This spring, many RCLS students have learned about American cartoonist Rube Goldberg and his cartoon drawings, sculptures, and "inventions." Goldberg (1883-1970) is best known for his captivating cartoons that depict complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks. Goldberg’s oeuvre lends itself to physics and engineering units of study and applications, something the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest fosters in an annual competition. At RCLS, enrichment students in grades 1-8 had the opportunity to immerse in such a study by first considering Goldberg's and other creators' plans and possible solutions to complete a task or solve a problem using simple machines. After this consideration and a study of various types of simple machines, students were ready to design their own Goldberg-style inventions. Now, students are in the application phase of this unit of study as they think of a task or problem to solve and then draw a plan using a series of steps and simple machines. Students thoughtfully construct these steps and machines using recyclable, household materials, then test their Goldberg creations to see if the task was completed and/or the problem solved. Those who succeed, celebrate! And those who identify a glitch in their creations redesign, reconstruct, and try, try again. This is a hands-on physics and engineering unit with many stages that include planning, building, and testing.
There is good reason for such a unit of study. Curriculum standards are changing. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) now integrate engineering into every grade level from kindergarten through grade 12. In a recent article in Principal magazine entitled “Every Child Is an Engineer,” the New York Hall of Science president Margaret Honey discusses changing curriculum standards and the need for additional teacher preparation. Ms. Honey explains that often teachers feel ill prepared in terms of knowledge and materials to meet these new standards. During a recent curriculum review, RCLS educators studied ways to incorporate engineering units into each set of standards across the kindergarten through grade 8 science curriculum. The RCLS science curriculum revisions, coupled with the development of a CreatorSpace room that stores tools and materials and provides a flexible working space, has resulted in RCLS students receiving these rich lessons more regularly.
In her Principal magazine article, Honey explains that engineering is not a course or a lesson but rather a mindset. “At its core,” she notes, “engineering is a systematic practice for solving problems.” As students work to develop solutions to real-world problems, they are building their creativity, ability to think critically, and communication and collaboration skills. Even more, engineering tasks “alig[n] with how young children think about and explore the world around them.” In other words, by offering opportunities for creation, building, and problem solving––opportunities for engineering––an educator taps into learning experiences that are naturally engaging (and therefore conducive to knowledge creation) for children. One only needs to peek into the CreatorSpace at RCLS these days to give evidence to the fact that engineering tasks are engaging, indeed. There is a lot of learning going on in that beloved space!
Here at RCLS, we are committed to keeping up with curriculum changes, in part because those changes often reflect the demands of the marketplace. Still, our primary concern is each individual child—yes, to prepare him/her for future learning and vocation, but to do so by fostering a broad skillset and an ability to think critically and work collaboratively. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than others. We are mindful of this, but whether or not a child will end up working in a STEM field, in the foundational Preschool-Grade 8 years, engineering tasks and units of study serve to develop the whole child and to generate knowledge creation, writ large.
And, ultimately, that’s what we’re about here at RCLS: the whole child. Knowledge creation. Creativity. Confidence. Critical thinking. Collaboration. These are certainly valuable skills for future engineers, but they are also valuable skills for life.
Honey, M. (2018, Jan/Feb). Every Child is an Engineer. Principal. Retrieved from www. naesp.org.