Engineering for Families

Learning, Learning Innovations, PreK-12

I was one of those kids who grew up watching only PBS. Shows like Reading Rainbow, NOVA, 3-2-1 Contact and Newton’s Apple shaped my young mind until all I could think about was Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Zoology, Science and Technology (it’s fun, you’ll see!). So imagine my delight when I met, at NSTA’s conference last month, the former host of Newton’s Apple, David Heil.

Heil is now president of his own STEM education company, but at NSTA he was demonstrating an awesome program called Family Engineering. Developed by the Foundation for Family Science & Engineering with support from the National Science Foundation, Family Engineering provides resources for elementary age children and their families to learn engineering through inquiry, as well as creativity, teamwork, and collaborative problem solving.

Family Engineering activities and events are designed to be accessible for a diverse audience, and to draw parents into play and inquiry with their children (rather than standing on the perimeter, watching their children). At NSTA, a roomful of us adults got sucked into the challenge of building the tallest tower made of pipe cleaners (with ‘real world’ dilemmas like ‘budget cuts’ – the loss of precious pipe cleaners) and the fastest pen assembly line. The activities give parents and teachers the confidence to encourage kids in engineering, so that no adult ever needs to ruefully say to a kid, “I was never good at engineering,” subtly passing on an attitude of learned helplessness in the face of STEM subjects.

Family Engineering’s books – available in both Spanish and English – and their kits (which contain all the supplies needed for activities) offer a ready-to-go family engineering night, complete with instructions on running a successful event. I thoroughly enjoyed the activities and – judging how hard it was to collect the pipe cleaners from some of us, as we tried just one more idea – others did, too. I highly recommend Family Engineering – as much as I can recommend the books without having used them to run an event myself.

Winifred Kehl

Winifred Kehl

Winifred Kehl is a science communicator and museum exhibit designer in Seattle, WA. She is particularly interested in public engagement with science, accessibility and inclusion, and creative educational projects. You can find her online at www.winifredkehl.com.

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