"Engineering is Elementary" on the Hill

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Publication date: 
2 October 2008

A recent discussion and exhibition on Capitol Hill by the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) project, featured comments from the National Science Foundation’s Cora Marrett and a challenge to attendees to create a functioning wind sail.

EiE is billed as a “standards based, research driven, classroom tested” curriculum designed to increase elementary student and teacher technical literacy. The program uses a four part system that begins with an engineering story. EiE surveyed elementary science departments and has created 20 illustrated books around topics commonly discussed in those classrooms. Topics include wind, sound, insects, and electricity. Books feature protagonists from different ethnic backgrounds tackling these topics. For example, EiE’s unit on magnetism revolves around a child named Hikaru from Japan. The next two lessons bring in the broader perspective of the engineering field and later, the relationship between engineering and other STEM fields. Ultimately, children are challenged to complete a project in their subject field. In the wind unit, students might be tasked with building a windmill out of a juice box and other materials.

Cora Marrett, Assistant Director for NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources, called the EiE program “so much a part of the larger STEM emphasis.” She added that the “links between discovery and learning” must be exercised because “young children do have notions about the way things work.”

Project Director Christine Cunningham described EiE as a way to make the “math and science [children] learn in school relevant.” According to Cunningham, 9,306 teachers and 484,081 students in more than 1200 schools in all 50 states have used EiE lesson materials. Cunningham finished her presentation by offering a set of legislative recommendations for the next Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Some of those recommendations include allowing STEM education centers and other non-profit educational organization to receive funds for teacher professional development, allowing states to include technology and engineering in any definition of “rigorous curricula,” and encouraging state science assessment to reflect the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Science 2009 Framework.

EiE receives funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NSF, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the U.S. Small Business Administration among others.

For additional information, see EiE’s website here.