Engineering experts are urging U.S. schools to incorporate the subject in a few novel ways
STEM education–a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math–has cemented its place of importance in U.S. schools and in the global economy.
And while science and math skills remain at the top of educators’ lists, engineering, often called the “forgotten E” in STEM, is equally important in today’s world.
Students need to know what engineering actually is, experts and stakeholders say. What has traditionally been viewed as a stereotypically dry and numbers-heavy career actually has vast applications in today’s workforce. Engineers can specialize in space engineering, special effects, sports, toys and entertainment, and more.
(Next page: Five ways to make engineering relevant and engaging for students)
Sasha Gurke, a chemist and process engineer and co-founder of Knovel, an online technical reference resource for engineers, shared a number of ways educators can demonstrate for students how engineering is engaging and relevant to everyday life.
1. Leverage the role of the internet in finding engaging content. “It’s not a new trend, by any means–we’ve seen more and more online learning. The advantage is that it’s easier to update and it allows for interactivity. Interactivity is a very powerful learning tool for this generation,” Gurke said. Making math more engaging through interactivity is one step in helping students see past the numbers and view math as an engaging challenge.
2. Take advantage of online technical forums. “This is an overlooked resource,” he said. “If social networks are used in this way, they can be enormously helpful and educational.” For instance, if a student is having trouble solving a difficult math problem and can’t find exactly what he or she needs in a textbook or through an internet search, a forum of math experts and professionals may be able to help, and could offer some valuable insight about math outside of school.
3. Create engineering situations and problems that go beyond the book, which require students to go online, seek things out, and find the answer. “In my opinion, this encourages them to research, and they’ll discover new ways of learning,” Gurke said.
4. Use the internet in a more intelligent way. “It’s not just about putting in a keyword and finding an answer, right or wrong, on Google,” he said. “It’s about learning about the internet in a deeper way, and getting more reliable information online, and at the same time expanding your knowledge of the subject matter.” For instance, if students explore engineering concepts and careers online, and have strong research skills, they could become more interested in the subject and seek out additional information that they wouldn’t have discovered had they not possessed those research skills.
5. Find effective, engaging teachers. “You can multiply a great teacher many times by putting him or her on the internet, and that expands his or her reach, too,” Gurke said. Imagine the impact it could make if a student had access to enthusiastic engineering instructions through an online learning platform.