A novel approach to engineering

A voice crackles over the intercom, calling for the attention of all engineers in the building. However, the listening ears belong, not to adults, but to the students of Bermuda Elementary in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The students at Bermuda were about to participate in the first of many all-day builds as a part of an initiative headed by Christine Ries, the district’s elementary science instructional coach.

In the spring of 2015, Ries applied for Emerson’s Gold Star Grant program to bring engineering to one elementary school in the district. With the help of the staff at the Institute for School Partnership at Washington University, Ries selected an innovative program developed by Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach as the focus of her grant.

The program, Novel Engineering, gives young learners the opportunity to step into the shoes of an engineer through literature. The program challenges students to read a book and then work to solve the problems of the characters in the story through engineering.

Emerson awarded Ries and the school with $15,000 in order to train every teacher and provide supplies for ten engineering projects over the course of the school year.

A student at Bermuda Elementary tests out part of his Novel Engineering project for the book “The Snowy Day.”

For the first project, students read The Snowy Day, a story of a young boy and his adventures after a big snowfall. The students got creative. Throughout the classrooms and grade levels, the engineering projects ranged from a hat to protect the character from falling snow to a remote-controlled drone that could drop snowballs during a snowball fight.

“It was daunting at first,” said Melissa Henderson, a Kindergarten teacher at Bermuda. Henderson said that before doing the training for Novel Engineering, she didn’t know how she could make engineering kid-friendly.

Although Henderson felt skeptical at first, she said that once she went through the training, she realized just how doable it would be for her students. As for her fellow Kindergarten teacher Kimberly Berry, she was on board from the start.

“I was very excited,” Berry said. “Science and math can seem difficult, but if you build a foundation at a young age, then later they will realize that they’re already doing it and being successful at it.”

For Ries, she hopes that this program will be transformational for both the teachers and the students at the school.

“I would love to have the staff at Bermuda become Novel Engineering leaders and share what they learned with other teachers in the district to make this program more widespread,” Ries said.

“Novel Engineering creates an excitement to strive to become problem solvers, which in turn will help our students become leaders in innovation.”

September 2015   |  by, Gennafer Barajas

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