Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Engineering is Elementary

This summer I have the opportunity to teach the graduate level Science and Engineering Education course I developed some time ago. I last taught the course in 2007 but not a lot has changed in the intervening years vis a vis science education. One of the things that has remained a constant since the early days of inquiry centered science education in the 1970s is the influence of Wynne Harlan. I always thought her name sounded like a shipyard or steel mill which is funny because so great was her influence on science education around the world that she should have become a household name. She and Sheila Jelly almost single- handedly got teachers to think about science as a process children should learn as opposed to a bunch of facts to be remembered or, more often than not, a magic show.

She took 'hands-on' science into the world of "hands-on - minds-on" science so that children began to interact cognitively with the activities they were doing as opposed to being simply docile observers. She challenged teachers to foster and cultivate the natural curiosity of early childhood  and to get children to ask questions about what they were experiencing.

So while the fundamental philosophy of teaching science has remained the same there have, of course, been changes. When I first taught the Science Education course it was just that, science education. The first thing I did was to add 'design technology' as an emerging field of study in which children took their new science knowledge and applied it to solving problems. Such an example would be to investigate what affects the swing of a pendulum and then use this knowledge to create a pendulum that swings once every second. Design technology was the forerunner of what we now widely call engineering as promoted so eloquently and effectively by the Boston Museum of Science through their Engineering is Elementary program.      

The impending New Generation Science Standards I am sure will bring about more changes inn the way we teach elementary school science and engineering but I am afraid there might not be enough hours in the school day to include everything we want to these days. Perhaps it's time to increase the school day and/or the school year!!!!!

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