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Building the engineers of the future

LEGO Education offers advice on how to encourage creative young minds and how to introduce engineering into the classroom

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 27, 2016 | Secondary

Almost everything you see and use in the world today was invented by an engineer or someone who had creative problem solving skills. We often take the modern conveniences we use every single day for granted and forget that an engineer made them possible. Often, children won’t even consider the prospect of becoming an engineer and developing the inventions of tomorrow, and even if they do, they may not feel that they have the skills to do so. So how can we encourage and nurture the potential engineers of the future?

It has been said that many prospective scientists develop their love for the subject around the age of 11, and the experiences that students have during secondary school will most likely determine the path they take moving into further education or a future career. Science and engineering drove the industrial revolution, helped us to develop computers and more recently brought about the introduction of Internet communications, but despite this, the industry lacks a certain glamour, leading to decreasing engagement and a potential shortfall of technical professionals.

Very few modern professions work in isolation, and certainly in STEM-related careers you’ll find yourself working with a variety of people with different talents and personalities

So how can we address this? Well, in short, we need to help students see what it means to be an engineer first-hand – we need to make it real for them. Young children are naturally curious about the world around them, but our tendency to teach them to memorise facts and figures may damage this, causing them to become disengaged with the subject, labelling it “boring” or “difficult”. A large part of students’ learning is based in creativity, engaging multiple senses to take on problem-solving activities, and as educators, we need to provide an environment that promotes this active enquiry and real-life learning. If you look at any truly stunning innovation, you’ll find creativity at play.

This is where practical activities come in. By getting hands-on with their work, students are far more able to understand the real-world applications of the theories behind it than they would be just writing formulas and drawing diagrams. By building tangible solutions that provide measurable results, students can easily understand how seemingly abstract concepts work in practice, and this is further reinforced by doing so through the process of a real scientific enquiry: hypothesis, methodology, results and analysis. For example, when examining the topics of speed, distance and time, you could challenge students to design, build and programme a robot that will travel a specific distance. Once they’ve managed this, they could then be asked to explore how long it would take the robot to travel this distance at various speeds. This way, the theory is being taught, but in a creative, trial-and-error scenario.

By implementing practical teaching resources in the classroom, student engagement will improve, simply because it helps to make the learning process fun and inspiring

Another key benefit of this type of learning is that it lends itself to teamwork and collaboration. Very few modern professions work in isolation, and certainly in STEM-related careers you’ll find yourself working with a variety of people with different talents and personalities. Engineers may have to work with physicists, chemists, mathematicians, designers, business teams, and a wide range of others in a single project. Encouraging students who wouldn’t ordinarily work together to collaborate can be a great introduction to this environment, as it requires open communication and the ability to compromise. This ensures that everyone’s talents are considered and the best possible outcome is achieved – much like what would be required in a real engineering business.

By implementing practical teaching resources in the classroom, student engagement will improve, simply because it helps to make the learning process fun and inspiring. It’s no secret that when young people are enthusiastic about their learning, they foster greater interest, they learn more and they learn well, storing that all-important information in their long-term memory. While this still helps them to prepare for their exams, it also provides them with inspiration. This could be in the form of long-term education goals or even future careers. Today’s students are, after all, the change-makers of tomorrow, and we need to help them realise their potential, so that they can see that they are capable of real progress and achievement.

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