Encouraging Student’s Love of Engineering: Some Guidance and Resources

In the classroom, my students’ favorite days are days when they get to explore science and engineering in hands on ways.  From designing and building catapults to launch marshmallows to figuring out how to best secure an egg when it is dropped from the roof of the school, the excitement students express on those days is what a teacher lives for!  How can you, as a parent, cultivate an interest in engineering in your own student?

The key is finding resources that inspire creative, out of the box, thinking.  Something as simple as creating an invention box in your home with old tools and used electronics for tinkering can help to foster a love of engineering.  One year, I provided my sixth grade class with cardboard and duct tape and told them to use what they know to design a roller coaster for a tennis ball.  It was amazing to see students work together using their knowledge of physics to solve this problem, and they loved having free reign to make mistakes and solve them. 

However, we as parents frequently need a little more guidance and ideas to jumpstart that creative energy.  Here is a brief overview of some great resources that can be used to foster a love of engineering in students from preschool to high school.

Web Resources:

TryEngineering – A website dedicated to helping students, parents, and educators discover the world of engineering.  On this website, you can research the 25 major specialties recognized in engineering and engineering technology, and research the colleges that offer these majors.  Information about summer camps, competitions, projects, and scholarships is also offered.  This is a great jumping off point if you have a preteen or teen who is showing interest in engineering.

MathMovesU – Engineering Resources – This website, sponsored by Raytheon, provides teachers and parents with many resources, from talking about what engineers do to the top engineering schools in the United States.  The conversation starters are a great jumping off point to get your student thinking about engineering.

DiscoverE – Test Drive Engineering – The DiscoverE website is a great resource to research engineering, engineering schools, and engineering careers. What sets it apart is the Test Drive Engineering section.  This page gives you ideas on how to introduce engineering to your child in as little as 5 minutes, or for an entire semester.

Picture Books:

Galimoto – Published in 1991, Galimoto is about a boy named Kondi who is determined to build a toy out of wire.  Undeterred by lack of materials and the difficulty of making such a toy, Kondi displays perseverance and determination.  This book, when paired with a project to design and build your own galimoto, creates a fantastic introduction to engineering concepts for younger children.

Violet the Pilot – The main character of this book, Violet, is a mechanical genius, which separates her from her peers.  In an attempt to make friends, Violet decides to build and fly her own plane in an airshow.  After reading this book, challenge your child to design a paper airplane.  Take it a step farther and ask them to design a model airplane using household materials.

How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers: A Simple but Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps – The protagonist in this book shares his simple plan for bicycling to the moon, although his busy schedule has prevented him from making the trip.  This story superbly details how to develop a plan to solve a complex problem.  Make this book come to life by asking your child to develop a fantastic plan to solve a simple problem in their life; e. g., cleaning their room, brushing their teeth, feeding a pet, etc.

Toys:

PicassoTiles 100-Piece Set Magnetic Building Tiles – Bright and colorful, use these tiles to create amazing buildings or scenes.  This toy is a huge hit with kids of all ages.  Use with a lightbox or flashlight to bring in more interest!  Additionally, you could pair this toy with the book Iggy Peck, Architect to discuss creative thinking.

Elenco Electronic Snap Circuits – Use this electronics set to create at least 300 projects, from clocks to burglar alarms.  It’s a great introduction to the field of electrical engineering.  Although a manual for projects is included, encourage your child to design and create their own invention! 

Engino – These kits are a level above an Erector set and expose kids to mechanical engineering.  They are simple enough to use straight out of the box, but can also be used by children to create more complex inventions of their own design.  Use the book The New Way Things Work to help explain how machines work.

Apps:

TinkerBox – This app exposes teens to interesting engineering and physics problems and puzzles.  Designed to prove that engineering can be fun, the app also allows students to create their own inventions.  This app is available for free.

Crazy Machines – Evaluate inventory, read a blue print, and accomplish a goal.  Crazy Machines introduces kids to various engineering aspects and project planning.  This app is $1.99 in the App Store.

Inventioneers – Create wild and wacky inventions while learning about physics.  This app will help your student understand physics and how things work.  There are eight chapters and 112 inventions to make.  This app is $2.99 and is available for Apple and Android.

It is never too early to introduce a child to the world of the physical sciences.  Even babies have an impressive grasp of physics from their interactions with gravity.  I have found that providing students with a problem and a variety of tools to solve it stimulates an amazing amount of creative thinking in my students that they then apply across all subject areas.  I hope I have presented you with just such a challenge, and I hope you can use some of these recommendations to encourage and develop the engineer in your child and the teacher in you!

By Laura Rowe- a certified elementary and middle school general educator who loves teaching physical science.

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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