Engineering is Elementary Lessons: EiE Teaches Students to Make Science Connections and Solve Problems

Engineering, the science that applies science and mathematics in order to solve problems and create tools of use to humankind, is more important than ever in the global, technological world. However, until recently, engineering topics have rarely been introduced to students before the high school or even college levels.

Engineering is Elementary Units for K-6 Classrooms

As a part of the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL), the Engineering is Elementary team of scientists and educators at the Museum of Science in Boston aim to bring engineering lessons to K-6 classrooms.

Each unit includes preparatory lessons that act as advanced organizers and encourage young students to consider engineering, technology, and the Engineering Design process. Students investigate misconceptions about technology and learn about the engineers who design these technologies. Additionally, each topic in the series is introduced with an engineering story that promotes an understanding of how engineering is used around the world to solve everyday problems.

Follow-up activities and worksheets emphasize important vocabulary and encourage students to think about the factors that are incorporated into engineering planning decisions. Since the stories take place in a variety of cultures, students are also taught to recognize that engineering is a science that is important to agricultural and industrial nations alike. These lessons also allow students to think and act like engineers as they problem solve, design, and improve upon ideas. Furthermore, hands-on engineering activities encourage students to learn from mistakes as they troubleshoot design flaws.

Current Engineering is Elementary titles, which can generally be covered in eight to ten 40-minute lessons, cover mechanical, environmental, material, civil, industrial, acoustical, agricultural, bioengineering, electrical, chemical, geotechnical, package, and transportation engineering topics. Future units to be published in 2008 and 2009 will also include civil, aerospace, eco-systems, computer science, and biomedical engineering.

The units stand alone and include both basic and advanced levels of instructions so that teachers can differentiate lessons to meet science objectives at appropriate age and ability levels.

Teacher Educator Institutes

As well as providing lessons for elementary students, the EiE provides teacher training workshops to introduce educators to the series. Additionally, workshops provide participants with information for implementing professional development within elementary schools. The Teacher Educator Institutes are presented at a variety of levels, or strands, in order to provide a progressive program of study to interested teaching professionals.…

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SPE: Part 3- Engineering in a Non-Engineering Family


I was born of goodly parents. They instilled in me a belief that I could become anything I wanted in this world.

As I discuss in my profile, my dad played an important role in my deciding to become an engineer. This wasn’t because he was an engineer himself, because he was an educator by trade. Instead, he encouraged this path because he saw in me a desire to understand the world around me.

This is all to explain that I could not have had a better upbringing or more support than I had. However, it became clear within a few semesters of school, that I was at a disadvantage to many of my peers. Being the first in my family to pursue engineering (that I know of), I would often feel lost in lectures or conversations at school with those who had parents in the engineering or construction industries.


It would sometimes frustrate me that professors would assume that I knew what ‘design-build’, client-contractor relationships, or E.I.T (Engineer in Training) meant. It happened quite a bit and more often than I let on.

It can be almost directly related to my intro to Spanish class that I took in my studies. Having no Spanish training, experience or heritage, I was placed in the same class with students that grew up in a Spanish speaking home or that took the language in high school. Because they didn’t ‘speak’ it, they were assumed to be at the same level as I even though I had next to zero Hispanic exposure in my life to that point. I studied, practiced… and got a solid B.

In my engineering classes, I quickly learned that I couldn’t be shy in my ignorance. I would force myself ask questions from my engineering-reared counterparts, and would try and take advantage of professor office hours. I worked at learning the material as much as any other students and, academically, consistently stayed average or above.

If it sounds like I was the only one who didn’t have a parent or close relative that was in the engineering or construction field, I most definitely wasn’t. Not by a long shot. But where my friends were proactive in improving their engineering knowledge in an out of the books, I kind of shot myself in the foot.

I knew that getting an internship or job related to my career was important, but I guess not important enough. Most of my friends quickly found themselves part-time jobs working on campus with professors or as a low paid draftsman. I went for the pay and benefits in a delivery job until my senior year when I let it go and found an internship. That was one of the best decisions of my life.

So, in consideration of a single, self experienced case study, these are my keys for getting ‘street smart’ when you have no engineering background.

1. Don’t be ashamed

Ask questions about everything you don’t understand, even if it seems like everyone else does.

2. Meet the firms

Make a list of all of the prominent design and consulting firms in the area. Study this list and, if possible, try and make connections from some of these firms. You won’t regret it.

3. Try and get a paid internship

If you can’t, try and get a paid job related to what area you are concentrating in. If you can’t do either of these, and if your personal situation allows, offer to work for free, or at least minimum.

4. Find a mentor

If possible, find a licensed Professional Engineer to shadow and observe. Preferable at your job, but if not, most professors are great about you asking them questions after class or during their office hours.

5. Get involved

It is almost harder to not be actively involved in a local chapter of an engineering society than be involved. Still, I managed to somehow stay away from them. Many principles of design and computer software are learned when you work with a team on a project such as concrete canoe or steel bridge.

6. Meet Google

I will be honest; I had never been told what an abutment was when I graduated. In the first few months of my job following school, my boss asked me to do a quantity check on one. I was too ashamed to ask him, but Google didn’t mind. (An abutment is the end supports of a bridge, by the way) Google Books is also an ever-expanding resource for technical information.

7. Don’t get frustrated

Know that you can make it, regardless of background. Don’t let one confusing lecture or one bad test grade deter you. If you really want it, you have an advantage over anyone.…

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The Unwritten Laws Of Engineering: Professor W. Julian King’s Manual For Engineer’s Behaviour

Many years ago Professor W. Julian King wrote a fascinating account of the human relations side of engineering. The most amazing thing about this booklet is that it was written in 1944, and the principles can still be applied over 60 years later.

Professor King was an American engineer working in California. He spent 17 years studying the human engineering processes in the operation of the design section of a manufacturing company.

Laws of Behaviour

King’s basic premise was that the personal and administration problems in an engineering enterprise created most impediments to success, rather than the technical problems. He states that the technical rules governing engineering are all written. These laws are taught at universities, are contained in text books and the myriad of technical papers in the public sphere. They are not in dispute.

But behavioural laws hadn’t been written in King’s day. So he decided to bring these “unwritten laws of engineering” together into a set of house rules or professional code.

In this modern era of organisational behaviour and human resource management, many of King’s concepts are not covered. His booklet deals more with the individual’s attitude towards behavioural laws rather than from a management perspective. It would take a large number of Google searches of modern human resource documentation to find the quaint expression stating that “a little profanity goes a long way.”

King says that it is not inappropriate for an engineer to issue the occasional “damn”. And that “a good hearty outburst of colourful profanity may be just a healthy expression of strong feelings.”

Young Engineers

He espouses three qualities young engineers need for success:

  • energy, to start a job and finish it;
  • ingenuity, to develop new ways of doing things; and
  • persistence, to follow the job through to completion.

According to King, the last attribute is usually found in brilliant engineers as they eagerly start a project full of gusto, only to slacken off in the end and not finish. King says they are “good starters but poor finishers”.

Executive Engineers

For executive engineers, he encourages focus on planning, saying to “plan your work, then work your plan.” His research found many bosses tried to do all the work themselves and didn’t have a good grasp of what was happening in their department.

He urged executive engineers to boil matters down to their simplest terms and make brisk, clean-cut decisions. His premise is that it is better to arrive at a decision rather than make no decision at all.

Personal Traits

Professor King also had some interesting comments about the personal traits of engineers. From a study of 4,000 cases, he found unsuitability for a particular job was due more to “social unadaptability” (62%) rather than technical competence (38%). King’s premise was supported 52 years later through Goldman’s work on Emotional Intelligence.

King said the most important trait of any engineer is the ability to get along with people; and that personal integrity is an engineer’s most important asset.

He states that for a successful engineering career there are four essential components.

  • written laws
  • unwritten laws
  • native endowments: intelligence, imagination, health, energy
  • luck, chance, opportunities – “the breaks”

Summarising, Professor King states that “it is much easier to recognise the validity of these laws than it is to apply them consistently”.

Over sixty years on these laws are still current. They may be written in a different format as political correctness didn’t exist in Professor King’s day. But they still carry the same message that has survived the test of time.…

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