So much for me blogging consistently all year!
I've now spent the last four months teaching thirty eager homeschoolers introductory principles of engineering. The students range in age with most landing on 14-15 years old. Why am I teaching homeschoolers? In Charlottesville, Virginia, there is a flourishing homeschool community that organizes itself nicely into co-operatives and smaller classes for specialized subjects that parents aren't as comfortable teaching on their own.
For five years I've been a Geometry and Physics instructor, pulling from my Engineering degree at the University of Virginia (thank you, professors). This course is really a work in progress since there's no way to cover all the amazing aspects of the field and this is the first year. I've got five units as guide:
1. Thinking and Learning Like an Engineer
2. Communicating and Collaborating Like an Engineer
3. Knowing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the Design Cycle Like an Engineer
4. Ethical Dilemmas of Engineering
5. Engineering Careers
My husband Dave, who has a master's in teaching, helped me to create a class format that would achieve learning objectives in a fun and interactive way. I provide a brief lecture on a unit topic, followed by an activity illustrating the topic, ending with a class debrief. Students have as their primary aid a bound notebook for reflective journaling. Each week they record diagrams and drawings from class, thoughts, likes/dislikes, suggestions, and things that surprised them from the activity.
Students also complete a second journal entry on an internet resource that I provide that complements the topic.
As an example - for one of our first classes, I combined a STEM concept with a Collaboration concept for Cantilevered Bridges. The lecture time covered center-of-mass, cantilevers, common cantilevers in society and how a successful cantilever can be designed. For the activity, teams of 3-4 students had about thirty toothpicks and gobs of molding clay. The design goal was to make the longest possible cantilever in a set time. Once time was over, students compared their structures with other groups', then had another round to revise and improve. Finally, we recorded lengths and sketches and discussed what worked and what didn't.
A typical student journal from that class might comment on what he or she knew already vs. what was new, what was unexpected, what it was like to work with others, and what successful cantilever design might entail.
The resource link I sent to students as an application was an article about the Quebec Bridge Collapse over the St. Lawrence River. The Quebec Bridge in 1907 was the most ambitious cantilevered bridge project to date, and it failed catastrophically. Students read the link and make connections between the real-life bridge, our activity, group work, and ethics.
We've now had 15 classes in a similar format, with a focal point, interactive project, and then verbal and written reflection.
There are so many other tie-ins that I'd like to include - visits to engineering firms around town, connections to colleges, helping students get internships - I can't do it all, but I want to!