Beth Cady Senior Program Officer National Academy of Engineering

Engineering is Local

PostedWednesday, August 2, 2017 at 1:57 PM

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, MN, that killed 13 people and injured many more. That tragedy sparked a nationwide conversation about shoring up the US infrastructure, but for some kids in the Twin Cities area it inspired interest in an engineering career, and local universities still use the event and some of the artifacts from the bridge as teaching tools. Although nationally well-known events can provide powerful context to educational resources (e.g., completing an activity to build a levee or designing disaster-proof shelters in the years after Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, designing water filtration systems after seeing coverage of the Flint, MI, debacle) PreK-12 educators can also use local events and context to inspire students and promote understanding of engineering. Although for the most part engineering lessons are similar across the country, students in Florida will be far more affected by activities about adapting to sea level rise than students in Kansas, while the latter students will relate better to lessons about mitigating the effects of tornados.

And not all the learning opportunities need to be disasters of some kind. Educators in the Washington, DC, area can use Nationals Park as an introduction to green infrastructure and sustainable development before lessons on urban storm water management. Educators near Boston or Norfolk, VA, among other cities, can use summer harbor events to encourage students to build boats (and could do field trips to local parks to test them). Educators living anywhere near these tall structures can use them as a starting point for designing the best possible bungee jump experience.

What local context or events have you used in your classroom? Log in and let us know!

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  • Cary  Sneider

    Posted 4 years and 2 months ago

    I've found that using an emergency scenario as the context for a design challenge makes a big difference for some students. One of the important attitudes that we'd like students to acquire is that STEM is useful, not just for society in general, but for them in particular. I've had students say "Hey, this is really great. I know how to purify water using just what I can find around the house in case there's an earthquake and water is no longer coming out of the tap." You've listed some great resources, Beth!
    • Beth  Cady

      Posted 4 years and 2 months ago

      Thank you Cary! I like the idea of using emergency scenarios and challenging students to design something that can mitigate or prevent the effects of the disaster. Very motivating!