everything from computers and buildings to watches and websites. People have been engineering things for thousands of years.

  • Theodore von Kármán (1881 – 1963) Known as the father of supersonic flight. Made major contributions to aviation and space technology, aerodynamics, and improved aircraft performance during an illustrious career.

Q: What are some engineering disciplines that interest you? Share profiles of engineers who do interesting jobs.

Spatial thinking

Engineers are usually good at spatial visualization = representing three-dimensional objects. This is a skill, that you can learn and improve with practice. Most girls need more opportunities for building visualization and spatial reasoning skills.

  • Spatial Visualization quiz – Rotations – Take the test.
  • Spatial awareness puzzles rely on your ability to visualize and mentally manipulate objects in an environment. Spatial reasoning often requires comprehending 2D or 3D space. These spatial puzzles and games test your ability to grasp the relationship and orientation of an object to its environment and any neighboring objects. Prove your spatial intelligence by conquering these challenging online spatial games. (some require Flash Player.)

Q: How is your spatial reasoning ability? Try the test. Play some of the puzzles. This is a skill that gets better with practice.

Measurements and units

Measurement – Technology makes it possible to measure things very precisely. Atomic clocks keep time to an accuracy of one millionth of a second per year. Lasers can measure distance to a millionth of a meter. A scientist’s most important tools are the ones used for measuring – telescopes, spectroscopes, microscopes, stethoscopes, radar, thermometers, corers, Geiger counter, scales, barometers. –Bill Nye, Episode 97

  • How can I measure that? – Have a look at the images and enter the common name of the measuring device often used by engineers! For each question fill in the appropriate answer. The answer box will turn green if your response is correct and red if incorrect.

Q: Think about all the things we measure every day? How many different units do we use – feet, inches, gallons, just to name a few?

Engineering challenges

Grand Challenges for Engineering program is aimed at inspiring young engineers across the globe to address the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century. From the need to develop affordable clean energy solutions and increase access to renewable environmental resources, to facing new challenges in health care, these challenges potentially impact on the quality of all our lives. These global grand challenges are huge in scope and address the biggest current concerns of all the world’s citizens. These Grand Challenges fall into four cross-cutting themes: Sustainability, Health, Security, and Joy of Living.

Q: Does one of these challenges seem particularly important to you? As an engineer, how would you go about meeting this challenge? What impact could your solutions have?

Share what you know

The best way to really understand something is to teach it to someone else. Creating a portfolio of your work is a nice way to show what you know and see the progress you make. Although there are many different “deliverable” that serve the purpose, creating Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about topics of interest can have additional impact.

  • Writing Public Service Announcements – A public service announcement is a non-commercial message directed toward the public and the community. Public service announcements, or PSAs as they’re often called, are most common on television and radio due to the Federal Communication Commission’s requirement of stations to run a minimum amount of programming and information for the community.

Q: for the challenge that interests you create a PSA – 30-90 seconds and can be audio or video. Research what the world needs to know about ____, and what they can do about _____. * Then create a PSA to demonstrate that information and understanding.

Lifelong learning

Engineers are lifelong learners. Most of what they do is solve problems without knowing everything about the problem and come up with a solution that didn’t exist before.

Q: What does it mean to be a Lifelong learner? How do you become good at being a lifelong learner?

Learn more…

Supporting learning…

For educators, parents, facilitators, learning guides – lesson plans, strategies, resources

Coming soon…

  • Engineering fundamentals – Engineering Design Process, problem solving and question formulation technique
  • Applied math – data analysis, computer aided design, machine learning
  • Systems – in nature – life, earth, physical as well as man-made – designed and built
  • Simulation, models and virtual reality – explore, practice, fail and improve