Introduce kids to the exciting world of Engineering !

Facilitating the development of reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as early as elementary school is becoming more and more important.  (Check out our Ping-pong ball shooter below!)

Kids learn about the natural world in science classes, but what about the human-made world built on top of it — the buildings and vehicles and screens where they spend the vast majority of their time?  This world, constructed by engineers, rarely appears in the curriculum until college, and even then, a very small percentage of incoming freshmen choose to pursue an engineering major, and even fewer will actually earn a degree in the field.

Our society depends upon engineers to design every aspect of our lives — where we live, what we drive, how we communicate and even what we eat — but America’s primary and secondary education systems aren’t producing enough critical thinkers to keep up with the demand.

Citizens in our technology-based society need to understand technology and engineering issues, however history has shown that the rate of school children taking subjects in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has been dropping exponentially each year.  On top of that schools also struggle to find qualified teachers for these subjects.

The number of U.S. students who enter engineering programs in college is projected to drop, a trend that many believe will have a negative impact on the U.S. workforce (NAS et al., 2007; NAE and NRC, 2009).  In addition, many of the students who do pursue engineering degrees at American Universities, are foreigners.   

Even in the homeschool community we see that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects often take a back seat to more popular Social Studies subjects.   Could it be because these subjects are easier to learn and less cumbersome to teach?  Or do adults have a perceived barrier in that we "think" STEM subjects are only for the "smart" people?  

What child would NOT be interested in building a catapult with craft sticks?

The concepts of STEM cannot be taught through rote memorization, "spoon-feeding", textbook reading, or other traditional forms of teaching.   In fact, it can only be facilitated in a rich, hands-on, project-based environment.  But this environment doesn't have to be a state-of-the-art lab filled with modern, expensive equipment.   A project-based environment can easily start with a box of craft sticks, toilet paper tubes, rubber bands, building blocks, and other  easily obtainable objects.  We, in the homeschooling community, have the unique opportunity to create such an environment for our children, and their future success.

In our homeschool we've started with easy activities using Pattern Blocks and other objects:

First, they were challenged to build and creat based on a model or instructions.  Then they were challenged to build and create their own designs.

Here are some of the resources that we've used:

Pattern Blocks Pattern Block Book
(Grade  K-3)
Advanced Pattern Block Book
(Grades 3-6)

You can do similar things with Lego's ....

... and Erector Sets

I have to admit that even though the store bought products are a lot more convenient, the kids and I have the most fun when we grab things around the house and problem-solve our way to a solution.  For instance....

We started out with this inspirational picture of a "Cork Launcher" from Instructables...

and through trial and error, we ended up with our own "Ping-pong ball shooters"

Here are some excellent free resources for introducing engineering concepts and facilitating critical thinking skills in young children:

Princeton Engineering Education for Kids
*  Kindergarten
*  Grade 1

*  Grade 2
*  Grade 3
*  Grade 4

In the meantime you can start collecting bottle caps, craft sticks, straws, rubber bands, etc.  When you're ready, move onto some more fun engineering activities!

Project-based Engineering for Kids

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