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Tirupalavanam Ganesh
Assistant Professor, Engineering Education
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy

Inspiring future engineers

Tirupalavanam Ganesh is leading an educational outreach program aimed at redesigning the K-12 student experience. His efforts are an extension of the Learning through Engineering Design project, a K-12 engineering-education research effort aimed at increasing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through real-world, hands-on learning experiences that have the iterative engineering-design process as an essential element to help students experience problem solving and creativity in designing solutions to project challenges. Learning through Engineering Design uses research-based strategies such as cognitive apprenticeship, project-based learning, and inquiry-based instructional planning.

“I am thinking of becoming a mechanical engineer. I am very creative and am enjoying this program. Teachers in the program ask me, ‘What do you think will be most effective–and why?’ I have learned how to use my imagination.”
— Celeste, age 13

“The most important thing I’ve learned about is it’s very important to work together as a team. I have learned that it is okay to make mistakes. Sometimes things don’t always work the first time, so you have to try something new and that is what engineering is all about. I have learned that I am smart and creative!”
— Andrew, age 12

This effort began in fall 2007 with initial funding from the National Science Foundation’s Division for Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. The program was designed and implemented in after-school programs at four Arizona middle schools. Participant educators are provided with professional development and curricula. Industry partners from Microchip and SRP, undergraduate engineering students and faculty members provide cognitive apprenticeships to the middle school students. The program also engages family members to help them learn more about STEM and potential career paths.

In 2009, Science Foundation Arizona provided funding for doctoral students to engage in K-12 engineering and science education. Through the ASU Citizen Scientist-Engineer @ K-12 Schools program, ASU doctoral students in engineering and science are collaborating with schools and educators to design and implement learning experiences. The doctoral students learn to communicate the importance of their own research interests to to students, families, and teachers. They develop expertise in how students learn, and collaborate with K-12 teachers to design and implement lesson plans. This Spring semester, at Centennial Middle School, 8th graders engaged in the design of smart prosthetics, 7th graders worked on water and energy projects and 6th graders were introduced to microbiology. And in fall 2011, the program is expanding to Akimel-a-al and Pueblo Middle Schools.

Last year, Ganesh and his team expanded middle school efforts to include development of in-school integrated STEM education, incorporating engineering design challenges, and providing school wide professional development to teachers. The goal is to make changes that bring more effective and engaging ways of learning into the formal curricula.

At Kyrene, students in the engineering elective class keep engineering notebooks documenting and reflecting on how they meet their engineering design challenges. Projects are varied, but all mimic things in real life. For example, this week students have started a module where they explore energy generation with wind and will build wind turbines. Another curricular module is the urban heat island project, students must build a model home with an inside temperature 8-10 degrees lower than the outside temperature. Students follow an iterative design process: understanding and defining the problem, imagining solutions, designing a solution, building, testing and refining until they get the desired results.

The project has met with great success. Initially, only two electives were planned. Due to demand, three were implemented at Kyrene Aprende Middle School.

Ganesh is teaching an Engineering Design for Teachers course this spring semester at the Chandler Unified School District’s Instructional Resource Center as a way of modeling how engineering can help connect learning of science and mathematics to real-world needs. Ganesh says, “Engineering has existed as long as humans have had needs. And I am using engineering design projects to enhance the learning of science and mathematics in K-12 schools.”

Ganesh’s next goal is to develop and implement a systematic method to transmit this way of learning on a larger scale through a teacher development program that also carefully studies the impact of professional development on teacher practice and student learning of specific concepts in science and mathematics using engineering design based project challenges related to energy and energy options.

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Video: Can Engineering Make Math and Science Come Alive?

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