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How to build an engineer: Start young

Third-grader Alessandra Gudino Aguilar, 9, adjusts the simple machine, a lever, that she and her classmates are experimenting with during their STEAM enrichment class at Pioneer Elementary School in Quincy, Washington.

Third-grader Alessandra Gudino Aguilar, 9, adjusts the simple machine, a lever, that she and her classmates are experimenting with during their STEAM enrichment class at Pioneer Elementary School in Quincy, Washington.

Numerous surveys have found that nearly half of elementary school teachers feel underprepared to teach science. Confidence in teaching engineering isn’t usually surveyed because engineering is not considered a standard elementary school subject. For that reason, teacher professional development is a critical part of the success of any engineering curriculum, said Christine Cunningham, founding director of Engineering is Elementary.

Cunningham said the elementary school teachers she’s worked with “really want those students to be able to understand the world around them and succeed. If [teachers] come in contact with a resource that engages a student who has struggled, they will bend over backwards to get those resources into their very full classrooms.”

Cunningham said teachers have guided her team’s curriculum development work from the beginning and that the curriculum has become so widely used because teachers have found it effective, especially with otherwise hard-to-reach kids.

Engineering lessons changed everything in her fifth-grade classroom in Lawrence, Massachusetts, said Nia Keith, now the director of professional development for the Museum of Science. Kids living in Lawrence, a mostly low-income community, weren’t often exposed to engineering concepts at home and many struggled to stay engaged with typical math and science lessons at school, Keith said.

But when she started teaching engineering, complete with hands-on projects and searches for creative solutions, “kids who didn’t speak up or show up as leaders were suddenly throwing out ideas,” she said. “It allows for all kinds of learning to shine.”

Back in Quincy, a ramp made of cardboard had collapsed and the top, stuck on with masking tape, kept coming off. Without missing a beat, Alessandra and a friend found some sturdier packing tape, fixed the ramp, and resumed collecting data on whether the short steep ramp or the long shallow one was a better way to move a bag of potatoes.

Alessandra said later she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she grew up but with her calm practicality and clear interest in the project, it isn’t hard to imagine her looking at herself in the mirror in 15 years and thinking: “Well, yes, I do look like an engineer.”

Three things about girls and math

1. The gap between girls and boys in math performance is far smaller than many believe, even at the high school and college level where girls perform similarly to boys, according to research.

2. It seems to be girls’ confidence about their abilities in math and their interest in pursuing STEM careers that drops after middle school.

3. Where kids live has an impact too. The gap between male and female math performance is greatest in affluent, mostly white suburbs, according to recent research from Stanford University in California. Black girls living in low-income, mostly black school districts actually tend to outperform their male classmates.

Read more: “Are boys better than girls at math?” Scientific American, August 2018

The post How to build an engineer: Start young appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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