The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines have long been staples in secondary and post-secondary educational settings. High schools and colleges regularly offer both core courses and electives in these areas. But what about in elementary schools? STEM education impacts students at the elementary school level, as well. Basic science and math education have had a foothold in elementary education for some time. Now, engineering is gaining in prominence. Read on to learn about the latest initiatives to introduce engineering education to elementary school students nationwide.
Amplify Science is an initiative of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, targeted to elementary and middle school students. Its curriculum emphasizes the “do, talk, read, write, and visualize” approach to the learning process. Every lesson incorporates scientific and engineering principles of problem-solving. At the elementary school level, students are provided with books, investigation notebooks, simulation and practice tools, as well as hands-on materials kits. Meanwhile, teacher guides include detailed lesson plans. Through these resources, students are introduced to a variety of engineering topics depending on their grade level.
In kindergarten, students learn about pushing and pulling by designing and building model pinball machines. In first grade, students study light and sound engineering as they design shadow scenery and sound effects for a puppet show. Properties of materials are highlighted in second grade, when students engineer glue that is used to meet design goals. Students in the third grade study environments and survival, investigating how biological traits make organisms more or less suited to particular environments and learning how to engineer solutions for removing invasive species. In the fourth grade, energy conversions is highlighted, with students becoming systems engineers as they investigate electrical systems. Finally, in fifth grade, students learn about the earth system as they engineer solutions to a water shortage.
Engineering is Elementary
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) is a service of the Museum of Science in Boston. Starting in Pre-K with Wee Engineer, then with EiE for Kindergarten, and throughout elementary school with EiE, this curriculum aims to teach students about the work that engineers do. Comprising professional development components for educators, it is backed by research-based evaluation of its effectiveness. EiE materials suggest that learning about engineering can boost science and math skills; promote equality in the classroom; develop skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, creative thinking, and communication; lead to success in STEM and other careers; and encourage engaged citizenship.
Several engineering learning units are available for each grade. At the Pre-K level, Wee Engineering focuses on the problem-solving engineering design process, with students learning to explore, create, and improve. EiE for Kindergarten emphasizes critical and creative thinking through a more developed engineering design process that includes asking, imagining, planning, creating, and improving. Students from the first to fifth grades are introduced to the principles of electrical, civil, biomedical, optical, transportation, and aerospace engineering, among others. Students in these grades design items such as alarm circuits, bridges, knee braces, lighting systems, maglev systems, parachutes, and many more.
NASA’s BEST stands for Beginning Engineering, Science, and Technology and is a program designed to introduce engineering principles to young students. The program emphasizes the importance of imagination and planning prior to creating and testing in the engineering design process. The complete engineering design process taught to students includes asking, imagining, planning, creating, testing, and improving. Designed for K-8 students, the curriculum can be used in print or digital formats in or out of school. NASA’s BEST also offers free professional development for educators through in-person and online workshops.
The activities available for students focus on space, technology, aeronautics, and science engineering. Each activity includes information for the teacher, such as a list of objectives, skills learned, required materials, and suggested motivational strategies. Students are provided with background information, suggested steps in the design process, data tables, and critical thinking questions. A sampling of items that students design include a parachute, a solar sail, a fuel storage container and transfer system, green fuel, a communication system, and a clock powered by water.
TryEngineering is an initiative of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The desired outcome of TryEngineering is to inspire future generations to take an interest in engineering careers. To that end, TryEngineering provides engineering games to youth through its website. TryEngineering also provides educators with free engineering lesson plans targeted for children ages 4-14.
In the elementary school age range, engineering games and lessons include designing such objects as electrical circuits, drones, gliders, sensors, pendulums, and pulleys.