Saturday, August 18, 2012

Children's Engineering Teaches Valuable Skills for the 21st Century

This summer I took a professional development course in children's engineering.  A good definition of engineering might be the use of creativity with math, science, and technology in order to improve life for human beings.  It has the same meaning for elementary school children with the process rather than the final product being of importance.

Children's engineering should not be confused with crafts or art projects that teachers might include in their daily activities.  A craft activity generally consists of ready-made patterns provided with step by step instructions given in order to achieve a specific result.  While the artwork completed within a craft may vary from child to child, the overall look of the project is the same  throughout the classroom.  An art activity might include a child's random painting on a large piece of construction paper.  The teacher's purpose for the painting activity might include the exploration of colors and how they interact when mixed together 
on paper.

Children's engineering might include providing the students with a design brief that includes a list of the available materials to choose from in order to achieve a specified objective.  The objective could be something as simple as making a free standing paper doll or more complex like making moving structures.

During an engineering activity, students are given opportunities to experiment through trial and error until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.  I cannot begin to list the number of state and national standards that are utilized when engineering takes place in the classroom.  It fosters creativity, builds confidence, promotes learning how to work with others, requires hands-on learning, and provides for problem solving opportunities.  

While I was taking the class, we created several engineering projects.  One of the first projects was to create a free standing tower.  The tower had to be least 12 feet high.  We were given paper and tape to create the towers.  We also created supporting structures such as bridges.  A few of the bridges we made are shown above.   Later on in the week, we tried our hands at making transporting structures.  They're shown below.

We made free standing structures which represented famous persons in paper doll form.  Can you guess who they're supposed to be?   

Betsy Ross
Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant

Baseball Player

Here are some free standing critters made at the university.  Aren't they cuties?

We made pop up cards which I hope to have my students make this year.  I'll also be implementing some projects to support engineering within the classroom.  I plan to have the children explore things like a yo-yo, straws, and suction cups and get them thinking about how these things work and what sort of improvements these items have made for mankind.  As part of the course requirements, we needed to create a detailed lesson plan with a design brief which could be used in the classroom.  I created a lesson on water wheels and I plan for the children to design and engineer their own.  It will be interesting to see how this works out in the classroom albeit not so dry!  Thank you for reading!  

Lessons by Molly © 2012  All rights reserved.


  1. I was in that class with you!! I was browsing STEM projects on Pinterest when I came across a picture of something I made (the Grant figure). That was a wonderful class. I have recommended it to several co-workers. I'm looking forward to the year-long whole-school STEM project we'll be doing this year. I feel Heather would want me to let you know that the figure you have labelled as George Washington is actually Robert E. Lee (we made a pair). Happy engineering! Laura

  2. Hi Laura!

    So funny to look through Pinterest and find your own project! I should have known it was Robert E. Lee. (Grant and Lee make a perfect pair!) I corrected it on my blog . . . not sure I'll be able to change the pins though. The children's engineering class was very worthwhile. I wish I could take it again. Enjoy your STEM projects this year!