Six Ways to Teach Engineering Students from a JPL Education Specialist
While the subject of engineering may seem complex, it is not as daunting as it sounds.
For Ota Lutz, Ph.D., it simply means solving a problem by creating a solution. It also involves improving things we already know by implementing new ideas, technologies, and designs.
In a recent webinar with PBS SoCal, Lutz, who is an elementary and secondary STEM education specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said it’s also about improving things we already know by. implementing new ideas, technologies and designs. And according to her, children are natural engineers. They are instinctively curious and love to build things. Teachers can help them develop these skills by teaching engineering.
“There are so many fun things you can do,” Lutz said. “And you don’t have to have anything fancy. There is so much you can do with cardboard, tape, and string.”
For everything from building a wheel to fixing a rover, here are six of his tips on how to effectively educate kids about engineering.
1. Stop memorizing the engineering design process
The engineering design process is a step-by-step map that shows how we can approach engineering projects. It starts with identifying a problem, brainstorming, and then choosing a design to try. Next steps include creating a prototype, testing it, improving functionality, and sharing final results. Lutz recommended that teachers use the design process as a guide rather than a tool for students to memorize.
“Kids will naturally go through what we call the engineering design process, because if you present them with a problem or if they have a problem that they have identified, they automatically think,” she said. “So, what do they want to do? They want to try it.”
Lutz said that by tapping into a student’s innate ability to problem-solve without memorization, he can develop his skills independently.
“If they see this as steps to take, it makes them dependent on someone else for their own learning,” Lutz said. “And it’s a lot more powerful if they say, ‘Well that’s just something I do’, as opposed to ‘I need my teacher or my parents or someone to help me. say the steps, then I follow them. ‘”
2. Let the children explore
Allowing students to explore different problems and answers is a key way to introduce engineering. Teachers can start by stating a situation that needs to be resolved. Lutz recommends educators assess their classrooms or ask students to reflect on their home environment and determine what can be improved.
“We’ve all lived in a house that had something that wasn’t working well, like the door won’t open, the door opens backwards, or the cabinet crashes into the fridge when you open it. “, explained Lutz. “How can you solve this problem? What solutions can we find? “
She said educators should work with children to find ideas that they can experiment with.
“Give them a lot of latitudes,” Lutz said. “If they have an idea and want to try it, let them do it. It’s so powerful for kids to have a sense of taking action on their own learning. And little kids, if they get a chance to try things out, they’re going to gain confidence.
In the school system, we tend to emphasize that you have to have the right answer to things. … And really, in engineering, there are many answers and many approaches that can be right.
Ota Lutz, JPL STEM specialist in primary and secondary education
3. Change one thing at a time and take notes!
To successfully test designs and find solutions, kids must adapt and optimize one feature at a time. For example, if they are repairing a toy plane, they have to test the wings first in one test, and then the wheels in another.
“You want to change little by little and see if you can control what changes your outcome,” Lutz said. “All of these things are scientific habits of mind.”
In addition, she recommends that educators require note-taking.
“The kids just want to try things out and not take notes. And then they’ll be frustrated,” Lutz said. “So if you ask them to take notes, they will have a better chance of being successful because they will know what they have changed.”
4. Encourage creativity and decision making
Original and imaginative thinking is a driving force in solving engineering problems. Teachers can foster a creative classroom environment by reminding students that there is no right answer.
“In the school system, we tend to insist that you have to have the right answer for things,” Lutz said. “And really, in engineering, there are many answers and many approaches that can be right.”
By removing the need to identify a correct answer, children can broaden their thinking. It will also help them become academic risk-takers and make inventive decisions, she said.
5. Focus scoring on processes, not results
As for grading procedures, Lutz believes teachers should be assessing student processes rather than the outcome of their design. For example, they should note whether students have been thinking, creating a model, and effectively controlling their variables.
“I would give them credit for trying things so that the kids understand that they have more freedom to try crazy things because the result is not the only thing that gets noticed,” Lutz said.
This is also important, said Lutz, because the results of a conception can often differ due to luck. For example, two students who follow the same process may coincidentally have different results.
6. Challenge students with questions
When working on an engineering problem, educators should challenge students rather than giving them answers right away.
“Children will naturally ask an adult, ‘Will this work? And maybe you know that because you’ve tried it, and you know whether it will work or not, “Lutz said.” But I think it’s important to just say to the kid, ‘I do not know. Let’s try. ‘”
After they finish their experiments, Lutz said teachers should ask more questions, such as “What have you tried?” “How did it not work?” And “What do you think we should change?” These questions will prompt children to evaluate their work and make independent critical decisions.
By providing guidance, enriching creativity in the classroom, and fostering exploration, young students can gain confidence and familiarize themselves with engineering, which, as Lutz said, in the end, only does solve problems.
Do you want to start? Here are some JPL activities that are sure to stimulate the creativity of small engineers:
In this activity, children will use a tangram to identify the shapes of real rovers and create their own.
Perfect for older students, this activity teaches kids how to make a cardboard rover that can move around on its own!Esta actividad también is available in Spanish.
This fun activity will help children Pasta time by making rovers with macaroni and glue and figuring out how to improve their designs so they can move smoothly on a ramp.