From Kindergarten to High School: How to Pique Student Interest in Engineering
Emphasizing STEM fields in schools is becoming a hot topic in the American education system. Even engineering, which has traditionally only been taught to students in high school and above, is experiencing a surge in all grades. This is in response to a worldwide push towards math and education, research demonstrating early engineering lessons as having positive effects on students, and a general emphasis on career preparedness - at all ages.
Today, we’re going to look at the best ways to teachers can captivate students with engineering lessons and concepts across their educational experience - and how they can work with their administration to achieve the best results. Starting as early as kindergarten and working our way all the way up to high school, we will examine best practices to introduce engineering into schools.
Although elementary school places the majority of their learning emphasis on basic math, reading, and language skills, there is room to teach a few lessons on engineering that students will love. Below are some simple ways to get students started in scientific thinking, involve the whole class to make engineering a fun and exciting topic!
- Expansive and comprehensive curriculum (that includes engineering lessons) has already been developed with students in grades 1-5 specifically in mind. Weave it into your lesson plans to get students familiar with science at an early age.
- Some sites offer online courses and seminars directed towards teachers who want to understand how to teach engineering to elementary students!
- Some universities even offer full-fledged degrees designed to help teachers advance not only their ability to instruct on difficult topics, but advanced leadership and practitioner skills as well.
- Engage students in one of a wide breadth of fun science-based activities including designing a mini wind turbine, constructing a teepee, and building a thermal birdhouse!
- If iPads and tablet tech is already utilized in your classroom, browse the many apps and games that focus on teaching engineering to young learners.
With middle schoolers, teachers have a little bit more freedom in choosing which activities to pursue in early engineering education. Most students at this point are comfortable with basic topics in math and science and will be able to keep up with lessons that tackle introductory concepts in engineering.
- Encourage your administration, or even your district, to host an engineering focused science fair that encourages collaborative learning as well as a little friendly competition.
- Take a look at a comprehensive guide to organizing a science fair that walks you through meeting with administration, selecting fair committees, and much more.
- Engineering is Elementary offers students in grades 6-8 engineering “challenges” that tackle real problems in various disciplines of engineering. Subject areas include biomedical (Outbreak Alert) and chemical (Plants to Plastics).
- Lead your class in a few more advanced projects that tackle concepts from mechanics to robotics! An always popular class project, the ball launcher, can be a great way to introduce physics and projectiles to early learners.
High school presents the best opportunity to capture student interest in engineering, and ultimately turn it into a college major and a fruitful career. Teachers can take basic lessons and skills students have from previous engineering related experiences and apply them to more complex, intellectually challenging topics. Here are just a few ways for high school teachers to truly capture student interest:
- High school teachers can get even more specialized in choosing how to integrate engineering into the classroom and can challenge their students to design a mars rover or to create an automated pet feeder.
- Encourage students that express an interest in the field to attend engineering summer camps that give STEM-minded adolescents the chance to explore what a college major and career in engineering might look like.
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers many intro courses online for students to peruse at their leisure.
- Students at MIT have also begun developing courses designed specifically for high school students!
It’s natural for some students to drift into different passions and interests but, for those who demonstrate an interest in engineering, it is of vital importance to foster and develop that interest. A recent study revealed that “close to 60 percent of the nation's students who begin high school interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, change their minds by graduation.” With engineering being a highly employable occupation and a certifiable growth industry, piquing and maintaining students interest, starting as early as possible, will benefit them immensely in the long run.
Sam Frenzel is a writer for Teach.com based in Upstate New York. He covers topics including education policy, teacher welfare, and technology in the classroom.