Rationale for Engineering for Educators Unit

Some of the learning activities for this unit have already been field-tested in an online environment, some have been attempted in a face-to-face classroom with a different audience, and some are completely new.   But all of the activities have been developed or refined with  very  specific audience, delivery medium, and  learning objectives in mind.    I’ll touch on  each of the activities by learning objective below.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

This learning objective is likely the most straight-forward and content-based of the three objectives, and also the one that could be the most dry.   The focus is on lower-level cognitive activities (as categorized by Bloom’s taxonomy).   My intention is to have students experience the engineering design cycle through an active-learning exercise, taking the activity to the level of creation, the highest level in Bloom’s taxonomy.   The challenge will be to do this through a hands-on activity in an online setting.

I’ve chosen to facilitate this design activity in a synchronous setting so that content delivery is real-time, and the experience most closely resembles what they would likely do in their classroom.   After presenting some basic content through 15 minutes or so of lecture with PowerPoint visuals, I’ll present the tower-building challenge and the scoring equation.   Then, students will have 30 minutes of time to build their towers using the kit I mailed to them previously (including 25 plastic drinking straws, 1 roll of scotch tape, and 20 marbles).   The session is quiet during this time as students work independently at their individual locations, but I am there in case there are questions.   The timing of the activity is important: real engineering projects have deadlines.   It would be nice to have all year to complete the project, but that is not how things work.   The tower designs would be very different depending on whether they had 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 days to complete the project. The actual time constraint is not as important as the fact that there is a time constraint.

After the 30 minutes, we’ll discuss the process of loading the towers to failure, and then allow some time for them to load and document the failures.   Next, we calculate scores and discuss the scoring equation which might look something like this:

SCORE = (S)*(H-7)^L

where S = # unused straws, H = height of tower (inches), and L = load supported (# marbles)

The equation has “hidden” criteria built in (if you use all of the straws, your score will be zero!) Discussion of the mathematical content, the components of the EDC, and how this might be adjusted for different ages and used with groups of 2-4 students in a classroom will follow.

The assignment for this section, a reflective blog post documenting their tower, allows them to not only to reflect on the experience, but also to practice technical writing and presentation skills using the engineering vocabulary and concepts  presented in class.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

For this learning objective, teachers will apply their new knowledge and experience using   readily available,  field-tested engineering  curriculum.   By exploring the websites provided, teachers can search a wide variety of projects to find material appropriate to the age group and content area of their classroom.   The initial blog post assignment allows teachers time to explore the options and plan for implementation, collaborating with their cohort.

Actual implementation of an engineering lesson in the classroom will  require some flexibility on the part of the instructor.   Logistically, it may be difficult for teachers to complete this during a scheduled one-week time period, since set lesson plans  or testing may pose challenges to that timing.   Therefore, the  assignment should be  described early on, and then given with 2-3  weeks allowed for actual implementation.    Afterschool  activities could provide an alternate venue  for teachers to implement the activities.   But it is important for  the  teachers to actually teach the lesson(s) to gain that first hand experience.   Collaboration with the cohort through a synchronous session will  allow teachers to share  their experiences – what worked, what didn’t, and theories about why and what to do differently next time.    Peers and the instructor  will likely provide distinctly  different types of feedback, ideally  resulting in a robust,  educative assessment of the activity.  A reflective essay posted to the blog after the group discussion will provide an opportunity for  individual metacognition.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

This last objective is perhaps the most idealistic and difficult to assess.   However, successful mastery of this objective has the potential to provide the most benefit.   This assignment will come near the end of the semester, after teachers have  gained familiarity with the process and implementation of engineering  design.    Additional content is provided via websites and selected videos and readings that present very compelling, specific problems that  face society such as providing clean water throughout the world, making solar energy more efficient,  and dealing with  the growing garbage accumulation in India.  Some of the selected content will describe engineering solutions to these problems.   Reflecting on these  readings, the teachers will find and research a problem  that is meaningful to them.    Teachers will create a  Thinglink to describe the problem, discuss the engineer and society’s roles in the solution, and pose a specific engineering challenge.   The Thinglinks will be shared on the blog with collaboration from peers encouraged (as part of their grade), and a final synchronous session will provide a forum for discussion of the problems and how those might be incorporated into a classroom. While this activity may fall short of actually requiring teachers to “inspire” students in a way that is readily assessable, it is designed to inspire the teachers themselves, who will then hopefully carry this into their classrooms.   A survey of  the teachers, performed 1-2 years after the completion of this course, could provide a longitudinal assessment of this objective.

Through all of the activities outlined above, students will have the opportunity  to experience what I want them to learn through a variety of both passive and active learning activities. Collaboration with their cohort as well as the instructor will provide multi-faceted feedback.   At the conclusion of the course, I hope that teachers will have the resources and motivation to discuss and implement engineering activities in their classrooms.

56 thoughts on “Rationale for Engineering for Educators Unit

  1. Bob

    Historically librarians in academic libraries were subject specialists they worked as liaisons with departments to purchase materials and to teach subject specific research skills. We are in a period of evolution. We see currently a hybridized role where traditional liaison relations are maintained and new functional expertise is being developed: digital humanities, instructional technology, data curation, copyright and open access. This is my segue into understanding the work of teaching teachers engineering. I am not convinced that this is a new content (though you make the point about engineering’s deeply content rich curriculum) rather I wonder if this is like our move into functional expertise. And I wonder what happens to teaching when it is informed by engineering (here I am thinking about the nature of inquiry, not the merits of inquiry, but the way disciplines shape answers by the questions they ask)? Your second objective is all over this question — like flies on stink. “Apply”, and “collaboration” those two forces are like wind and water and “teaching’ will be changed by them. Finally, I love your responsiveness to discovery — you discovered Thinklink a week ago and here it is full blown in your unit (I know, revisionist history) that kind of nimbleness is fun to see.

  2. Owen

    Hi Lori,

    Great background for Objective 1. Very well grounded, and I like your reasons for synchronous delivery. I also am a fan of your formula and the “hidden” criteria. The whole is quite clever and a model I will likely share with others if I may. Well done.

    I like how in Objective 2 you focus on Apply and have students take their knowledge and put it to work. Very important output from Objective 1. Closing with the reflection piece is solid and appropriate.

    I really like the element of personalization in the activity for Objective 3. … “teachers will find and research a problem that is meaningful to them” ..Wouldn’t all of inquiry benefit from this foundation? Teaching to inspire is a challenge – but this opens a doorway which is hopeful.

    Very well done.

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