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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Curiosity Abounds (S&C Editor's Note)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Starting with natural curiosity, the need to make sense of their world, and an overabundance of willingness to try-fail, and try again, our youngest learners are primed to solve problems and create solutions just like engineers. Preschool and early elementary students are constantly faced with inherent problems to solve in their daily lives. Whether it’s learning how to tie their shoes, reaching a water fountain in the hallway, or balancing a lunch tray of food, children are finding ways to make things work!

This month we focus on our youngest learners and how they are engaging in the core idea of engineering design. How are students defining and delimiting an engineering problem, developing possible solutions, and optimizing the design solution? As stated in the Framework, “The actual doing of science and engineering can also pique students’ curiosity, capture their interest, and motivate their continued study; the insights thus gained help them recognize that the work of scientists and engineers is a creative endeavor – one that has deeply affected the world they live in.”

Through frequent engagement with the science and engineering practices (SEP), students will develop as critical thinkers, ready and willing to take on challenges, solve problems, evaluate alternatives, as they communicate findings with observable evidence and supporting data. When a kindergartener can persuasively explain and defend their final design choices for materials used in the construction of a student-designed doghouse that blocks the sun’s light from reaching and warming the interior, they are well on their way to understanding and employing science and engineering practices.

With a focus on engineering, the teacher also has the perfect platform to strengthen perceived “soft” skills such as persistence and collaboration. Persistence has become recognized as a driving force in academic achievement. Creating an environment where student successes are valued and celebrated will help build persistence as well as self-efficacy. Students who feel successful in a task or skill will be motivated to persist and overcome future hurdles. Providing opportunities for collaboration will further allow students to build on self-efficacy as they work together to solve problems and learn to be flexible, creative, and attentive to alternative ideas. These lifelong skills, to believe in self and collaborate with others, can be key to future successes.

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