International Space Station, courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ve had mixed feelings about some engineering curricula designed for the under-12 set.  There are an awful lot of lesson plans available on-line that have big ideas (space exploration, zero-gravity adaptation) and big words (ecliptic, aphelion) but when you get right down to it, the students aren’t building space suits or improving solar panels; they’re measuring evaporation in a tin pan (I made this example up to protect the hard-working institutions that also sometimes turn out great materials).  Besides the feeling of “bait and switch,” this is also disappointing because it fails to help students or teachers make sense of what engineering is, and why it’s not the same as science.

So I was intrigued to find a link to Engineering is Elementary recommended by Mark Guzdial in response to the post “Teaching Engineering Thinking” at Gas Station Without Pumps.  The contexts are smaller (design an alarm circuit, design a bridge) but in those lessons, students are going to design and build and alarm circuit or a bridge.  They’re also going to assess their creations and improve them based on the assessment.  The language is simple and every lesson’s title start with “Designing a …”, except the ones that start with “Making a …” or “Improving a …”.  There’s a table-top mag-lev system in there.  I don’t know anything about these products — cost or effectiveness or ease of use.  But when some projects for elementary school students make me think “Oh, I want to do that one,” it makes me curious.

If you’ve used them, what are they like?  Could I use them with a Brownie troop (6-8 year olds)?  Could I use them for my adult students when we need something light as a break?  If you try them out, please let me know how it goes.