We open with happy holiday wishes to all. We hope you are enjoying the rituals and celebrations of the season, both festive and solemn, and finding good time to spend with family and friends.
Been a while
This week sees the first reading round-up since the spring. The recent engineering-related items below range from alternative angles on the holidays to a broadly bipartisan education overhaul to some fascinating visions of engineering advances that may soon be upon us.
Engineering angles on the holidays
Last time we offered our second annual list of engineering toys, carefully vetted and tested by experts (our own kids!). Both this year’s list and last year’s list have ranked among our most popular posts.
Be sure also check out another great holiday resource, the engineering gift guide from Purdue University’s INSPIRE Institute. Shameless plug: all three of our books – What’s Engineering?; Dream, Invent, Create; Start Engineering: A Career Guide – are featured, for which we thank the Institute and the discerning people behind the gift guide.
If you’ve already got all the gifts you need, alternatives for honoring the holidays might include these fun ideas for kid-friendly engineering activities or these organizations for making charitable contributions to engineering-related causes.
In a moment widely hailed as a gift to education across the country, President Obama signed a broadly bipartisan overhaul of federal education policy on December 10. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces, none too quickly, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).
Something for almost everyone
The new law offers something for almost everyone with a wish for K-12 education.
- For conservatives, it curtails the power of the Secretary of Education to impose content or standards on states and school districts, pointedly including Common Core.
- For liberals, ESSA cleaves apart test scores and approaches to teacher evaluation.
- Local control advocates celebrate the law’s significant devolution of authority over learning standards and accountability to states and school districts.
- Exactly the new approaches to accountability, however, worry some civil rights advocates. They see room for states to step back from efforts to provide access to high-quality education for all students without the strong federal role put forth in NCLB.
For STEM, it taketh and giveth
Instead, states can use larger, more flexibly available pools of money to support “well-rounded education,” which may now include engineering, as well as math and science fields already understood to be standard K-12 issue. Also newly called out as part of “well-rounded education” activities is computer science, celebrated here and here.
Working out devilish details
In the cases of both engineering and computer science, though, the K-12 education infrastructure is notably underdeveloped. Who exactly is going to teach engineering and computer science, especially at elementary school levels, is hard to figure out.
Earlier this fall, we published a Teacher’s Guide for our elementary school book, Dream, Invent, Create, to meet exactly this need. With both basic and advanced lessons adaptable to any elementary grade level, the Teacher’s Guide presumes no prior knowledge of engineering. It’s meant to give teachers and schools an immediately usable, standards-aligned resource for bringing real engineering into the elementary school classroom.
- Take a look, too, at this well-considered piece to see how teachers can get off on the right foot with engineering in elementary education.
- The Bay Area Discovery Museum is putting Fab Labs to work, along with Next Generation Science Standards learning principles, to teach kids about engineering.
- And the San Francisco 49ers hosted their first STEM Bowl, where kids show off STEM learning in a football-themed competition at Levi’s Stadium, where the team plays its home games.
Diversity in STEM
- The 200th anniversary of computing visionary Ada Lovelace’s birth came on December 10. This appraisal, after all these years, of women in STEM fields finds much room left for improvements.
- IBM’s Twitter campaign, #HackAHairDryer, did not much help matters in this arena, before being unceremoniously unplugged. Really, who comes up with, and then approves, these things?
- Southern Methodist University, by contrast, has made real changes in the climate and culture of their engineering program to enroll and graduate women at over 30% of their classes, fully 10 points above national averages.
- And CODE2040, an organization working to create opportunity for minorities in engineering and technology fields, continues an impressive roll in fund-raising. A $1.2 million grant will double the size of its diversity programs.
The future’s so bright
Engineering advances promise new, better things to come. These items got us excited, in three cases, about what the near future might look like. And in the last case, relieved might be a better word.
- Streets are some of the great, necessary, vexing public spaces we share. This fascinating, nuanced discussion of “complete streets” points to a new vision for streets and the ideas that shape traffic engineering.
- Tech visionary Bran Ferren (former president of R&D at Disney Imagineering) sees automated vehicles as the next transformative technology coming down the, um, road.
- And this piece explores how drilling for signs of life in layers of Martian ice is and is not like drilling in the desert, where engineers are developing new drilling technology for extraterrestrial deployment.
- Finally, this study argues that the automated economy might actually not bring crushing job destruction for the human workforce. Rather, robots will take on increasingly complex tasks, freeing people to acquire and practice higher-order cognitive skills and craft new, human-only occupations. At least, that’s the idea.
Signing off for the year
We’ll return in early January to continue with new posts. Happy new year wishes to all!
As always, please feel free to send comments and share with any interested friends or colleagues.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEngNow.
Our new Dream, Invent, Create Teacher’s Guide makes it easy to get started teaching elementary school engineering, even with no training in the field.