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Teaching Fifth Graders Engineering

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the get-on-the-method dept.

Education 156

Jamie noticed a NYT story saying "To compete in a global economy, some school districts are offering engineering lessons to students in kindergarten. " The story is about 5th graders working on a new experimental curriculum that is well beyond the egg drop of old.

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NICE! (2)

potscott (539666) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564682)

I remember the egg drop. We also built bridges out of popsicle sticks, and tested them to see which could hold the most weight. That was the most engineering related hands on project I think I had in all of elementary school.

Re:NICE! (2, Funny)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564858)

I remember igniting magnesium and throwing chunks of pure sodium in a bucket of water...Ahhh...those were fun times. It wasn't elementary but it was pretty cool.

Re:NICE! (3, Funny)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565184)

Hmm.. I think it was elemantary sodium you used for that....

Re:NICE! (2, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565022)

I think that The egg drop, popsicle stick bridges, and electric circuits I learned in Elementary school are far more engineering worthy than the tasks they listed in the article.

They were just more practical problems that didn't need to be dumbed down.

Re:NICE! (1)

quickgold192 (1014925) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567186)

In fifth grade I lived in Italy. We built bridges out of pasta there. (Seriously)

He Huffed and he Puffed.... (1, Insightful)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564692)

... but he couldn't teach kindergartners the concept of load bearing supports. I like the idea, and I applaud the encouragement of sciences etc in school but kindergarten, really?

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (4, Informative)

jsnipy (913480) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564764)

5th graders, not 5 year olds

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564790)

All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C’s of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

RTFA

FWIW, I started in preschool

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (3, Insightful)

jsnipy (913480) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564846)

I did Anonymous Coward; it's unlikely they will start with the more complicated concepts in kindergarten

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (1)

JohnnyDoh (1057238) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566854)

TFA article mentions kindergartners creating a pulley system to lift a paper groundhog. Seems about as complicated as the concept of load bearing support...

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (2, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565010)

It's CmdrTaco's commentary that is wrong, the summary and grandparent is correct.

From the article:
To start, he needed to get past a voice-activated security gate, find a hidden door and negotiate a few other traps in a house that a pair of kindergartners here imagined for the pigs — and then pieced together from index cards, paper cups, wood sticks and pipe cleaners.

The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (4, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565214)

... but he couldn't teach kindergartners the concept of load bearing supports. I like the idea, and I applaud the encouragement of sciences etc in school but kindergarten, really?

When people consider the kids ready for religion at kindergarten age, I don't see why they shouldn't be ready for science.

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (2, Insightful)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566256)

One requires complex thought that people don't develop till they are about 12 and the other one just requires people to be dogmatic about something.

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (2, Funny)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566530)

Ask a 5 year old about dogma and they with respond by asking for a puppy.

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (1)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566674)

They don't need to understand dogma to be dogmatic about something. They do it naturally. An example is believing in Flying Reindeer even though they have never seen one.

Re:He Huffed and he Puffed.... (1)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566694)

the fact that others are idiots does NOT excuse my being an idiot, too ?

Parents are the Biggest Factor (5, Insightful)

slifox (605302) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564694)

It's great that schools are doing this, but I think parents are the biggest factor. Parents have a strong influence on the toys kids get at an early age, and at that early age children can show an interest in almost anything.

Want your kids to grow up with a healthy respect for / interest in engineering? Buy them Lego, Meccano (aka Erector Sets), K'Nex, etc... any toy that lets them play in a sandbox with minimal limitations, and particularly any toy that allows the creation of functioning mechanisms

Supplement this with some old hardware that they can take apart with only a screwdriver (and do it with them if they're too young to do it safely).

Computers and programming languages are also a great place to start, especially since the sandbox they provide allows easy experimentation (if you made an error, things don't blow up -- you can always reset and try again). However programming is arguably something that's best for slightly older children, whereas taking apart old mechanical/electrical hardware can be enjoyed by many children even as early as age 5 or before.

Of course this won't necessarily result in an engineer -- after all a child's interests can be largely determined by their personality, their school, and their social environment. However, by setting the foundations with these types of toys, your kid will at least have an understanding of engineering, which can only be beneficial. The fundamental point, I think, is that you can't just rely on schools -- as a parent you have to lay the foundations for learning (of any field or subject) at home, by spending time with your child and guiding them towards productive fun activities (and no, using the TV as a babysitter all the time will not accomplish this goal).

I'm not a parent yet, so I guess I'll see how well I do in this area when the time comes... However I do know what my parents did, and I think it worked pretty well

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (3, Insightful)

NervousWreck (1399445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564786)

Another thing parents can do to get their kids started on engineering: Science fiction. Thanks to science fiction I developed an interest in IT plus marketable skills in the same despite having little natural aptitude for it. Bruce Coville's AI gang trilogy led me to start learning Perl at age ten (admittedly it fell by the wayside until age 16, but still.)

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (2, Funny)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566270)

Yes, instead of Barbie, make sure every girl gets a Princess Leia Doll!

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32566340)

So science fiction helped you develop an interest in IT. How exactly does this have anything to do with Engineering?

One thing I've noticed on slashdot is the large population of IT dorks who think they are engineers. Do those of who you who do IT work at hospitals consider yourselves medical doctors too?

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32567066)

Well I've got a B.Sc. in Electrical and Computer Engineering (Electrical + Computer Science), but I work as a SysAdmin. Many people I work with in the same field have Electrical Engineering degrees...

So while I agree in general that IT doesn't imply an Engineering degree, don't assume that anyone who works in IT is not an engineer...

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564814)

You could adopt the alternate strategy, of forcing them to play with a "Child's First Call Center Playset: Now with over 500 recordings of angry, clueless, customers and verbally abusive managers!" for 14 hours a day.

This won't actually teach them anything; but it will fill them with a burning desire to acquire job skills.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (2, Funny)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565058)

I always wondered what happened to the kids who played with those toy phones...

"Yabba-Dabba Doo! My system won't power on"

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (2, Interesting)

Amouth (879122) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565282)

one of my wife's friends has a 18 month old - her FAVORITE toy is a fake hot pink cell phone - she likes to follow her mom around the house pretending to talk on it - while her mother walks around talking on her's..

It's so sad, yet funny to watch..

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

mmkkbb (816035) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565330)

My kid likes to tap on my spare keyboard, or to hammer on the keys of my wife's netbook. I already have a list of Kid Stuff to install on a junky computer when it's time in two more years :)

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

AdamThor (995520) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566028)

hmmm I have a decoy keyboard for my 15 mo. old, but he only wants the one I'm typing on...

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566978)

Get some old Model M's, there's a reasonable chance they'll survive.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566568)

Two more years?

My dad had me using DrawMouse when I was 2 years old (I have a photograph). He'd draw something, and I'd use the fill tool to colour it in. A bit later I liked drawing clocks -- we have perhaps 100 printouts of clocks (some with 24-hour time, but some with a random number of numbers).

I was using AutoSketch when I was five. Again, my parents have lots of plots from that, generally people made from hexagons, or random tessellations.

There were two games I used around the age of five: Captain Comic (I didn't really like this, but my sister did) and Repton [wikipedia.org] , still my all-time favourite game. (Caution: thinking may be required.) Gradually we collected various educational games from my dad's school.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567040)

For now, this is fun on said spare keyboad (if it's still plug-innable that is)... kneebangers.com

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

lowrydr310 (830514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567420)

My three year old daughter has a toy pink cellphone; she used to pretend to talk on it, now she's always using a screwdriver to take the battery cover off, take the batteries out, putting them back in, and re-attaching the cover. She doesn't always put the batteries back with the correct polarity, but I'm impressed that she likes to take the cover off.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (0, Offtopic)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566026)

Competing in the global economy is all about price. Teaching children to more effectively compete in the global labour market place is more along the lines of psychological abuse. You are worthless, you should be thankful you have a job, shut up and do as you are told, your employer knows best, greedy labour unions are evil, a sick worker is a lazy worker, government labour regulations are all wrong, more people can work if they accept lower pay, the boss should physically abuse poor performing workers and, workers should dob in other workers who are slacking off as they are stealing from them.

Competing in the global labour market is bullshit. As people working together, as a human and humane society we sit down and decide what is the appropriate basis for global competition and what are the appropriate labour rules and working conditions and then we enforce those conditions by laws and criminal penalties and also by import penalties for other countries that do not adhere to what we would consider acceptable for ourselves.

Global competition, it is all about those that lose out personally in the global market place, those that the global market pays cents per hour, those that can't afford to buy much of anything, those that fail to compete and gain themselves and their children an acceptable future. Want you children to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, sleep in a factory dormitory, eat factory rations they have to pay for and have retirement as nothing but a death by starvation sentence, the fail to compete in the global labour market place under the rules that "YOU" define and that's what you will have. Don't think so, just as millions of Chinese, Indians, Mexicans etc. etc.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (3, Informative)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564860)

I heartily agree.

From my own history I see a direct result of this kind of early brain-building.

My family purchased a computer (Commodore 64) when I was about 7, my mom sat down and showed me how to write basic code just by going through the examples in the book that came with it. At first it was just an endless print loop with my name in it, but soon it became little "20 questions" type games and then more and more.

I have no doubt the reason I am a programmer today is because of the education and support from my family at an early age and also the encouragement to excel and keep exploring.

I also learnt quite a bit about basic electronics from those old Radio Shack kits.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (4, Interesting)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566008)

I got my start programming in school in 4th grade, but my parents stood behind that when I showed a strong interest. They bought me a (and my sister, fat lot she used it) Sinclair 1000. Then a Commodore 16, then C64.

Then I wanted a C128, but they refused. Somehow, despite knowing less about it than me, they realized that IBM-compatible was the future and forced me to pick out an IBM-compatible computer. They tell me I cried. lol But I did, and I made newbie mistakes, and I got better.

It's thanks to my school starting me down the path and my parents being willing to invest the time and money into it that I'm the happy programmer that I am today. Otherwise, I'd probably be some manager somewhere and hating my job and not knowing why.

I wish more schools would take the first step to introduce children to -all- the trades out there, including science, literature, music, computers and engineering. I firmly believe that more children would grow up with goals in life and be happier for it. If not goals, then at least skills they like and can turn into a career.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

lowrydr310 (830514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567466)

When I was six, my mother bought a new VCR one day. Insisting on watching a video, without her permission I opened the box, pulled out the manual, and figured out how to connect it to the TV. When I asked to watch a movie, she was mad about me opening the box and said, "wait for your father to get home to make sure it's connected properly." When my father came home he took a look and gave it a thumbs up.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565026)

You could also lock the child into a cage of puzzles he/she would need to deconstruct before being released. Although this may eventual lead to the crushing of all his/her hopes and then to severe anti-social activities, drug use and suicide the outcome of producing someone who has the ever-vaunted ENGINEERING skills would be worth it.

Or you could just chill out, let the kids play and see what happens. You might get an engineer, you might get a singer, you might get an accountant. It's a surprise in every box.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565152)

You don't have to be overprotective or demanding or anything, but just "chilling out" and letting the kids raise themselves isn't good either
I think you missed the OP's point... reread pls

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (3, Insightful)

piles_of_spam (731247) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565048)

I'm an engineer, and I am a parent of a 4 year old (soon to be 5) and one that's about to be 2. The 2 year old is really comfortable with 'Duplo' (the double size lego sets) as he doesn't have the coordination to manage small parts yet, and there's a choke hazard. The other thing that fits the 2 year old well is the wooden Thomas the train sets. We spend hours building elaborate track sets.

The 4 year old, on the other hand, is helping me to build a wooden spaceship for part of his space themed birthday party in July. He has his own hand tools, but I've also gotten him an electric screwdriver and a small set of hex base drill bits which he uses only under my supervision. It's really fun for me when he specifies design changes with the reason 'After all, daddy, it IS my spaceship.' The tricky part is keeping things moving fast enough to maintain his interest, but still promoting tenacity towards the goal of completing the project and making it cool.

I don't necessarily want to turn my sons into engineers. That would be fine, but I really want them to experience the value of concepts like 'work vs. reward', 'make your own fun', and especially 'turning your own imagination into reality'. No matter what they do, these concepts will take them somewhere. One thing I've learned is that my kids each have a compass needle. They gravitate towards natural abilities and interests, and I want to provide opportunities in those areas, but I also have to bolster the areas they don't naturally excel in.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (3, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565154)

I'm an engineer, and I am a parent

Inconceivable!

For once, that word does mean what I think it means.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565602)

I think it's the second coming.
1) Child works with wood, i.e. a carpenter
2) Virgin birth.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565150)

"Buy them Lego, Meccano (aka Erector Sets), K'Nex, etc... any toy that lets them play in a sandbox with minimal limitations, and particularly any toy that allows the creation of functioning mechanisms "

Fuck yes! Toys that allow children to express themselves instead of "playing someone elses concept" are wonderful.

I still remember the hardwood blocks (2x4"-based, various interesting shapes) I played with,let alone Lincoln Logs, Legos, etc.
I've been a mechanic and techy since I was a young teen (I'm 50 now) and trace my learning curve all the way back to the sandbox.

It's paid well, independence and being able to fix most of what you own is nice, it all goes back to play, and it still IS play. :)

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566904)

I utterly agree with this.

I'm in IT but probably should have been an engineer (computers were the easy way out of doing any work at school, I kind of regret this now) and am a new parent. I think my parents did a good job in this area too, I like how my mind works when it comes to an engineering sense.

My boy is 15months olf now and all I can think about with toys is making sure he gets stuff that will develop what is, to me, practical engineering common sense.

So now I have my wee one and he already 'helps' me build things. He loves using my IXO electric screwdriver and got him a 'black & decker' power tool set of his own. He always holds parts for me and passes them to me and he looks so proud of what he did. He's gonna grow up with 'making things' around him.

He loves his Mega Blocks (Like Duplo) and has recently started putting them together. He loves his wooden 'ABC' blocks - a surprisingly hard thing to find as it's not made out of bleepy plastic, a pet peeve of mine. OK so he still knocks them down rather than stacking them. I recently discovered something called Lincoln Logs which are just a bunch of small wooden pieces to build with. There are 'architectural' blocks too... Blocks blocks & more blocks :)

I remember always taking things apart when I was a kid, building elaborate things with my Lego and dreaming of making robot arms etc. I had plans sketched out for how I'd make the grippers and once I learned trigonometry, I thought I had stereoscopic vision worked out lol. Alas, I did not have the mans to fabricate anything, I so wish I did. In my new house I have a nice workshop as well as a garage so I now have some 'making' space. I want him to be able to fabricate anything he wants when he is old enough, probably cos I wanted it and didn't have it :) Kids imagination is great and if they can actually do something productive with it, even better.

As you can probably tell, I'm loving being a daddy :)

You seem to have the same mindset, you'll love being a daddy too!

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

nbauman (624611) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567418)

Want your kids to grow up with a healthy respect for / interest in engineering? Buy them Lego, Meccano (aka Erector Sets),

It is my sad duty to inform you that Meccano went into liquidation in 1971. Their trademark was passed around from manufacturer to manufacturer like a past-her-prime party girl, and they are now basically Lego kits. The Meccano sets of legend, which ingenious British engineers used to build prototypes in war-torn England, are gone forever. For that matter, the Erector sets are now basically Lego kits. And the Lego kits are now basically parts that you click together to make an unimaginative pre-formed standard plastic toy.

That's why so many of the best engineers in the U.S. are Soviet emigres.

Re:Parents are the Biggest Factor (1)

peterofoz (1038508) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567504)

There are some excellent add-on program to the middle school curriculum such as First Lego League. And it needs parents to volunteer after school to coach the kids and provide judges for the various competition levels, state, regional, national and world (in Sweden). http://www.firstlegoleague.org/ [firstlegoleague.org]

Testing failed (1)

korpique (807933) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564702)

"And not a single house blew down."

That's an F for the testers, then.

Re:Testing failed (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567238)

Yeah, really; take the houses out to the playground where little Jimmy's Dad has brought in his V-8 airboat and let the kids test them to destruction. There will be a long queue of kids wanting to learn engineering then.

Here's the curriculum (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564710)

1) Work harder than almost any other branch of schooling
2) Work for free on the evenings and weekends
3) Do things that no one cares about or appreciates
4) Life-long learning never stops, what about life?
5) Employment opportunities fall drastically after 35, you're too old
6) Watch engineering melt down and get exported to cheaper countries
7) Fuck it, go to law school

Re:Here's the curriculum (3, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564828)

1) Work harder than almost any other branch of schooling 2) Work for free on the evenings and weekends 3) Do things that no one cares about or appreciates 4) Life-long learning never stops, what about life? 5) Employment opportunities fall drastically after 35, you're too old 6) Watch engineering melt down and get exported to cheaper countries 7) Fuck it, go to law school

8) Profit by bringing dubiously generic and obvious patent cases against those daft enough still to be producing something for a living and who won't be able to afford to defend themselves in court.

Re:Here's the curriculum (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565042)

Yes, but that entire way of life is predicated on cheap energy, that is, oil. As energy gets more expensive, we won't be able to support a parasite class any longer.

It'll sort itself out.

Re:Here's the curriculum (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565080)

Yes, but that entire way of life is predicated on cheap energy, that is, oil. As energy gets more expensive, we won't be able to support a parasite class any longer.

It'll sort itself out.

Do you really think that the parasite class will be first to suffer? Eventually they'll go but history shows that they will maintain their lifestyle as the expense of others until the others rebel or die

Re:Here's the curriculum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565168)

Long before oil, some ships were powered by slaves with oars.

Think about that one for a bit...

Re:Here's the curriculum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565686)

Slaves with oars don't have time to sue for virtual reality pixels on a screen.

We won't see slaves again, our civilization won't collapse catastrophically. It'll change, like it has changed before. We no longer live in the Space Age, those dreams are over. That civilization is dead because it didn't have the energy to fulfill those goals.

It became the Information Age society. Eventually we'll become the Energy Efficient Age.

Re:Here's the curriculum (1)

spartacus_prime (861925) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565142)

8) Work harder than almost any other branch but engineering

9) Develop a drinking problem

10) Get schooled by IANAL's on /.

Re:Here's the curriculum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32566724)

OP here, I find it interesting I made it to +3 only to be modded down later. I wonder how many poorly-dressed, 10-year-old-car-driving and underpaid engineers I riled up today?

Truth sucks, huh? Reality doesn't live up to the lies and brainwashing the university served up before you signed on the dotted line?

Re:Here's the curriculum (2, Insightful)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 4 years ago | (#32567166)

This is a sad post, and even sadder that it was marked Insightful.

Yes, there are downsides to engineering, as there is in any industry (although engineers typically only see their own). However, please give me a good problem to solve, and a bunch of smart people to solve it with, over anything that some of the other majors involve. I love solving problems and getting things (software in my case) to work together. Some of my best college memories were the nights my friends and I would stay up and work on a difficult programming problem and achieve a great deal of satisfaction in doing so.

Yeah, there is the money issue (although, there are a number of engineers who have gone on to make a great deal of money), but, as Forrest Gump's mama said, "There is only so much money a man needs, and the rest is for showing off." At some point, you have to decide what is really most important to you and what it is that you enjoy doing.

We did some back in 6th grade (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564742)

Back when I was in 6th grade (about 20 years ago) we did some engineering stuff, both mechanical as well as some electrical. I remember the most fun project was making our own remote control cars that had to battle it out. The intention was to see who could design the best car to push other cars out of the circle, but I remember my partner and I turned it into more of a battlebots experiment where we essentially had a drill on the front of our car to disable the other cars (most were made out of balsa wood). The trick was, we were limited to certain specs, including a max of 4 motors. Most people made the obvious 4 wheeled car, but we opted for a three wheel car that was nice and pointy with the "drill" on the front utilizing the fourth motor.

Fun times...

Nothing new (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564748)

Nothing really new here. "Primitive" societies have involved children in engineering -- boatbuilding, weapons tech, housing construction, medicine, agriculture -- for millenia.

Mod Up (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565470)

"Primitive" societies have involved children in engineering -- boatbuilding, weapons tech, housing construction, medicine, agriculture -- for millenia.

Good point. My brother the anthropologist (and parent of two boys) says much the same. He also says that what we call "multitasking" is not so different from what "primivitive" hunters do in the forest (keep alert to a million little details).

What a waste of tax money! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564778)

The dateline Glen Rock, N.J.. So, they are teaching engineering to kids who live in a state with no factories, with no hope of ever having a factory there again?

The course had better make the kids memorize the sentence, "Do you want fries with that?"

Re:What a waste of tax money! (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564992)

Engineers don't work in factories, troll...

Engineers make the blueprints for things that are fabricated in factories.

People who work in factories are mostly drones or technicians at best (with an occasional engineer to oversee the manufacturing processes and plans for expansion). Working in fast food is almost equivalent to working as an assembly line worker.

Re:What a waste of tax money! (2, Funny)

PriceChild (1138463) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565494)

Engineers don't work in factories, troll...

People who work in factories are mostly drones or technicians at best (with an occasional engineer to...

I don't think you wrote what you meant. Let me edit it for you: "Engineers don't work in factories, except for when they do. Thankyou very much for your input to the discussion, here ends my respectful reply."

Re:What a waste of tax money! (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565668)

Uhmm, wow, quite the breath-taking swing of the logical generalization ax there man. As often happens though, this produces nothing but disconnected bullshit. The manufacturing engineer's at Stryker medical work right on the shop floor with the assembly techs. At ITW the seat heater project involved the engineer working on it hanging in right with us techs while we ran the tests. Civil Engineers are out at job sites to check and approve the results the tech's are getting from the geotechnical testing. The old roll of a P.E. stamping blueprints (prepared by a drafter and not them) is increasingly uncommon. Doesn't mean its a bad life though. Anyone with the intellectual toughness and agility to get an engineering degree is generally going to find an interesting life waiting for them. Just might not be in engineering.

How about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564816)

a kindergarten class on how to remotely manage outsourced labor?

Aren't 6-year-olds kinda old to be getting into IT anyway?

Firecrackers (3, Interesting)

srussia (884021) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564886)

Obviously not something that would be done in school, but playing with firecrackers and other incendiary devices provided me with some engineering insights early on.

Sample objective: achieving maximum height of a projectile using an explosive propellant.

Lessons learned: 1) Use a seamless can (such as an empty butane canister), as normal cans would just blow apart. 2) Set canister in a basin of water to minimize energy loss, with firecracker suspended by the wick through a hole on top.

Results: A couple hundred meters altitude, incredibly low deviation from vertical.

Re:Firecrackers (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565112)

(such as an empty butane canister)

Best way to empty them is to demonstrate PV=nRT.

Summary is confusing... had to read TFA (4, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564888)

(Damnit, what is slashdot coming to?)

Anyways.... fifth graders are not in kindergarten (or at least, they damn well shouldn't be!)

At least the article was a lot less confusing by saying they are teaching it to levels from kindergarten through grade 5.

Not only that, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32567294)

Schools don't compete on a global market. However the students from those schools do. So it isn't out of a need to compete on the market that schools are offering these lessons, it it out of concern that the student won't be equipped to compete on that market.

For a website full of supposedly educated people, the summaries just keep getting worse as time goes by.

Do it Mythbuster Style! (2, Interesting)

Zen-Mind (699854) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564892)

I like the overall idea, but I think they could introduce some "Mythbuster"-type experimentation. First it helps understand the "Hypothesis-Methodology-Test-Conclusion" scientific approach and it also encourages them to be critical of pre-conceived ideas.

Re:Do it Mythbuster Style! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564968)

Plus, explosions keep the kid's interest really effectively.

Re:Do it Mythbuster Style! (3, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565064)

also encourages them to be critical of pre-conceived ideas.

That is not going to fly in the bible belt.

Locally they call it the "Science Technology Engineering Math curriculum", often referred to locally as "The jobs that have gone to India curriculum" or the "future downsized/unemployed of America curriculum".

It seems like a cargo cult, perhaps if we just tried harder to indoctrinate our youth into textile work or manufacturing, then those jobs would have magically stayed onshore ... because, uh ... because we wished really hard.

Which cliches do we want? (0, Troll)

dorpus (636554) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564924)

Will we see more 5th graders "inventing" baking soda volcanoes, solar-powered flashlights, pedal-powered generators, lemon-powered batteries? But of course, we shouldn't forget the cardboard catapults or the salt crystal "jewelry". No doubt, these will save the world some day.

Re:Which cliches do we want? (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565232)

My observations show enviro cliches are more popular now. The more guilt inducingly politically correct the better. If the hypothesis / test / conclusion steps are a bit weak, well, we'll give credit anyway because its so important. That's what I've been seeing.

Besides, someone could get hurt/maimed/killed/sued from doing anything, so its better to just make a poster on the topic of enviro original sin.

Re:Which cliches do we want? (2, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566258)

Yeah exactly. What's even worse is this kind of nonsense is starting to infect mathematics as well! Math classes are filled with tired old cliches like calculating the sides of a triangle or the area of a circle, or learning algrebra. I say get these kids started coming up with a prove for the Riemann hypothesis, then let them go from there.

Absolutely possible, however (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32564954)

In the old days, you went to university at what - 14? However, very few went there.
The "problem" with this is that modern schooling of the social-democratic form has emphasised equality and coherence - hence, the class largely progresses for the first 10 years, up until you can get some differentiation, at the learning speed of the moderate-to-slow student. This is a conscious choice. Not to intentionally "keep people stupid", but because childhood is seen by many as a period to mess around and have fun and learn a bit, and by others that if you separated people in classes by ability it would be a gargantuan step towards a formalised "class system".

I remember in 4th grade, when I finished my class mathematics book in 2 months. What did they give me to do? Page upon page upon page (an I mean literally, something like 5 per maths hour) of questions that were of an IDENTICAL DIFFICULTY so that we wouldn't "progress beyond the rest of the class". One other person in the class was the same (and later ended up at Microsoft, a brilliant programmer but a social wreck), and we would compete for the number of sheets of identical-level calculations we could go through per hour. Not to mention, this caused a level of boredom and anguish at times which was a bit like getting stabbed in the eye and suffering literally a brain implosion, but it was all both planned and justified by the 'egalitarianism' perspective. I believe the US is different from Europe in that you have at least some form of 'bright students classes', whilst this is extremely rare in Europe.

So it's a tradeoff and a decision to make. Will you separate out the brighest students, give them more attention and better tutoring, with the hopes that they do great things for your nation? Or won't you? There are a large number of people in the academic world arguing for either.

Re:Absolutely possible, however (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565706)

Not to mention, this caused a level of boredom and anguish at times which was a bit like getting stabbed in the eye and suffering literally a brain implosion

A little juvenile delinquency made things almost bearable, for me anyway. I spent many an hour in class playing battleship on gridded math paper, and of course many an hour skipping out of school. I quietly read the newspaper and magazines in my high school calculus class. Since the district wanted to graduate kids on time whom failed a couple classes (to save money, I suppose) and I never failed a class, I took quite a few study halls.

Will you separate out the brighest students, give them more attention and better tutoring, with the hopes that they do great things for your nation?

Our local district cut all the funding for the "gifted and talented" program. Do have a nice new athletic field at the high school.

There are a large number of people in the academic world arguing for either.

No, for political reasons, at least here, its almost exclusively on "the social-democratic form" as you call it. Equality of outcomes not opportunities, social promotion, everyone gets a participation trophy, etc.

No more one-off prototypes (4, Insightful)

AmazinglySmooth (1668735) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564976)

Many people consider design of a one-off prototype as engineering, but often real engineering means creating something that can be manufactured, or creating something that can be very reliable, or creating something that can be made cheaply. I have met many PhD's in engineering that only prefer to make a single working prototype just like they did to get their "engineering" PhD. Sure, the technology is cool, but if the target application requires more than one, what good is it?

Re:No more one-off prototypes (4, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565376)

Sure, but one-off prototypes are what get kids fascinated in engineering.

The article talks of fifth-graders (in public school in the US, that translates to about 10-11 years old), at that age you're doing well to keep them interested long enough to complete a one-off and demonstrate that it works, especially in the modern world of passive consumption (TV, video games, etc) calling to them. Having them build a one-off out of Popsicle sticks, string, and duct tape that can lift a 2-pound brick will teach them a lot about material tensile strengths, reinforcement, planning, angles, etc. Most of all, it will teach them that this stuff is way cool, and they'll start experimenting. The ones who start experimenting and remain interested are the ones you choose for an engineering track.

I agree that any applied engineering track should include things like reusing available components whenever possible, emphasizing durability, thinking carefully about ongoing maintenance (eg. don't put consumable or frequently-replaced parts in inaccessible places or make them too hard to remove/repair/replace). I've purchased enough stupid shitty designs (proprietary connectors on digital cameras? In 2010? Really? Seriously?) to agree that you are correct - we need people thinking about cheap mass production, maintainability, and durability.

But an 11-year-old will be fully engaged when he/she has to build something to meet a specific goal. And that usually means a one-off. It's certainly appropriate to emphasize use of standard components (make them available) and to encourage durability in design (make it part of the goal).

By the time you reach a PHD, hopefully you've learned to make and refine designs that are reliable and based on cheaply-available components whenever possible. It's certainly a valid point, and the PHDs that stick purely to one-offs have either slept through some of the most important lessons or they were never offered by their classrooms. But for a 5th grader, you just want to get them thinking about engineering principles, and offer them enough information to explore and want to learn more.

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled. It is a fire to be kindled."
  - Plutarch

At 11 years old, we don't want an engineer. We want someone who is excited about engineering and wants to learn more. We want that kid who sets the butter on fire because he just knew he could fix that radio and didn't get the whole AC/DC thing. (OK, that was me, but you get the point, and I was about 12 at the time).

Re:No more one-off prototypes (3, Insightful)

Nebulious (1241096) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566334)

By your definition, CERN is not a feat of engineering. Engineering, to me, is about systems. It's about taking many separate things making them function together to create something new. The purpose or application is moot. The real challenge of engineering is to account for the endless variables that can affect your product/system, from material properties to failure points. Engineering is the ability to weave the things and information you have to work with as seamlessly as possible. Yes, engineers make products. But they are also coders who work on simulations and so much more.

Re:No more one-off prototypes (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566786)

Not everything needs to be built more than once.

I work in an R&D department for an aircraft manufacturer. Our (the R&D group's) job is to design and support fabrication of facilities and equipment to support ground testing of aircraft and their subsystems. Many of our tasks are short-notice, very-high-priority jobs--it has to be done yesterday, for pocket change and a clump of lint, because the problem is keeping a customer's airplane on the ground. We may often up reusing or modifying our products later on, but we pretty much never build more than one (or rarely two).

In this kind of environment, being able to tweak and perfect something and optimize the production process to minimize repeated waste is almost useless. We're much more interested in someone who knows (or can learn very quickly) how a given system works, be able to visualize the problem, and come up with a working, cheap, fast solution--then communicate that to others and help get it built.

We're problem-solvers specializing in quick-and-dirty, need-it-yesterday applications. It's still engineering; we just work under a different set of constraints.

LEGO League (3, Informative)

ezratrumpet (937206) | more than 4 years ago | (#32564982)

A particularly effective LEGO League coach, when handed a robot by erstwhile middle schoolers, proceeded to pull the robot horizonally. If it came apart, he handed the 'bot back to the team with two words: "Horizontal stresses."

If it held together, he nodded, then pulled the robot up and down. If it came apart, he handed the 'bot back to the team with two words: "Vertical stresses."

If the robot could handle stress, he asked to see what it could do on the scoring table.

He also made sure that there were cookies, sometimes, and drinks.

Good times, those.

Re:LEGO League (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565822)

Early on I prefer shock testing ... bot should withstand a 3-4" drop with no damage.

My team is visited by "Evil Coach Gremlin" as competition approaches...

Got that 'bot mission working? Great, now try it! (Said while putting a book under one corner of the table....)

Got that line following program working .... just a sec, let me turn off the lights. Got that fixed --- great let's cast a shadow over your line.

Great -- that mission worked! Now do it again.

Been there done that (1)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565012)

When I was in grade 5, which was in the late 80ies, we were building lego technics robots and connecting them to Apple IIgs computers and controlling the motors with Apple Logo.

Foreign languages instead (1)

dccase (56453) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565028)

Probably should just teach them the languages of the countries were the engineering work will be done.
It will give them a head start for when they go there to look for work.

Not sure how this helps, but it's a good idea! (1)

ErichTheRed (39327) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565114)

Being a technical person, I'm happy to see any attempt at showing students that science and engineering are interesting.

However, the reality is that there are only a few "growth" professions left on our side of the world:

  • Law
  • Medicine (debatable now, but the professional organizations should keep things stable for a while)
  • Executive management
  • Investment banking
  • To a lesser extent, project management and "consulting"
  • Entertainment and sports

Until "someine" stems the tide of outsourcing, and actually gets people to care about science and engineering again, very few students are going to pursue technical careers. I think it's sad, but the reality is that no one with any decision making authority respects job roles that aren't in the list above.

I don't mean to sound negative - I'd love to see a resurgence of smart, technically minded students come out of school and want to do interesting work. If there aren't jobs and opportunity though, what will come of this? It sucks fo rme too - in my mind people management = adult babysitting, and project management = checking boxes off a Gantt chart and endless begging of people to do things. Increasingly, it looks like that's what will be available to us techies in the future.

Re:Not sure how this helps, but it's a good idea! (2, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565444)

All tertiary sector jobs, and all of them go away, eventually, after the primary and secondary sector go away. So, since we've destroyed the primary and secondary sectors, tertiary should be going away shortly.

Law is not so healthy, no way for recent grads to be hired or pay off their loans. A dying industry.

Medicine will collapse once no one can afford it anymore. We are in in that process, right now.

Exec management is a great solution for approx 0.001% of the population, the other 99.999% can starve, I guess.

Investment banking probably mortally wounded over the last couple years. Only makes financial sense when the net population is pouring money into the stock market via retirement funds... and once the baby boomers retire and start a net pull out of the market, then a decades long bear market and a drought of IPOs is inevitable.

Mismanagement/consulting, well, dead primary and secondary companies don't need managers or consultants, and soon dead tertiary companies won't either.

Entertainment/sports, again a great solution for approx 0.001% of the population, the other 99.999% can starve.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tertiary_sector_of_the_economy [wikipedia.org]

21st century entrepreneurship (0, Offtopic)

dorpus (636554) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565190)

No, don't tell kids to invent useless products, sell lemonade, or deliver newspapers. Teach kids to become health inspectors who demand $10,000 fines from lemonade stands. Teach them to go door to door asking to sign petitions to stop delivery of unwanted "free" newspapers, to save the trees. If they must sell something, teach them to sell bottles of "eco" tap water for $10 each that somehow saves a starving child in Africa. Put a pink ribbon on a $1 box of cookies and sell them for $10, because it will save cancer victims. Have your vacation paid for by asking $1 for every mile you ride on your bicycle, because this goes to a good cause.

Engineering starts with math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565264)

And complex constructions can be built from ideas.

For instance, ask the class what's is the largest parallelogram
(by the area) that can be cut out of a given triangle.

THIS is how you improve education... (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565284)

You give the students an opportunity to work hands-on learning about the real, physical world around them. You give them proper resources and competent instruction in something the kids can relate to, and you wind up with students who want to learn.

You don't get this by just hiring more generic teachers, or paying poorly-performing teachers more money. Yes, you will have to pay teachers more in order to get good ones, but that also means you have to be willing to fire the bad ones and the useless parts of the administration.

You don't get this by just buying computers or random "technology" for students and simply expecting that jsut "doing it on a computer" will suddenly make hard topics easy. Used properly, computers and other advanced tech can greatly improve understanding and retention of material by presenting it in ways students can better understand (with animations, visuals, interactivity, etc), but simply throwing text onto a screen instead of a piece of paper doesn't do it.

You don't get this by social promotion and concern over feelings and self-esteem above all else. The real outside world isn't nearly so nice. That's not to say you need to be a cold, uncaring brute (especially to younger kids), but there need to be gradually-increasing responsibilities and expectations as they get older, and they should be treated more and more like adults as they grow. They need to be challenged, not coddled.

Future Engineers (0, Flamebait)

Cardiomyopathy (1400881) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565304)

How long will it be before these children run into the Christofascist anti-science agenda. If we want our children to be rational thinkers, we need to keep them away from the fish people. We need engineers and scientists who can think critically, not people who think that a book written by ancient crazies has all the answers. "Keep your children away from the fish people." - Frank Zappa

Re:Future Engineers (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565590)

We need engineers and scientists who can think critically, not people who think that a book written by ancient crazies has all the answers.

Hey, that's no way to talk about Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson!

I call bullshit (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565362)

Fifth graders are far too soft and slippy to make anything useful out of.

Should you be teaching Engineering to 5th graders? (0, Troll)

pizzach (1011925) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565384)

I mean Engineering is a professional job. Might as well have a doctor in and teach kids how to do a liver transplant. Then get sued for it when the kids attempt a real one and fail. :3 Stop groaning. You know it's true.

Re:Should you be teaching Engineering to 5th grade (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565522)

Huh. I always thought the point of schooling was to prepare the students for professional jobs.

Re:Should you be teaching Engineering to 5th grade (1)

pizzach (1011925) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566354)

That is the point of college. Everything up to high school mean nothing. This and engineers have special responsibilities on their shoulders and have undue responsibility for their actions. There is a reason you sometimes get an software engineer to program a piece of software instead of a standard programmer.

Already used in the field (2, Funny)

Combatso (1793216) | more than 4 years ago | (#32565538)

This is where BP's ideas are coming from

Doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32565942)

It doesn't matter how rigorous we get our educational system, or how young we teach engineering to our kids (which I think will make their brains blow up!), if we still have a more expensive work force and have international trade agreements that keep America from being a producing nation. Nearly all our electronic stuff will still be made overseas, for cheap.

Re:Doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32566230)

I completely agree. Not every kid can be an engineer, doctor, or lawyer. We need people to clean hotel rooms, change the oil in cars, clean bedpans, server food, etc. Instead of legos, erection sets, etc. - pick up one of those hotel room cleaning caddies or a toy vacuum. Once all the Mexicans are gone someone will have to do these things.

Right-brain work is the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32566130)

...according to author Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Interesting read. He says basically all the things like engineering can easily go to (1) abundance, (2) automation, and (3) Asia (i.e., outsourcing overseas). So we need to focus our educational system on the human side of developing products, such as how a certain product will make the customer feel; ergonomics; user-friendliness; and so on. Those things take creativity, not so much engineering. Or rather, a combination of creativity working with engineering. Imagine that.

Before they can spell it? (2, Funny)

russryan (981552) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566666)

My Dad had a sign on his desk that said, "Siks munths ago I coodnt even spel injuneer. Now I are one."

But you need to make it realistic... (1)

bADlOGIN (133391) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566884)

Start with teachers playing the role of overpaid coke-addicted managers & sales people with no ethics telling them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it (despite knowing less than the 5th graders). Move on to telling them to steal designs and cut corners on safety in order to meet a deadline for the quarterly numbers. Weather they pull it off or not then becomes irrelevant. Tell them they cost too much and that Chinese and Indian 5th graders can do better work for 1/10th of the cost. Send them home without recess or snack. That'll give them the real experience of any sort of engineering in the western world....

I co-ordinate (2, Interesting)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 4 years ago | (#32566930)

An after-school program at my local elementary school where volunteers present on various topics. The presentations are less than an hour long and many have a big hands-on component. The kids clearly enjoy them as do the adults (presenters and attendees) and attendance climbed throughout the series and was pretty even among all grade levels K through 5. The minimum turnout was about 60 children and the maximum was over 90 (out of 380). They were held in the evenings after school. The presentations we started with were
  • The chemical history of a candle (Faraday's lecture)
  • Earthquakes (And what they do to buildings)
  • Your insides (the function of the heart, liver and kidneys with hands-on animal organs)
  • Nature (photos by a local naturalist)
  • Bio-mechanics (examples of levers in animal joints)
  • Scratch programming (inspired by an "ask slashdot" answer)

. There was a write up in the local paper and lots of enthusiasm. I would say that the goals of the program were not so much education as...

  • To involve the community in the school
  • To spark interest in the subjects - each speaker was talking about their passion and that did come across
  • To emphasis that there are many things to engage in locally
  • To emphasis the idea that great results can come from finding something you love to do and working hard at it, genius is not a requirement to do good things

It was a lot of fun and well received. The next batch of sessions will cover:

  • Nothing (The quantum vacuum and symmetry)
  • karate
  • Money
  • Reptile and amphibian diversity
  • 3d computer graphics
  • Astronomy
  • Battle of Gettysburg
  • Chemistry
  • DNA
  • Relativity

.

So far it has not been too hard to avoid the conversation becoming religious, thankfully it has not become a big issue. I think the after school nature of the program and the fact that it covers things that are outside the curriculum releases a lot of pressure. I had intended that the presenters "aim high" with the subject matter and leave the kids that are interested to use their own initiative to find out more; and there is plenty of evidence that this is happening based on reports of classroom discussions and students telling me about the scratch programs they have created. It really is not an intent to directly teach anything, but I have come to believe that there are many subjects that seem unsuitable (such as relativity) but in fact are more hard to believe than hard to understand. I have also come to believe that the single biggest barrier to the schools working well is lack of parental involvement. Getting some parents to come to the school and join in any event is a huge undertaking and I think is the biggest potential benefit of a program like this.

Perhaps we should just get the PTA to open a bar at the school

.

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