Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fairy Tale Engineering

Studying Engineering Before They Can Spell It NY Times Article

I read this article in the NY Times about children studying engineering in conjunction with fairy tale stories and was surprised to find people had written this was a new idea. It is just not done enough. I think it is great to see teachers taking a story children have a natural interest in, like The Three Little Pigs, mentioned in this story and then finding a way to use the story to teach material from a different subject area. Examining the engineering behind the pigs’ house structures and the damage the homes could withstand is great teaching and learning. One criticism in the article is that it could not be “real” engineering. Well how do students get to real engineering? They arrive there by learning proper science exploration skills. How do we get them there? We engage them in cross-curricular projects that build on interest generated during one class period to explore new skills during another lesson. Instead of spending time generating interest in studying the science lesson of the day, the interest is already present. Kids want to know more about what happened in the story.

Those concerned about proper engineering and science skills taught in these lessons should volunteer with their local schools to help maintain the science principles written into these programs. Most schools could benefit from professional mentors from the science and engineering worlds. However, I am always encouraged to see schools taking on more science and combining it with other curriculum areas rather than avoiding it. The goal should be outcomes and when schools can demonstrate student achievement of curriculum goals, alternative curriculum approaches should not be an issue.

Instead of criticizing the program, one would think critics would be looking for ways to make the program stronger. We have long seen the benefits of engaging students in cross-curricular fairy tale projects in math and social studies. When kids want to know the answer, they are more motivated to look for one. People have used fairy tales to teach upper elementary students about our court systems and engage in math explorations. It seems logical to harvest fairy tales for science exploration.

Picture Credit: ewen and donabel

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