Engage in Engineering

Start with Quality Activities

To effectively engage youth in engineering, it’s important for staff to start with quality activities. To help staff in their search for quality activities, we’ve shared a few helpful resources:

  • DesignSquad on PBS provides engineering activities, games and videos
  • PBS Zoom offers activities from the show and activities sent in by viewers
  • How to SMILE has more than 3,500 high-quality science and math activities
  • Engineering is Elementary contains free curriculum designed for third to fifth grade students in OST programs
  • Try Engineering is a source for great activities, role models and career planning tips for future engineers
  • STEMfinity provides project-based STEM resources

Get Prepared

The next step is to get prepared. Click2SciencePD recently offered a webinar, Engaging in Engineering, that helped OST professionals create a simple to do list for preparing to engage in engineering. The webinar is now available on-demand, so staff can watch it when it’s convenient for them.

Engineering To Do List

Think it through

  • Practice the activity and decide if it needs modified for the group
  • Research the ideas behind the activity
  • Identify the learning goals – What’s the point? 

Plan ahead 

  • Do youth have all the tools and skills (hard and soft skills) they need to solve this challenge?
  • How will I make connections to what youth are doing in school, at home, and to careers?
  • Anticipate points where kids might get stuck and plan strategies to keep them going
  • Brainstorm questions to help youth think deeply and describe what they are doing as they work through the challenge
  • Plan ideas to extend the activity and make it deeper

Prepare

  • Consider materials needed for the activity
  • Space – How will this fit in the space I have? How will I arrange the space?

A crucial part of preparing for engineering is understanding how to make it engaging and meaningful. First and foremost, always remember that engineering is the process of solving a problem. Engaging youth in engineering is about providing meaningful problems for them to solve, giving them resources and support, but not giving them solutions. That can be challenging, but always remember an educator’s role is to support the youth so they can be successful problem solvers as adults – not to ensure they get the right answer, or even come to the best solution. Whenever possible, step back and let them do it.

Understand the Process

The Engineering Design Process starts with defining the problem. But after that, it can get messy. Engineering teams may jump back and forth between steps. For instance, if a team gets to the step of choosing a solution and finds they don’t have any solutions they want to try, encourage them to step back and better define exactly what their problem is so they can brainstorm more solutions and choose one to develop and test. Check out the Science Buddies website for more support on understanding the engineering design process.

Engaging youth as active learners and problems solvers is a challenge, but the benefits are huge. Here are five research-based strategies for supporting the engineering design process. They come from Incorporating Engineering Design Challenges into STEM Courses from the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (2012).

  1. Solving real world problems helps youth develop important skills and has been shown to motivate engagement – particularly for youth not typically represented in STEM jobs like women, minorities and people with physical disabilities. When youth see a problem as socially relevant and interesting, they are more motivated to solve it.
  2. One strategy for finding problems youth truly value is to incorporate challenges that exist in your local community – consider issues related to water, trash disposal, traffic, access to transportation or other issues that align with students’ interests.
  3. Be prepared to shift expectations from students finding a single right answer by themselves to teams collaborating to solve ill-defined problems. Support youth in taking ownership of their learning and working as part of a team – the Click2Science skills of Giving Youth Control and Encouraging Collaboration can help you here.
  4. Support youth in changing their expectation of ‘failure’. Engineers intentionally push their designs to the point of failure. When a design fails, it provides the opportunity to examine weak points and redesign them. Encourage youth as they choose to test and redesign their solutions – this iterative process is at the heart of engineering. Also, be prepared to provide support for students who are not accustomed to failure in a traditional classroom setting. The Click2Science skill of Supporting Testing and Re-testing can help.
  5. Set up activities that encourage collaboration and develop teamwork skills. You may even want to directly teach skills like taking turns and actively listening to others. Youth who are developing teamwork skills may be more successful in smaller groups of two to three. As their skills develop, look for challenges that can be done with groups of four to six –larger groups will encourage them to continue to build their skills in collaborating and communicating with others.

Make it Happen

The only way to get better at engaging with engineering is to do it. So get started now! If it helps, think of yourself as an engineer, helping the youth in your program become independent thinkers and problem-solvers. Be prepared to step back and let them struggle a bit, but always be supportive and confident that they can do it. Eventually, they will transform your confidence in them to important skills that they’ll use in real life.

Engineering stimulates the mind. Kids get bored easily. They have go to get out and get their hands dirty: make things, dismantle things, fix things. When the schools can offer that, you’ll have an engineer for life.- Bruce Dickinson