Our Podcast on "STEM Everyday"
It was great fun recently to be a guest on the “STEM Everyday” podcast, part of the Remarkable Chatter network. The podcast is hosted by Chris Woods, a high school math teacher in Calumet, MI. Chris is a tireless, engaging, upbeat proponent of all things STEM-related. He hosts the podcast, manages the Daily Stem website, and maintains an active, interesting Twitter feed, @dailystem. That’s all in addition to his day job, teaching math, remember.
On the podcast, “Engineering in K-12 Education,” we talked about all kinds of ways to get kids excited about engineering and to help teachers make engineering a part of their classroom activities. Chris was generous in bringing our books, “Dream, Invent, Create,” and “Start Engineering,” into the conversation as starting-points for these efforts.
In a nutshell, the fun, whimsical pictures and words of “Dream, Invent, Create,” give elementary school audiences a purchase on engineering as a pervasive, beneficial part of their world. For older students, “Start Engineering” offers broad coverage of engineering innovations in space exploration, environmental preservation, sports technologies, and many other areas, along with rich information about options for study and work in engineering.
About 15 minutes long, the podcast is available for streaming or download. A transcript appears below.
Please feel free to send along any comments or questions. We’re happy to expand on any topics that came up or respond to other areas of interest related to K-12 engineering outreach.
"Engineering in K-12 Education" Podcast Transcript
Today we’ve got a special guest, Eric Iversen. Welcome, Eric.
Thank you very much, happy to be here.
Eric is the VP of Learning and Communications for Start Engineering. That’s start-engineering.com. As always, we’ll have some links at the end of the podcast. At Start Engineering, you guys have some books and some great resources that really try to encourage kids to learn about the whole field of engineering.
Making Engineering Fun and Accessible for Elementary School Kids (and Teachers)
Yeah, thanks, Chris. Like I said, I’m really happy to be here and have a chance to talk about engineering in K-12 education.
It’s an area where we at Start Engineering have a lot of experience. My partners and I have worked in this area, all told, for something like 30 years, and where we are right now is the publisher of a book called, “Dream, Invent, Create,” and that is a book designed for grades 3 through 8.
“Dream, Invent, Create” is a fun project. It uses alternative methods to give kids and their teachers a context for understanding what engineering does in their daily lives. We use poetry and illustrations to try to get across ideas about all the different fields of engineering and how much they pervade people’s daily lives and how much fun they can be and how interesting they can be for kids to get involved with and study.
On your site, I see some of the rhymes: “Keep our planet lush and green / With air and water pure and clean / Convert old trash to useful things / Like purses, clothes, and playground swings.”
Yeah, it is, and what little kid is going to listen to that and say, ugh, I have to learn about engineering, do I have to learn about engineering?
That sounds fun.
Well, it is fun. And some of the things that people have done with it really take advantage of the poetry and the language.
Reading the book aloud to groups, getting them to try to follow along, maybe complete the rhymes in new and different ways than are on the page, you know, as a way to get kids to think about what the words mean, what engineering is about.
And draw on their own personal experience to try to build on what is on the page and in the book itself.
So even an elementary school teacher who doesn’t really have a clear grasp of what engineering is, they can even be learning a little bit better, I mean the book is probably going to inform them as well.
You know, we have talked to a lot of teachers over the years and been at teachers’ meetings and had them say, time and time again, “Boy, engineering is exciting, I understand a little bit about what it has to do with our daily lives. But how do I talk about it?”
The big question that teachers tend to have about engineering is how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t reveal their own lack of knowledge or technical understanding. And we designed the book in such a way that it’s a kind of turn-key solution, even for teachers who don’t necessarily have command of anything to do with technical engineering principles or content.
It’s just a way to build some context, create some interest, and to give people a general picture about what engineering can be and how they can talk about it, and how it’s accessible and exciting for kids.
So, you know, it’s a way to take some of the fearsome aspects of engineering off the table for teachers and give them some tools to talk about it in a way that’s really kid-friendly.
And just looking at it, the graphics are beautiful, it’s got some very interesting pictures. Really, the more you look, you start to notice other things. There are diagrams, there’s integration that goes along with what’s there.
And the, sorry to interrupt, but what I was just going to draw your attention to also—which people are sort of surprised to find, because, you know, it’s right on the page but they don’t necessarily see it—around the border of the page, there is some narrative that describes in slightly, you know, more prosaic terms what the different disciplines of engineering are actually about.
So you can hook people with the pictures and get them involved in the rhyme. And then once you have students’ attention, you can draw on the text around the border of the book and talk a little bit more fully and specifically about, well, this is what mechanical engineering is actually all about.
It gives them some more concrete information.
And I notice, it’s a 40-page book, and so you could have kids read the whole thing aloud, you know, together, you could read it with the kids, you could have kids pick certain pages which are based on certain different topics.
I see there’s space exploration, energy, robotics, which is a huge topic now, prosthetics, sports technology, all sorts of things. You could have a kid, say, pick one of these pages and tell the class more about it.
Engineering in Students’ Daily Lives: The Impact of Choice
Yeah, you know, you could do it off the top of your head.
Students could say, oh, you know, this morning I used some sort of tablet or laptop and talk about how that has to do with electrical engineering.
Obviously, cars and roads and buildings and houses all have substantial engineering pieces in them, and making those connections, encouraging kids to make those connections between the things they encounter every day.
You know, we live in such a built, designed environment that it almost becomes invisible. You almost stop seeing all the things that have to be engineered in your daily life.
And one of the things that we’re trying to do with the book is to draw attention to those things and make people stop and think, oh, somebody had to make a choice. This piece of technology, this tool, works in a certain way because somebody made a choice.
What goes into that choice? How do you make things better? How do you solve problems? How do you improve people’s lives?
Those are all the kinds of issues that engineers deal with every day.
That is phenomenally put, Eric. I think teachers wrestle with the idea of how do I get kids to understand, you know, you put on one of the pages in your site that engineers are creative problem-solvers.
I can remember one of my favorite lessons growing up in school was our teacher had us come with our own inventions, and being able to draw those out and explain them, and to this day, I can remember those inventions that I made up.
That’s awesome, that is great. That is such a good story.
And you know, working with this book, if you had a classroom set of these, and you get the kids to start thinking. Or even just one and you’re passing it around the classroom, I can imagine this being the go-to book in a classroom, and the kids are all going to be fighting over it.
Solving Problems and Changing the World with Engineering
I think this book keeps on giving, and it draws people out in a way, once they start adopting the habit of mind.
What you said is exactly right about engineers, they are problem-solvers, and it’s a different orientation from what you think of as a more scientific approach, where you’re trying to describe something, you’re trying to answer some questions.
But you take it to the next step, and you use that knowledge to intervene in some way in the world that changes your daily life or changes the structure of the world or allows you to do something you couldn’t otherwise do.
That energizes people and that gets people interested and compels your attention in a way and your energies. And it’s a different attitude, but it’s one that people don’t really get in elementary school.
It’s one that students don’t really get exposed to enough, and, you know, we’re trying to address that, trying to give people the tools that will help them bring those kinds of opportunities alive for students.
And like you said, I mean, that begins to create in those kids that mind-set, now instead of just looking at everything as, this is a product, look at it as a product of innovation, a product of creativity, a product of reinvention and reimagination.
And that’s where it shifts out of just books for these kids and it shifts into real life for them, and that’s great.
One of the really awesome things about engineering is that it’s a truly empowering discipline.
You know, you all of a sudden realize what is open to you as an agent of choice. You can make choices once you’re equipped with the tools to solve problems, to make changes.
And there’s nothing like feeling that you have a choice to make you feel empowered and energized and able to do things that you otherwise, you know, wouldn’t have imagined you could do.
So it’s a really powerful tool.
That’s great. Now you guys are working on completing one for the upper middle school/high school age. Talk a little about that one.
Yeah, thanks. That’s right.
We are in the final stages of another publication, to be called “Start Engineering.” (Note: now published and available.) This is a guidebook for high school students and their parents, significantly, to give them, again, more of the context of what engineering is about and how it works in their daily lives already.
We have a series of feature articles that talk about exciting applications of engineering, everything from prosthetic limbs that one of the contestants in “Dancing with the Stars” used to robotics that are used, hopefully, in interstellar missions that NASA is planning.
Like just today, in the news, there was a small satellite that landed on a comet for the very first time.
Can you believe that? That is unbelievable to me. That is truly a triumph of engineering.
To get something to land on something moving that quickly! You know, what a great classroom problem, and then you see the news, you see something like that, and then you can draw in other resources, you know, like this book and say, hey, let’s see who, what kind of people would work on that.
Engineers Are All Kinds of People, People Are All Kinds of Engineers
Yeah, and one of the things we try to do in “Start Engineering” is to focus really closely on people, especially students and people early in their careers who have taken an engineering path towards doing really exciting things.
There’s a feature, for instance, on Debbie Sterling, who is the founder of GoldieBlox, a company that blends story-telling with construction tools to try to get girls really excited about engineering.
And Debbie Sterling went to Stanford, and she’s had a very interesting story as an entrepreneur, got her company funded on Kickstarter, and GoldieBlox has just taken off, especially with all this interest in getting engineering more diverse and attracting students who haven’t necessarily found success or opportunity there.
But, you know, she’s a great example to focus on. Here’s someone who used an engineering education to do something really creative and is having a big impact on people’s lives, kid’s lives.
And at the same time, that’s a great story, a real-life story where the kids in your classroom, our classrooms, you can say, hey, what is the idea that you could make up, and you could take it, and you could, you know, become the next GoldieBlox maker, but what are you going to make?
Yeah, absolutely, and that kind of pathway is available to anybody who gets a spark of imagination, wants to pursue it in a certain direction, and then off they go.
It really gives you some powerful tools, once you have some of these engineering skills and principles in your mind.
So listening to this, I think this would be a great resource for every school to have some copies of. I could imagine a classroom set that could be passed from different grade to different grade. I could imagine getting a few of them for each classroom.
I could imagine contacting a local business that maybe is involved in engineering and saying, hey, would you be willing to sponsor our school to provide some of these books or if your school has a foundation.
There are probably enough ways that they could get them, it’s a very minimal cost to get some of the books.
How to Make Use of “Start Engineering”
Yeah, thanks a lot.
Let me explain one of the really interesting opportunities associated with it.
If you want to buy the book in bulk, for example, sponsorship opportunities are available for people to customize the back page. A company or a university or a non-profit could put some content on the back page that features their programs or their interest in engineering education.
And they could use it as a calling card or a vehicle for disseminating their own approach to the question through the guidebook, “Start Engineering,” so that it’s a collaborative effort.
You know, we provide the content, a third party can brand it in such a way that it looks like it’s their contribution to the engineering education cause, too, and it ends up being a good project for everyone to be involved in because then they provide the distribution to some of the student or teacher populations who really need to get this kind of information.
That’s great. And then there’s also even some resources right on the website of some more things you could do. It said there’s an activity right at the end of the kids’ book, “Dream, Invent, Create.” It sounds like a great all-around resource, no matter what age that you work with.
Bringing Engineering into the Elementary School Classroom
Yeah, one of the fun things about “Dream, Invent, Create,” is the back matter.
There are about six pages of different kinds of exercises. Some of them are strictly in-the-book exercises, and they’re pretty basic.
There is a word search that kids can do together, there is a scavenger hunt, a list of items that they can go back in the book and find and tick off on the list, and there’s a crossword puzzle.
And then, of course, there’s the famous marshmallow challenge, and that is a very cost-effective, fun, collaborative activity that lends itself to a quick, classroom session.
It ends up being a fun thing to do to use these materials that you never would expect to use in building something. And it gives people a chance to collaborate, build something, have a little competition, have some fun, make a little bit of a mess – that’s always fun – and then learn some engineering along the way.
I can imagine a lot of classrooms, this being a jumping-off point for the science fair projects. I could imagine a school having the best science fair ever after passing around some of these books.
You’ve put your finger on one of the really useful and, we think, most valuable applications of the book, which is to capture some interest, to build up some interest.
And then teachers can build on that, and follow on with the lessons they have in place and the more extensive curricular resources they have in place.
This is a kind of opening statement that people can take advantage of to get some attention and interest generated around engineering, which then they can carry on and use in the existing classroom plans that they already have in place.
That’s great. Well, Eric, I got to say thank you, this was phenomenal.
Again, it’s at the website, start-engineering.com, and of course, we’ll have the links afterwards. I want to thank you again, Eric, for joining us today.
Really delighted to be here, Chris. Thanks for inviting me.
Yeah, no problem. And again, thanks for listening to the “STEM Everyday” podcast. And keep finding ways to put STEM in your classroom everyday.