ENGINEERS AND PBS TELEVISION SERIES -- ZOOM -- Seminar Photos »
COMBINE FORCES TO TEACH ENGINEERING CONCEPTS
Tell a six-year-old that elasticity relies on a key principle of engineering and expect eyes to glaze over. Let that child make a mini-bungee jump by putting an egg in the toe of a nylon stocking to test how far it can drop before it splatters, however, and consider it a lesson in engineering learned.
Messy? Maybe, but it suits the aims of the organizers of National Engineers Week 2002 just fine. In an effort to reach an ever younger audience, namely six- to 12-year-olds, the National Engineers Week committee, a consortium of more than 100 engineering societies and corporations, is launching a new educational program, ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING. Based on ZOOM, the daily PBS television series and Web site produced by WGBH Boston, the program will teach children the essence of engineering through hands-on experiments, such as the bungee egg and other fun activities. To kick off the program, National Engineers Week 2002 co-chairs the American Society of Civil Engineers and DuPont hosted a training seminar to hone the teaching skills of engineers on October 15 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
Led by WGBH educational staff, the seminar brought together more than 80 volunteer engineers from 24 states. The meeting was the first step in creating ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING workshops and events nationwide to reach kids with the message of what engineers do every day -- solve problems using science and technology. The "train-the-trainer" seminar participants will now fan out across the country to train other engineers to teach the program.
It is widely recognized that the earlier children embrace science and math, the more likely they will maintain an interest leading to more rigorous studies in years to come, including engineering courses in college. Engineering corporations and societies say that could help address the critical need to substantially increase the number of engineers in America.
It's an enormous challenge. Engineers can readily share insights on their work with adults, for example, but dealing with youngsters presents several hurdles. At the summit, engineers were first asked to think like a six- to 12-year-old, and were led through an explanation of how kids think differently as they mature and gain experience. Five- to eight-year-olds, for instance, have difficulty working in groups and grasping abstract ideas. By the time they are 10, however, they can analyze data drawn from experiments, understand another person's perspective, work well in groups, and realize that there is often more than one "right" answer.
Seminar participants were also given tips on how to organize workshops and events. Tight school curricula schedules and time-consuming workplace factors led seminar organizers to encourage engineers to schedule workshops after school -- when programs like this are in high demand -- or on weekends at libraries or technology museums.
Of course, the cornerstone of an effective hands-on program is finding children to participate. Local boys and girls clubs, for example, provide an ideal audience. Other recommendations include setting up events at public venues such as malls, with activity stations, testing zones, video monitors, and engineer facilitators.
Yet, the organizers say, it's important to stress that ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING is more than just fun, it's educational. The activities help prepare children with knowledge and practice skills required to reach national content standards for scientific inquiry and technological design.
To assist engineers in the program, WGBH and National Engineers Week have produced 7,000 ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING toolkits, each containing an Activity Guide, CD-ROM, video, and giveaways. The guide details eight hands-on activities for use at ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING events which were presented at the seminar, and information on engineering websites and other National Engineers Week programs such as Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. The CD-ROM contains additional resources, a training tutorial, and printable files of Activity Guide projects.
ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING was inspired in part by the partnership established between the American Society of Civil Engineers and WGBH Boston to teach middle-school children basic civil engineering principles through hands-on activities and by exploring local civil engineering construction. The curriculum was developed by WGBH and based on the PBS-series, Building BigTM, which aired in October 2000.
Engineers at the Washington ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING summit were excited about the prospects of the program. "This is a great way for engineers to get involved in the community," said Peter Schkeeper, a professional engineer in Red Bank, New Jersey. "Engineers will enjoy spending a few hours with students. The ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING activity guide and CD-ROM, along with the television series, give us everything we need to effectively teach and facilitate."
ZOOM, which begins its fourth season in January 2002, will include science segments in all 20 new episodes. The segments revolve around three categories -- kitchen chemistry, biomes, and things you build. Targeted to children ages six to 12, ZOOM features a diverse cast of seven kids who bring to life activities sent in by viewers across the country.
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ZOOM Into Engineering toolkits are available for $25 from National Engineers Week, 412-741-1393, or online through the "Product Catalog" section of this Web site. In addition to the Activity Guide and CD ROM, the toolkit also contains a video showing clips of the ZOOM cast doing the activities, and 50 ZOOM pencils and balloons.
ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING is a partnership of WGBH and National Engineers Week. National Engineers Week 2002 chairs: DuPont and the American Society of Civil Engineers. © 2001 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. ZOOM and the ZOOM words and related indicia are trademarks of the WGBH Educational Foundation. Used with permission. ZOOM is produced by WGBH Boston. Funding for ZOOM is provided by the National Science Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, National Engineers Week (February 17-23, 2000) is celebrated annually by thousands of engineers, engineering students, teachers and leaders in government and business. In 1990, the National Engineers Week consortium expanded its scope and now includes more than 100 engineering, scientific and education societies and major corporations dedicated to increasing public awareness and appreciation of technology and the engineering profession.
Founded in 1852, ASCE represents more than 123,000 civil engineers worldwide and is the nation's oldest engineer society. In 2002 ASCE is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
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To see photos from the seminar, click here