Engineering introduced in elementary school
By Kevin Boneske
BROWN COUNTY – The effort to implement science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM, into a school curriculum begins at the elementary school level in the Pulaski Community School District.
PCSD’s K-5 science curriculum has incorporated the “Engineering is Elementary” (EIE) program, which uses kits designed to help elementary students develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Common items are used to help solve a variety of engineering challenges with this five-step plan to guide students through the projects:
- ASK: What is the problem? How have other approached it? What are your constraints?
- IMAGINE: What are some solutions? Brainstorm ideas. Choose the best one.
- PLAN: Draw a diagram. Make lists of materials you will need.
- CREATE: Follow your plan and create something. Test it out!
- IMPROVE: What works? What doesn’t? What could work better? Modify your design to make it better. Test it out!
Lannoye Elementary School third-grade teacher Linda Gantz said the EIE program gets children excited about learning.
“Some of our kiddos who might struggle with reading and struggle with math, these are the times that those kiddos – it’s amazing that some of those kiddos do better than some of our (high-performing) kiddos with math and reading,” Gantz said. “It just gives them a time to kind of be creative and problem-solve where they’re not tied to a right answer.”
Third-graders at Lannoye Elementary School went through an exercise Thursday, March 15, when oil was placed into a container of water and they were asked the following question: “How might an oil spill affect the ecosystem, and what are some materials, tools and methods we can use to clean it?”
That exercise used a rubber band and yarn to try to contain the spill as well as various materials or tools for removing the oil.
Students then drew what the surface of the water looked like after testing the materials to remove the oil and wrote down their observations about what happened.
Wendy Derenne, who also teaches third-graders at Lannoye Elementary School, said the EIE program includes concepts that children are able to relate to.
“The environment, they got the ecosystem immediately because that they know,” Derenne said. “The experiment gives them that hands-on (experience) and lets them investigate, because I think they thought some materials were going to do better than what they did.”
Third-grader Isaac Sonnenberg said he found a cotton ball worked the best for removing oil from the water’s surface.
“Some materials work better than other materials,” he said.
Third-grader Matt Heck said he learned about how an oil spill can affect the ecosystem and the food web by going through the exercise.
“It’s like hands-on experience,” he said.
With the children working in groups for the exercise, Gantz said they have to communicate and learn problem-solving skills.
“We have nine materials and three people (in a group),” she said. “Everybody’s going to get a turn to do something.”
Other kits that are part of the EIE program relate to plant growth and development, rocks and minerals and sound.
Pulaski’s director of learning services, Jennifer Gracyalny, said the kits used for the EIE program are picked based on the content being covered.
“Almost all of the kits that we use, and we use a different one at every grade level, has a different theme, so it takes place in a different place,” Gracyalny said.