Program designed to provide teachers with knowledge to effectively teach engineering concepts to students
KENT CARLSON, DIRECTOR | MINNESOTA CENTER FOR ENGINEERING & MANUFACTURING EXCELLENCE
The Minnesota Academic Standards in Science, which organize and outline the science content that should be taught in grades K-12, were created by state educators in an effort to ensure that Minnesota schools are producing scientifically-literate students. When these standards were revised in 2009, for the first time they placed a significant emphasis on engineering. In particular, grades four and six are rich with engineering content. While this new emphasis on engineering is a welcome addition from the standpoint of STEM education, it creates a problem: most K-12 teachers have little or no training in engineering concepts. In an effort to address this problem, two Minnesota State Mankato professors, Jeffrey Pribyl (Chemistry) and Winston Sealy (Engineering), have teamed up with the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (MNCEME) and created a “Teach the Teacher” program designed to provide teachers with the knowledge they need to effectively teach engineering concepts to their students.
In June 2013, Pribyl and Sealy held a three-day Teach the Teacher workshop at Hilltop Elementary School. Hilltop is a STEM-focused school for grades four and five that serves Le Sueur and Henderson. Participants in the workshop included classroom teachers from both grades, specialists, and the principal. Also participating were the Minnesota State Mankato teacher candidates that were assigned to Hilltop Elementary to student teach for the 2013-14 school year. The involvement of as many of the school staff as possible allowed for great conversations about how each area could support the engineering standards in the curriculum, rather than creating a situation in which teaching these standards is the sole responsibility of just a few teachers. For instance, the music teacher found a number of connections to the engineering standards that she could help support while teaching the music curriculum.
The workshop delivered engineering content through lectures, but also through hands-on activities: the teachers learned engineering concepts by deconstructing toasters, building motors, and designing and building small catapults that had to meet certain performance criteria. Time was also set aside in the workshops for Pribyl and Sealy to assist the teachers in their engineering curriculum development. Finally, the workshop included tours of the MTU Onsite and Cambria plants to give the participants a glimpse of these engineering concepts at work.
Feedback from the Hilltop participants was very positive. Delivery of this workshop at a different school in summer 2014 is currently in the planning stages.