For the science teachers amongst us (me!), engineering can be pretty intimidating. There’s a very real possibility that your education did NOT prepare you to teach it. Yet if you’re following the Next Generation Science Standards, it’s your JOB to. Engineering is woven into the NGSS across the board:
- standing alone as Disciplinary Core Ideas,
- represented in the Science and Engineering Practices,
- popping up in a number of Performance Expectations,
- and integrated into some of the Crosscutting Concepts.
You can’t align to the NGSS without addressing engineering.
But if that’s not enough to convince you to jump on the engineering bandwagon, here are THREE more reasons to get your butt in GEAR. (Does that count as an engineering joke?!)
1. engineering Engages students with Real-World Problems
Engineering activities are a great way to lend authenticity and urgency to your science content, because you can engage students in solving real-world problems. Even simply DEFINING the problems is an engineering practice that students can get into!
I firmly believe middle school students want to do things that matter. Both my own memories of middle school and my observations of my middle school students have proven this to me time and again. Engagement skyrockets when middle school students have a real-world rationale to understand and apply, and engineering can be the vehicle through which you accomplish that.
Sure, learning about thermal transfer is great — but wouldn’t it be even more awesome if they had to use their understanding of thermal transfer to design a house for some over-heated penguins?
2. Engineering develops 21st Century Skills
I know we are all working really hard to move away from “drill and kill” methods of teaching, trying to pour content into empty receptacles (aka student brains) and hoping they can spit it back out when test day comes. That’s what the NGSS is all about, right? Less content, bigger concepts, more depth, and more practices. But even so, many of our classrooms still probably look pretty traditional. We have students working at desks with pen and paper, reading and writing, some computer work, with the occasional presentation or project. I get it. Not only is this how we were taught, but it’s also how most of our curriculums have been designed. And on top of that, reading and writing is absolutely a critical skill our students must master. No argument here.
But there are some other skills, too — like creativity, problem-solving, determination, and teamwork — that need to have a place in our classroom. These skills are really just as vital, but they often don’t receive the focus they deserve.
Engineering develops ALL of those skills. When you give students engineering challenges, they must think creatively to solve the problem. They must work as a team. They are bound to fail the first time around (especially if you throw in design changes, my favorite!), so they have to develop that grit and determination to keep on going and keep on trying. In fact, engineering normalizes failure and can help develop the growth mindsets we all want our students to have! (For a free growth mindset poster set, be sure to access the Free Resource Library!)
The great thing about teaching these skills through engineering is you’re never sacrificing content for character. Students are learning and developing both simultaneously.
3. engineering is a lucrative career option
… that we aren’t preparing our students for. Let’s be honest – engineers can make a lot of money. They can make a lot of money with just FOUR years of post-secondary education. I have a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and some post-Master’s credits… and I made a third of what some engineers with a four year degree are making coming out of college. When I worked at a private, school, some engineers made EIGHT TIMES what my annual salary was! WHAT!?!
I’m not saying that all of your students are going to – or should – be engineers. But by failing to expose our students to the field, we are failing to prepare them for a career they may be perfect for. On top of that, engineering might just be the perfect field for that student who can’t get into the novel you’re teaching or the documentary you showed, the student who can’t follow the step-by-step instructions you printed for that lab today. By exposing them to a different kind of “science,” you could be opening a door to their future.
Great! I’m on board… now what?
I’m going to dive deeper into this subject over the next few weeks. My goal is to give you some practical tips, tricks, and resources to integrate engineering into your curriculum this year.
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