STEAM education is critically important in the classroom, and engineering education is a key part of STEAM learning. And on World Engineering Day, the need for students to explore engineering and pursue it in college and the workforce has never been more apparent.
The 2020 Global Engineering Survey launched by DiscoverE, the organization responsible for World Engineering Day, found that 54 percent of respondents believe that there will be a shortage of engineers in the future, and a recent census survey found that only 27 percent of engineers are women.
Exposing students to the importance of engineering and giving them the skills required to be the problem solvers of tomorrow is crucial, but educators often don’t know how to integrate engineering concepts into their instruction. eSchool News connected with Lauren Harter, Senior Educational Developer for VEX Robotics, for some classroom engineering tips. Harter’s work in developing and bringing a series of educational robotic solutions, known as the VEX Continuum, to the classroom is aimed at helping to solve some of the world’s growing problems.
Here are some tips to integrate engineering into the classroom:
- Model problem solving, iteration, and persistence early and often. Providing students with opportunities to problem solve and try different strategies to find a solution is a great way for students to learn, grow, and develop a sense of agency in learning. The iterative process is at the core of STEM disciplines – especially engineering – and experiencing comfort with trying something, making a mistake, and learning from that mistake is something that students learn over time and need to practice. Teachers can model this for students by building coding projects together with students, or intentionally making a mistake during a demonstration so that students can see that persistence and problem solving are an expected part of engineering and learning. Seeing and hearing a variety of solutions to the same problem can also support students’ tolerance for others’ ideas, and contribute to a more collaborative classroom culture in STEM and beyond.
- Engineering isn’t always about building something new. Incorporating engineering into a classroom setting doesn’t always have to be about designing and building a new creation. While students do love to build, a core concept in engineering is how to approach and solve problems in systematic ways, like the engineering design process. Engaging students in engineering could be as simple as approaching an everyday problem using scientific methods, instead of guessing and checking. Additionally, encouraging students to continue to iterate on the same design or solution over time models real world engineering, and can promote deeper understanding and greater creativity as students learn more about optimizing a solution and seeing their ideas evolve.
- Provide opportunities for formative, low, or no stakes assessment, instead of one point of success and failure. Oftentimes, when students are being assessed, or are assessing themselves, they are provided with one opportunity to show their success. For instance, during an exam if a student gets a poor grade on the assessment, they may feel that they have failed, and lose motivation to continue trying. However, rarely in life, particularly in engineering, there is only one chance to be successful. Designs, products, or solutions are continually iterated on and the engineering design process is used over and over again. For students to be comfortable with mistake making or iteration however, they need to not be fearful of a bad grade – this is where formative assessment can play a huge role. Students have the freedom to be creative, take risks, and have authentic learning opportunities, while teachers can use formative assessment to shape curriculum to best meet the learning goals of students, so that everyone is set up for success.
Additional (for any age group)
- Engineering isn’t an isolated field – it is collaborative and integrated. Engineering, or STEM more broadly, does not need to be taught in isolation. Real world engineering is done by teams of people, and integrates engineering with math concepts, literacy, art, spatial reasoning, and more. As such, it makes sense to teach engineering in an integrated and collaborative way, at any level. Encouraging students to work in groups, practice clearly articulating their ideas and designs, communicate respectfully, and engage in collaborative decision making not only builds knowledge of the concepts at hand, but also the 21st century skills that they will use in school and later in life.
- Robotics and engineering are great ways to promote student agency in learning. With the teacher acting as a facilitator, rather than a lecturer, robotics, and more specifically engineering, gives students the opportunity to take control of and pride in their learning, The hands-on engagement and active learning in a robotics class allows for more opportunities for students to articulate their thought process and understanding, and make their own decisions about how to apply their learning to their robot’s design or code to solve the challenge or task at hand. All of these skills are important not only in the field of engineering, but many STEM or other fields in industry.