Sunday, May 18, 2014

Inspiring tomorrow's engineers

Image from website
In my last post I shared an interesting website that has a lot of useful material for engineers - and for teaching English to engineers.The website of the Smithsonian magazine (of the Smithsonian Institution) has a number of topic areas, including Innovation - which is where I usually look for interesting articles for my students.

Link to website:

But one of the sub-sections of Innovation is "Education," and I looked at the articles there for my own interest. So I was pleased to find an article called "To Develop Tomorrow's Engineers, Start Before They Can Tie Their Shoes." It seemed to be not only interesting to me, but also relevant for my students. I wondered how old they were when they first became interested in engineering - or their particular field of engineering - and how they became interested.

The article focuses on an educational program in the United States for preschool and elementary school children called Ramps and Pathways. It encourages young children - through games, building, projects and fun - to develop skills and interests that can be related to engineering.

Link to the article:

I decided to share it with different engineering groups, to see what they thought of the ideas and how they would add to them.

I had students brainstorm ideas beforehand: What does it mean to "think like an engineer"?

Then we recorded the ideas and discussed students' reactions to them. Then, to generate ideas for how to get children interesting in engineering, I asked:
  • How had they been inspired to study engineering?
  • What did they do as children, if anything, which made engineering "fun"?
  • What is their advice for parents, teachers, school systems, and children to inspire more children to become interested in engineering?
  • Do they have any particular advice for girls?
Subsequent to the discussion (generally for homework), I had the students read the article and highlight the ideas and suggestions. We compared them to the students' ideas, and then had them "rate" the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Ultimately, we decided: What is the benefit (or possible impacts) of encouraging young children in the ways described in the article?

In addition to a very lively discussion with each group, there were a number of useful language points:
This article provided interesting material for more than two lessons. Many of my students wanted to learn more about this program, so I had them follow up on it and report back to the class. I think it gave them plenty of food for thought!

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