(Also read Discover Magazine’s article “Teaching Kids to Think Like Engineers“, December 2013)
What do building efficient windmills, erecting strong bridges and packaging a plant to withstand being thrown across a room all have in common? They are engineering challenges that all of Arlington’s first, second and third graders will face this year as part of a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum called Engineering is Elementary (EIE). The district is rolling out EIE thanks to a grant provided by the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF).
The EIE program, developed by the Boston Museum of Science, provides hands-on, experiential learning at the younger elementary levels. Children in very early grades can engage in scientific and engineering practices by using EIE’s simple five-step engineering design process: ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Students work collaboratively in groups to solve problems, collect data and learn from mistakes, getting both an academic and a social learning experience. Since a solution to the engineering problem allows multiple solutions, each student can arrive at a unique solution.
What do Arlington’s students think about EIE? Kids love the hands-on and creative thinking aspects of the program. One student commented “I would consider being an engineer because when I build things to solve a solution, I feel great!”
The Arlington Public Schools view STEM education as critical to overall student development. According to Larry Weathers, the APS K-12 Science Director, “STEM education is the most important area for our students to be excited about and engaged in. It will open many doors for them in upcoming decades. Keeping students engaged and excited about engineering possibilities is not only good for them, but good for our country in remaining competitive globally. We are grateful to AEF for funding this innovative STEM curriculum.”
All of Arlington’s first and second grade teachers received training in how to use the EIE units in 2011-12, and all will have rolled it out in their classrooms by the end of this year. In 2012-13, all third grade teachers will receive training and start to roll out the program in their classrooms. This year alone, 1,300 of Arlington’s elementary students will benefit from the program.
When the Common Core State Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening are implemented next year, Arlington science students will be ready. Larry Weathers explains, “The EIE program expects students to explain their thinking through drawings, presentations and artifacts which they design, create and test. The process of communicating about technical information as well as basing one’s arguments on evidence gained in testing a product is fundamental in the Common Core.”
As of June 2012, nearly 3 million students and 40,000 teachers in all 50 states use EIE. AEF’s funding has made it possible for Arlington’s students and teachers to join them in enjoying this exciting, hands-on, multi-purpose curriculum.