Engineering, 21st Century Skills…. the buzzwords of the 2013-2014
school year. With all that is on a teacher’s plate this autumn, what can seem,
in isolation, like an interesting and intriguing idea often ends up lost in the
shuffle of a million demands for the school year.
fit this in?”
engage my school’s community into this topic?”
do to persuade its importance to my staff?”
discovered over the past three years that the first and best step towards
capturing a school’s interest in STEM is to hold a Family Engineering event. We
have found it to be the ultimate public relations experience…and it is a whole
lot of fun!
Engineering Night is an event at which families come together to explore
engineering with engaging, hands on activities.
program, our school hosts an annual Family Engineering Night each winter. It is
one of the most eagerly anticipated school events of the year as over 600
people participate. Families join together to explore engineering by solving
problems together. It provides children an opportunity to further explore and
learn about the field of engineering with the most significant adults in their
life – parents, siblings, and grandparents. The parents are given an
opportunity to actively participate in their child’s learning. It’s an exciting
evening for all!
all about jumping right in! Moms, dads, grandparents and students begin
exploring fun engineering concepts as soon as they walk in the door. More
than two dozen independent activities fill the cafeteria. Families move
from one to the next exploring specific engineering concepts that connect them
to real world applications. From launching a weighted paper cup down a
zip line, to “mining” a chocolate chip cookie, to loading pennies in
a small foil boat, families must think like engineers to tackle problems.
The pace is unhurried because it’s all about having fun and learning new
things. Volunteers are available to answer questions and to offer
assistance and encouragement. Longer and more in-depth engineering
challenges are also available in other parts of the school. These
activities engage families in the full engineering process. Working
together as a team, families design, build and test a device used to solve a real
life problem like designing a robotic hand using popsicle sticks, building a
wind-powered car out of index cards and straws, or creating a rocket launcher
from a water bottle. Testing, failure, perseverance and retesting are
part of the engineering challenge. Yet, so is fun, as smiling families
work together, inspire each other, and achieve success!
Engineering Night is not just an effort of the school staff and
administration. Volunteers are local high school students, engineering students
from a nearby university, local Einstein fellows, members of professional
engineering associations, engineers that live in the community, as well as
community moms and dads willing to lend a hand. All come together with the goal
of providing a unique learning experience for not only students but their
families as well.
some terrific resources available for ideas, but the very best reference tool
available is a manual published by the Family Science organization in Portland,
Oregon www.familyengineering.org. Their book called Family Engineering is filled with “how to”
instructions, ready to copy lesson and everything you need to plan your own
engineering night. You can even order laminated center charts with directions and
clips to support them. Most of the activities require simple recycled materials
such as empty toilet paper rolls or empty water bottles. Generally,other needed
materials are low cost and easy to obtain from popsicle sticks to foil or
rubber bands and paper cups.
resources that we have found helpful as we plan activities are:
engineering night does take significant planning and prep time in advance, but
it is worth every minute. It has not only become the most anticipated annual
family event at our school, but is also has provided the foundation for
developing our school wide engineering program and for building strong community
Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson
total of 46 years of teaching experience in kindergarten through seventh grade.
They have taught gifted and special needs students as well as English Language
Learners. Currently teaching 4th grade, Wendy and Cheryl have
developed an integrated engineering curriculum at their school, encompassing
has achieved National Board Certification and is the recipient of the National
Science Foundation’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and
Science Teaching. Cheryl and Wendy are the recipients of numerous STEM grants
to fund their school’s engineering program. They were recently published in
NSTA’s Science and Children journal, and regularly present at state and
national science and STEM conventions.