Some Iowa schools will incorporate engineering lessons into classrooms to boost creativity, problem-solving skills

Starting this fall, elementary schools in Ames, Iowa will begin integrating engineering into classrooms to challenge students to think creatively and problem solve, with hopes of encouraging more students, especially those of underrepresented groups, to envision themselves as the engineers of the future.

“This is about talking with kids that anyone can be an engineer, and an engineer is like an inventor that has a problem to solve,” said Kari Smith, an Ames math and science teacher on special assignment.

For the start of the 2016-17 school year, 11 elementary classroom teachers and two teacher technology librarians across the district’s five elementary schools have volunteered to participate in this pilot year of using the program Engineering is Elementary (EiE). The funding for the pilot was awarded to Ames with a grant from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. If the pilot year is a success, the district hopes to expand the program to all of its elementary classrooms.

Smith said she was first introduced to EiE this past fall and decided to apply for the funding this spring.

“I thought that’d be something that could work for us because our elementary schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for science instruction,” she said. “Right now we have 30 minutes a day that’s shared for science and social studies.”

Currently, engineering is not taught in the Ames elementary schools. Smith said while some teachers have dabbled with some lessons incorporating engineering, many teachers have not had the training to feel comfortable teaching the subject.

Next page: How engineering is a natural fit for younger students