The Young Engineers program provides students with problem solving experiences that are not usually available in a standard elementary school curriculum. Students are asked to solve open-ended problems, often spanning multiple class periods, and to document the process they used to solve the problem.
Students are exposed to engineering principles and are encouraged to think like engineers. In the process of completing fun challenges, they learn the steps of design engineering: brainstorming, planning, building, testing, and redesigning. Most projects in this program are completed by groups rather than individual students, so students learn to work together as a team. Most weeks, an additional project is provided for the students to take home and complete with their families.
The Young Engineers curriculum presented in this guide consists of two sessions:
- Session 1 - Building things using strong shapes and simple machines
- Session 2 - Building things that move: Electricity, motors, and gears
In Session 1, students design and build bridges and other structures. They learn how to choose appropriate materials and methods for connecting the materials. Students learn about the physical properties involved in building, including compression, tension, and torque. They learn about potential and kinetic energy while building a roller coaster. Students learn measuring skills and how to safely use simple tools. Students learn about simple machines and complete a project where they use simple machines to solve a design problem.
In Session 2, students experiment with electricity, motors, and gears. They learn how to design and build a circuit, including a circuit with a motor that can be switched to rotate in either direction. They learn about gears, and then build a gear box for the motor that will power a small car that they build and take home. The concepts that they learn while building their cars are then used to design and build an elevator. The elevator project incorporates lessons learned from both Session 1 and Session 2.
Each lesson consists of a hands-on project. The lesson plans includes objectives, a list of materials, a sponge activity for the students to work on while waiting for class to begin, suggestions for initial and final discussion, a project description, and list of vocabulary for the lesson. Alternate lesson plans also include a project for the students to take home to do with their families.
This curriculum guide was developed while teaching the Young Engineers program in the after-school programs at two elementary schools in San Jose, California during the 2005-2006 school year. After the students completed the lessons included in this curriculum guide, they worked on a long-term engineering design project. In groups, the students designed, built, and tested devices that they entered in The Tech Museum of Innovation's annual Tech Challenge competition.
There are no lesson plans included here for the Tech Challenge portion of the program. Each Tech Challenge poses a significantly different problem, and the lessons prepared for this portion of the program do not translate well for future challenges.
This document should be considered a work in progress. Most of the lessons were tested with students, but several changes were incorporated in the lesson plans after testing the lessons. In most cases, the changes have not been tested.
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