Report from the MakerSpace: Fostering Engineering Mindsets

By September 19, 2023No Comments

Post by Alison Earnhart, MakerSpace Maven

Last week I spent the afternoon with the most amazing kids in Ms. Emily’s class who understand more about teamwork, compassion, and joy than pretty much any adult I know. They are so young, and yet they are already internalizing the engineering habits of mind I try so hard to instill in every student I’ve ever had. I’m embedded in Ms. Emily’s class every Thursday afternoon to bring some engineering and tech to her “Wild and Free” class theme. It is a total blast, and this kind of quality experience so early in the year bodes well for seeing how far we can take our projects and mindsets.

Throughout my teaching career, I do this thing call the “Tower Challenge”. I learned it there from the very first place I started teaching engineering in Austin, TX, and I’ve incorporated it into my repertoire of engineering challenges I do with adults and students alike as a great way to showcase the main aspects of engineering – goal oriented, managing limited resources, collaborating with others, and improvement through iteration. Anyway, all you need to know is that these small humans were building towers with manila folder and tape. And they ROCKED it.

Proud students with a super stable tower.

Never before have I seen so much rooting for peers in this activity. Every kid was literally jumping up and down as they zipped around the room to each other’s towers exclaiming how awesome they were and complimenting each one’s uniqueness and style. There were tall ones and short ones, and not one student seemed to care at all who’s was the tallest. They were just proud of their accomplishments and happy to try to build that tallest thing that they were capable of building. There was no judgement, no competition. In fact, some students even donated scraps of their leftover tape and folder (extremely limited commodities!) to others who needed just a little bit more to finish what they were trying to do. The students with the shortest towers eagerly asked me to measure their height without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame. The kids with the tallest towers were so proud, and used that emotional momentum to cheer for everyone else. IT. WAS. GLORIOUS.

Afterwards, we sat in a circle to talk about engineering and students were falling over each other to tell me how important teamwork is, because “When you combine brain power, you’re all so much smarter!”. I had to hold back tears.

“Draw your interpretation of Engineering”

Then I asked them to draw their own representations about what engineering is and man, I got some bangers. These two are my favorite. I especially love what little Olivia made for me, which combines all four aspects (goals, resources, collaboration, iteration) into one slick logo. These students are clearly natural engineers, and I can’t wait to see how far we can go with building, designing, testing, and improving our projects this year.