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Engaging with the "E" in STEM: Adding Engineering to Afterschool

By Anita Krishnamurthi

This post was written by Owen Berliner, a curriculum writer for Engineering Adventures, a new out-of-school time (OST) engineering curriculum currently in development by the Museum of Science, Boston.

As the school year kicks into high gear, many afterschool educators are thinking about new types of activities for their programs. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities have never been more relevant for out-of-school time (OST) programs, such as afterschool programs, and the children they serve. The Obama administration has repeatedly called for a greater emphasis on STEM in the American educational system, and OST programs provide an amazing opportunity to reinforce the critical 21st century skills fostered through STEM activities. Engineering challenges in particular require children to work in teams, communicate and think critically in order to design successful solutions.

When considering STEM, many people focus exclusively on science and math. These are the big subjects that are typically taught in school, and often the engineering and technology components are either neglected or treated as sub-disciplines. Luckily, introducing engineering and technology to kids can be done in amazingly fun ways. In fact, kids’ reactions to STEM activities might be the most compelling reason to introduce them in your program! Kids are natural problem solvers, and engineering activities provide an opportunity for them to express their abilities while learning to apply critical thinking skills they may not even know they possess.

Preliminary research conducted on pilot tests of Engineering Adventures, a new, free-to-download engineering curriculum designed specifically for 3rd to 5th graders in OST settings, suggests that participation in the program leads to a greater understanding of the engineering design process and improved attitudes regarding possible future engineering careers.

Engineering Adventures units are intentionally structured to provide background knowledge constructed through hands-on activities. Once a child has learned about technology and the engineering design process, that knowledge is solidified through activities that explore the materials, science concepts and design principles of a particular challenge. Each unit culminates in an engineering showcase where children present their final designs to their peers. Early research has shown that this structure works well in a wide variety of OST settings, including afterschool clubs, summer camps and community groups.

Consider adding engineering challenges to your programming schedule this fall! 

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