Chrissy Foster, a doctoral student in engineering education, is leading a summer program designed to provide opportunities for middle school students to take college “courses” and help further research on K-12 engineering education.
Part of the College for Kids program, the engineering human needs course focuses on hands-on design activities that address current issues in energy and water.
Foster developed the program using lessons from Learning through Engineering Design, a project led by her advisor, Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant professor of engineering education, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. She used several design challenges focusing on renewable resources: designing solar ovens, water filtration systems and wind turbines.
“The goal is to show that engineers design; they actively create things and improve our world,” Foster says.
“Generally these students come in associating engineering solely with building. They leave the two-week program with an understanding that engineers are people who make things better—anything from hearts to bridges,” she says.
This is Foster’s first year teaching the program. She has eight students, seven of them girls. She says that a big part of what they learn is the ability to work in teams and identify strengths and weaknesses. They also have a lot to do in a small amount of time.
Foster is getting positive feedback from the participants. One student said that she used to think engineering was boring, but now might want to be an engineer.
Foster is part of new program, one of six students pursuing an engineering education degree. Her primary goal is to help drive a greater emphasis on K-12 education.
“By starting engineering education in K-12, we take the complexity out of engineering and emphasize the design aspects. We can ask, why do you like your iPod? Kids use their natural instincts to create, design and understand,” Foster says.
She notes that engineering education can easily be added to existing science curriculum. “They are already learning about the sun’s rays in science, now let’s take on a design challenge to use that knowledge and build a solar oven.”
Another goal is to help teachers understand how to bring engineering concepts into the classroom earlier in the educational experience and help break down barriers.
“Kids are natural designers, naturally creative. These camps allow them to express the engineer within,” she says.