As a first grade teacher, I always stress the importance of vowels in a word. I tell the children that a vowel is the peanut butter that holds the sandwich (letters) together. Well, that is true for the engineering component of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It is the vital element that makes the combining of math, science, and technology relevant.

Because engineering seems to be a complex concept for the younger ones, I often see wonderful STEM type lessons, with or without an engineering component, introduced mainly as a scientific or math experience. ENGINEERING IS A HARD CONCEPT TO EXPLAIN, EVEN FOR ME! So, I did some research.

BEST DEFINITION: This definition came from the American Society for Engineering Education website called Engineering, Go For It. "Engineers solve problems using science and math, harnessing the forces and materials in nature. They draw on their creative powers to come up with quicker, better, and less expensive ways to do the things that need to be done." In other words, it is necessary to help children make the distinction between math and science problem solving, and stress how engineers derive the problems they need to solve from the real world around them, and how they use math, science and technology as tools to solve them. They also use tools such as creativity, curiosity, logic, organization, and cooperation to get things done.

  • An engineer is curious. They want to know how things work.

  • An engineer is creative. They need to think outside the box.

  • An engineer uses logic and organization as a problem-solving approach, which is where science, math and technology come in handy.

  • An engineer often works cooperatively with others to get things done.

Another challenge for teachers is that there are many different, varied engineering fields. An engineer is not just about the lone man in the hard hat. An engineer may be a woman, and they may work together in a group. It may vary from solving problems of erosion, of designing medical devices, of improving detergent, of space technology, and much more.

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