Last week engineering was trending on twitter due to the hashtags #IAmAnEngineer and #ILookLikeAnEngineer. These hashtags are focused on breaking down stereotypes in engineering and promoting the many types of people who are engineers. Unfortunately, engineering is an industry that people often have a very fixed perception of what an “engineer” is and many students are turned off from a career in engineering because of these stereotypes.
One of the issues for students is they often don’t realize that the projects they are working on and the skills they are using are rooted in engineering design. To help raise the profile of the importance of students understanding engineering design the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) incorporates engineering design as a key part of the standards at all levels. However, many educators are concerned about how they will incorporate engineering design into their lessons.
Below is a definition of engineering taken from: A Framework for K-12 Science Education.
“We use the term “engineering” in a very broad sense to mean any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems” Or, phrased another way “…providing students with a foundation in engineering design allows them to better engage in and aspire to solve the major societal and environmental challenges they will face in the decades ahead.”
In essence, engineering is about solving problems – suddenly, a much less intimidating prospect and a skill set educators are already developing in their students. So how can educators take these projects and ensure they are meeting the engineering design aspects of the NGSS.
At the elementary level the standards focus around students designing a simple problem reflecting a need or a want. Many of us will remember having to build a bridge out of paper straws, newspaper or some other material. This is a classic example of engineering design that is still relevant today. Videos such as the Discovery Science Alliance Bridge Building* (part of Science Techbook, NGSS version) can provide a useful media resource as the starting point for a bridge building project. Other engineering design projects elementary students can work on include designing a tower*, designing homes to withstand severe weather*, or help a farmer move their crops across a river.*
As students progress through grades, the standards build upon the skills they have already developed in earlier grades and ask students to analyze a major global challenge. By building on the skills they acquired in elementary grades through projects such as those above students are equipped to look at global problems such as analyzing food preservation technologies*, personalizing breast cancer treatments*, or constructing earthquake-resistant buildings*.
By extending the problem solving to issues that are currently in the news can help provide students with a sense of relevancy of their skills, and expose them to the wide variety of engineering careers that are open to them.
When you look at the idea of engineering design as designing solutions to problems it is a less intimidating prospect for educators. And by showing our students that a career in engineering can have many different facets, from software engineer or environmental engineer to chemical engineer we can ensure there will be generations of students to come who will be proud to stand up and say “I am an engineer”.
* Discovery Education login required to access these resources. Click here to find out more about Discovery Education’s Solution for NGSS