Plugged In

Engineering is Elementary lets kids – and their teachers – experience the extraordinary wonders of engineering

Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Posted by
Sarah Imholte

Engineering is Elementary

Happy National Engineers Week!

The Science Museum celebrates the power of engineering all year long, but this week in particular, we're excited to share the success of a nine-year partnership with the Cargill Foundation that delivered hands-on engineering education to dozens of elementary schools throughout the Twin Cities metro area and continues to reach more than 15,000 students each year.

The Engineering is Elementary® (EiE) curriculum is a research-driven, multidisciplinary curriculum that engages students in engineering and technology concepts through problem-solving, inquiry, and innovation. Developed by the Museum of Science in Boston and delivered locally by the Science Museum, EiE combines hands-on experiences with real-world applications, showing students that engineering plays an important role in their everyday lives in very powerful – and sometimes unexpected – ways.

EiE has dramatically changed the way engineering is taught in the classroom. “Engineering is Elementary is really powerful because it integrates engineering with other content,” says Emily Poster, program developer for Engineering is Elementary at the Science Museum. “Students are not only learning engineering and growing their skills in problem solving and design, but they’re also strengthening the application of their science content knowledge. And teachers tell me that these engineering lessons have provided a spark for many students who really struggle in school, giving them the inspiration and tools they need to succeed and become leaders in their classrooms.”

In our science and technology-rich world, the need for STEM literacy is greater than ever before. The Science Museum and the Cargill Foundation share a commitment to science education and preparing today’s kids for the demands of an ever-growing, STEM-heavy job market, making them natural partners for a project that reaches into Minnesota schools and shows kids the possibilities of studying engineering.

A nine-year partnership with powerful results
Starting in 2009 with a $5 million grant from the Cargill Foundation, the partnership allowed the Science Museum to bring the curriculum into every elementary school in Minneapolis and Hopkins over a four-year period. By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, the curriculum had reached nearly 10,000 students – virtually every third, fourth, and fifth grader in the Minneapolis and Hopkins Public School systems, as well as 400 teachers, 91 percent of whom reported never having taught engineering before. Over those four years, EiE became an integrated component of the science curriculum, leaving the schools well-positioned to continue its implementation well into the future.

In November 2013, Cargill renewed its support of the initiative, and the Science Museum launched EiE residencies, family events, and teacher professional development programs at several more elementary schools in the area, expanding into schools in Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center. Between 2015 and 2018, the partnership allowed the project to expand into the Richfield Public Schools and the Harvest Network of Schools. It also integrated EiE into kindergarten and first grade curricula.

Thanks to the partnership between the Cargill Foundation and the Science Museum, thousands of students have participated directly in museum-led EiE residencies, where instructors from the Science Museum use the curriculum in classrooms, providing engaging and effective student engineering experiences while at the same time modeling the training for teachers. Thousands more have benefitted from the teaching strategies that educators acquired through the program’s teacher professional development programs. Nearly 900 teachers have been trained through the EiE project’s residencies and teacher workshops. These teachers have reported feeling confident and well-prepared to teach engineering.

Students who participated in EiE demonstrated significant increases in science and engineering achievement. Extensive analysis has shown that these academic gains are consistent regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. These same students demonstrated significantly increased positive attitudes about STEM and the potential of STEM career choices.

The districts involved in the project have made a firm investment and have demonstrated their commitment to the curriculum, pledging to continue teaching EiE in future years.

Partnership gives rise to an innovative new project
Even more exciting is the future of the partnership. Fueled by the success of the EiE partnership, the Cargill Foundation and the Science Museum are embarking on a new project called InspireCT.

Minnesota currently faces significant opportunity gaps in technology education. Most learners use technology predominantly for passive content consumption, and relatively few are using technology in active, creative ways to fully support their learning. InspireCT will implement district-wide programs to help students develop computational thinking skills like persistence, collaboration, and communication. It will also build capacity and confidence in educators to incorporate technology into their teaching in new and innovative ways.

The goal is to reach every elementary student in partner school districts, while prioritizing effective engagement with students traditionally underrepresented in computing and other STEM careers. 

The lessons of the EiE project will inform the development and delivery of this new curriculum that focuses on computational thinking. The program will expand students’ confidence in their ability to address complex problems. It is designed to ensure that Minnesota students are prepared for college, careers, and full civic participation

“Giving teachers the tools to think outside of the box on innovative thinking is so critical,” says Melissa Leick, Vice President of Human Resources for Cargill Animal Protein and a trustee at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “They’ve told us that they believe that their participation in programs like these has really enhanced their teaching capabilities.”

Following the same model as EiE, InspireCT will put Science Museum instructors in local classrooms to model the computational thinking curriculum with students, helping educators develop a deeper understanding of what that instruction looks like.

Thank you, Cargill Foundation, for your generous support of the Science Museum's outreach to Minnesota schools! 


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