School & District Management

Popular Curriculum Targets Elementary Students

March 26, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Bioengineering. Mechanical engineering. Environmental engineering. Aerospace engineering.

Not exactly standard fare in elementary school, but several million children have been exposed to such fields through the fast-growing Engineering Is Elementary program since it was launched in 2004 by the Museum of Science in Boston. Its overarching goal is to “foster engineering and technological literacy among all elementary-aged children.”

Students design windmills, water filters, knee braces, and parachutes. They learn to think like an engineer and to tackle problems the way engineers do. Along the way, they explore relevant concepts in science and other disciplines.

EIE curricular units are being used by about 45,000 teachers nationwide this year, more than triple the figure five years ago.

Delaware is offering it to all public elementary schools, with support from the state’s federal Race to the Top grant, said Christine M. Cunningham, the program’s founder and director.

Some school systems, including the Lakota district in Ohio, use it in all their elementary schools.

Jennifer L. Haynes, a 2nd grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School in Liberty Township, Ohio, part of the Lakota district, got started last fall with the windmill unit.

Students use concepts related to air and weather as they learn how windmills convert wind into energy. As part of the unit, they construct and test sails made of different materials and shapes to catch the wind. Then, they design, create, test, and improve their own windmills.

Ms. Haynes appreciates the way the EIE program gets her students to think through problems, especially when a device they design doesn’t work as expected the first time.

“They have to stop and think and ask: ‘I wonder what it was that I used that didn’t work?’ ” she said. “They really do learn perseverance. ... In that mistake, they will learn something else that will make it better.”

Faye Harp, a curriculum specialist for the 17,000-student Lakota district, sees many benefits for children.

“They are utilizing science concepts they’re learning about, but also building those 21st-century skills: thinking critically, problem-solving, communication, collaboration,” she said.

‘Go Wild and Have Fun’

Teachers typically implement one or two units each school year, said Ms. Cunningham. A given unit typically takes one or two weeks to complete, with roughly 45 to 50 minutes per day spent on it, she said. There are 20 units in all.

“Each unit is designed to integrate with a topic commonly taught in elementary science,” she said. Those include ecosystems, energy, the human body, magnetism, and electricity.

In addition, EIE staff, in collaboration with classroom teachers, recently developed math lessons for each unit and have mapped them against the Common Core State Standards.

The Museum of Science also developed a high school engineering course, Engineering the Future. And it’s planning to publicly roll out an after-school program for the middle grades later this year, called Engineering Everywhere.

The Minneapolis district uses the elementary program systemwide, targeting grades 3-5. It chose units that “reinforced and extended concepts we already address in science,” said Joseph F. Alfano, the 32,000-student district’s K-5 coordinator for STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A bonus with the program, he said, is that as teachers come to understand the “instructional pathway” for engineering design, they discover engineering-design opportunities of their own that fit with the district’s math and science curriculum.

“It’s super hands-on,” said Amber Ringwelski, a 4th grade teacher at Pillsbury Community School in Minneapolis, of the EIE curriculum. “Students are really solving problems.”

She recently taught a unit in which students explore the properties of magnets and design a maglev transportation system. (Maglev trains are levitated by magnets.)

“The kids love it,” she said of the program. “They’re used to us saying, step-by-step, this is what you’re supposed to do. But it’s not about that. It’s about them designing, to go wild and have fun.”

The big takeaway for kids, she said, is about the engineering-design process: “Asking a question, imagining all the possibilities, designing something, creating something, and then going back and making it better.”

Related Tags:

Coverage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education is supported by a grant from the Noyce Foundation, at www.noycefdn.org.
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as Elementary Students Tackling Windmills

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management From Our Research Center Nearly Half of Educators Say Climate Change Is Affecting Their Schools—or Will Soon
Most educators said their school districts have not taken any action to prepare for more severe weather, a new survey finds.
6 min read
Global warming illustration, environment pollution, global warming heating impact concept. Change climate concept.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion 7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers
Listening more than talking is one vital piece of advice for school leaders to help teachers.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management What Schools Can Do to Tackle Climate Change (Hint: More Than You Think)
For starters, don't assume change is too difficult.
7 min read
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox hold a sign together and chant while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit.
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox participate in a Global Climate Strike at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., in September 2019.
Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP
School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)