I have said many times, young kids can understand nearly any concept if you present it in the right way. Over the past month, rather than finding ways to put math problems into Christmas trees, I have been teaching the engineering design process to 1st and 2nd graders.
With the Next Generation Science standards looking to develop problem solving scientific thinkers that can create their own ways to test their own theories, our youngest students need to begin developing critical, scientific thought processes. In teaching the Engineering Design Process (granted a simplified version) my students are getting exposed to the same challenges that are now plaguing middle school science students in our school: this process is challenging!
Over the past month I have seen tremendous growth in several important areas for my class. The first is in resiliency. With their first challenge of building a home for pilgrim settlers out of paper, almost all of them failed several times. There were some tears, some quitters, and significant frustrations from most of the my class. A month later, my class is building airplanes as we study forces and motion. Not only are they using the scientific terms (thrust, drag, lift, and gravity) they have repeatedly made efforts despite overwhelming failures to push toward a successful trial.
The second major area is in problem solving. They are vastly improving in troubleshooting their prototypes, thinking through problems, and identifying solutions each time they start a challenge. It has only been a month- three full projects and a few minor projects to gain background knowledge.
While it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, they are improving at working together, at seeing a project from beginning to end, and in recording their observations. Those areas are still far from the same exciting progress that I have seen in other areas.
I firmly believe kids can learn just about anything. Engineering and design is no exception. While I have appreciated the difficulty that Middle School teachers are now facing in pushing kids to adopt a design and experiment thought process after being told everything to do for so many years, seeing the incredible progress with our Tiniest Engineers has reminded me yet again, that if we present the information correctly, kids identify complicated concepts like buoyancy, lift, friction, solubility, and many others. Their output has been incredible, and their development has been even more remarkable.
If you are thinking about engineering challenges, stop. There is no question it will be great for your kids! The only thing to determine is, what type of design challenge will your students be tackling first.