Up until recently it was called Design Technology, the art of using our scientific knowledge to solve problems and create solutions. Today, thanks in large part to the Boston Museum of Science it is now called Engineering. Yesterday, in my math and science education class I challenged my elementary education majors to support a small washer as high as they could using two copies of the Defender, the student newspaper. I made sure the students spent a few minutes first reading the paper so that we could genuinely recycle it through the engineering activity.
In science the questions and curiosity arise from the natural world; How do seeds grow? What is magnetism? What are genes? In engineering the questions and curiosity arise from the ways we can use our scientific knowledge to overcome problems or improve our lives. Building a better mousetrap is probably the epitome of an engineering project. Just about everything we use in our lives owes its existence to the application of some type of engineering.
There are other differences between science and engineering that we need to be aware of when we are teaching students. The skills we want children to learn in science class include observation, classifying, measuring, predicting and communicating. In engineering we want children to learn all about researching, designing, constructing, testing, adapting and improving and presenting. Engineering provides students with authentic situations of problem solving and creativity. And it is incredible fun too so students are highly motivated to succeed.