Engineering Exploration Day

sumner4 sumner3 sumner2 sumner1Last weekend I had the privilege of facilitating an Engineering Exploration Day for a school district in Washington State. If you follow my work you know about the Mother Daughter TEA (Technology Engineering Aptitude) workshops. In the Mother Daughter TEA workshop, Moms and their middle school daughters complete engineering projects together and learn about valuable, high-wage opportunities in the engineering industry. They hear about how women are impacting the field and get insight into career opportunities they may enjoy. The Mother/ Daughter TEA event was founded to encourage young women to take an interest in pursuing a career in engineering.

Every year, I hear from parents that also want their boys to have the same opportunity. As a result, last weekend we debuted “Engineering Exploration Day.” In this workshop, we had middle school girls and boys, moms and dads. We stuck to the same model of four hours on Saturday morning and built cranes, flingers and boats. The workshop moved along quickly and everyone stayed engaged. We had a great time.

If you are trying to recruit for your GTT, STEM 101 or any other engineering classes, this is a great workshop to hold because by the end of it, you’ll have the parental support at home that is so critical to students making good choices.

More Information…

Five Things Teachers Can Do Right Now

I’ve received many emails lately about Engineers Week and what it’s all about. To briefly summarize, Engineers Week (Eweek) is always during the president’s birthday week. So this year, it’s Feb. 16-22. Eweek statistics show that last year, 40,000 engineers visited classrooms to educate students about the field of engineering. Eweek extrapolates that those engineers reached 5 million students! There are only 20 days until Eweek and it’s not too late to get involved.

Below, I have provided suggestions for teachers to use Eweek as a special time to really educate, inspire, motivate and/or cajole interest in engineering. It’s a time to celebrate the profession and the amazing advances and achievements of the field. It’s also the perfect opportunity to get people to help you in this mission.

Five things that teachers can do right now.

  1. The first thing I would recommend to get an engineer to come to your classroom is to open the phone book and call a local firm that has a yellow page ad. Explain that you are a teacher and would like an engineer to talk to your kids for Engineers Week. You can give them the link to Eweek (www.discovere.org). Most firms benefit from the exposure so you might be surprised at the results. If they seem resistant, just try another.
  2. Put your state in the search engine to find local events in your area.
  3. There is a good chance that in a classroom of 30 students, at least one or two will have parents that are engineers. You may be able to get the parent engineers to talk to your class.
  4. Call your local college of engineering and see if you can arrange a tour or see if they are doing anything special to celebrate the week. Don’t forget about junior colleges and vocational schools! They are also great resources.
  5. Contact your local engineering society to find out what they are doing. For example, the IEEE, ASME, ASCE, NSPE and many others have state branches that are independently run by engineers in your state. This may be an excellent opportunity to make a lasting connection. Just put (ieee.org) or (asme.org) or (asce.org) or (nspe.org) into your browser and search for local or state chapters of the organization. When you find your state contact, write to the president asking for help.

What are you doing for Eweek? Questions, suggestions? Post them here!

The Engineering Look

What does an engineer look like? You can put on a lab coat and people automatically think doctor or scientist. A headset implies telephone operator, sales person or receptionist. A space suit screams Astronaut. Pilots, firefighters, police people, photographers, teachers, construction people, farmers and many other occupations have a certain “look”. But what does an engineer look like?

One problem with determining “the look” is that the field is so broad. Engineers design, manufacture, build, research, write, investigate and present their findings. It’s easy to think of engineers designing rides at Disney or crawling around inside of a bridge to check for stress cracks. We know what that looks like but what about the engineers that don’t design things? How do we show an engineer that is checking air quality or researching new and safer ways to dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs?

Is anyone having a fashion/runway show for eweek next month?

Get ready for 2014!

With 2014 right around the corner, it’s time for all of of us to reflect on our 2013 accomplishments and areas that we’d like to improve.

My professional New Year’s resolutions always looks something like this:

  1. Find new ways to communicate the cool factor of an engineering education.
  2. Conspire with other engineering evangelists to find new ways to communicate the cool factor.
  3. Communicate the cool factor to teachers, counselors and parents.
  4. Spread the joy.
  5. Repeat often.

Although my list defies resolution etiquette by not being very specific, it works for me. Sometimes I also add in the margin my definition of “cool factor” just in case I learn new things about engineering and somehow overlay the old information instead of adding to it.

Margin notes: Cool Factor = An engineering education teaches you how to think. You learn analytical, logical and problem-solving skills that help in everything that you do. Consider engineering education as a launching pad to become anything that you want to be. Spatial visualization, problem solving, teamwork, communication, and creativity can be transferred and applied to any field and are excellent tools for the future – whatever your future may be. Once you finish an engineering degree, you really feel like you can do anything.

This is how I do my part in making a better world. If people can spend 8-10 hours a day doing something they enjoy, the world will be a better place.

Happy Holidays!

Engineering Design = Viable Career

Life itself is an endless process of solving problems. When we use the engineering design process, students learn that engineering design, like life itself, is an endless process of solving problems. In dealing with life’s many challenges, successful adults take the same steps as the ones that students utilize in their engineering design experiences such as identifying or stating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions and then developing or building prototypes (trying it out).

According to Cary Sneider, a leading science educator and one of the writers of the Next Generation Science Standards, understanding engineering is essential for all citizens, workers, and consumers in a modern democracy. If the U.S. is to continue to play a significant role in the world economy, it is imperative that students be exposed to engineering design and problem solving thought processes. He goes on to say that the capability to formulate and solve problems is a valuable life skill. By including engineering design in classrooms across the country, students will have access to a wider range of viable careers because they will be prepared to take the appropriate courses in high school. Exposure to engineering design is also an important aspect of equity for girls and minority students.

So get your design on and let’s promote problem solving!

The Engineering Design Process as a Tool

I’m happy to announce that a few weeks ago, I won the contract to write and develop tutorials, reference and training materials for grade 1 through 12 Oregon teachers to use the Engineering Design Process to be more effective and successful teaching science.

Since 2009, the Oregon state standards have included “Engineering Design” as a core “Science Process Skill” in the curriculum. The term Engineering Design describes the concept of using the practical application of scientific principles to everyday problems as a method for teaching students about science. The documents that I am composing are intended to help teachers understand, and answer the following questions:

  • What characterizes Engineering Design processes and how are they used?
  • What are some good ways to teach students about the Engineering Design process?
  • How can the Engineering Design process be used to:
    • motivate students to learn science,
    • increase the depth of their understanding, and
    • build skills that allow them to use science to solve practical problems?
  • What exercises might be used to familiarize students with the Engineering Design process at the same time they learn science content knowledge?

It’s very exciting to think that I will have a hand in helping all students in Oregon gain a foothold in STEM education. Although the term “busy” is an understatement about my life right now, opportunities like this don’t come around everyday. When the train pulled out of the station, I made sure I was on-board.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress….