Engineering is Cool for Columbia Heights middle schoolers

7:19 AM, May 20, 2010   |    comments
Central Middle School students learn real world engineering
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COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Angel Brown's Engineering Solutions class at Central Middle School in Columbia Heights is a beehive of activity... and learning.

"It teaches us how to, like, get the real thing, all the difficulties having to build the real thing," says 7th grader Gabriel Smertneck as his group shows off a prototype of the project they're working on this term.=, a cardboard chair that can support 200 pounds.

The chair is life-sized, it has to function, and it will be offered up for auction to raise money for charity.

This is one of several engineering classes offered at Central Middle School, and part of an effort to beef up math and science programs, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Education.

"The science and math standards have changed to include more engineering in them," says Principal Mary Bussman.

"This is our first year of having a full time engineering teacher, and in this one year, as we looked at our registrations for next year, we have over 180 out of our 220 kids sign up for engineering at 6th grade," says Bussman.

Brown, and math teacher Emily Christianson determined that students would learn better if they had more hands on projects that would demonstrate math, science and engineering concepts in the new classes.

They partnered with the University of Minnesota to create a pilot program integrating science, technology, engineering and math concepts, more commonly known as STEM.

"Our challenge is, how do you take engineering problem solving and embed it into a classroom," says Brown.

The teachers created the Engineering Solutions class, where students are given an actual project, a client, and even a budget, just like a real business.

"We don't get that in our other classes," says 8th grader, La-Shayla Larson. "It's kind of just book work and writing and stuff."

Not here.  Students come up with a design, then a blue print, a prototype, and eventually a life-sized product, even a marketing plan.

It's all about problem solving, creating, building, and -- remember those math concepts?

"I've noticed  a huge carry over and a connection between the two," says Christianson. "In math class they'll say, 'I remember having this in engineering,' and in engineering, they'll say, 'Hey, we just talked about this in math class last week.'"

Tamara Moore, co-director of the STEM Education Center at the University of Minnesota is pleased by what she sees in the class.

"We're looking at teacher training and student learning in STEM across these disciplines," says Moore. 

This class is part of that effort as the U looks to offer STEM integration for teachers.

Staff at Central Middle School have an even loftier goal for their new emphasis on engineering.

"What I really hope our kids understand is that through the power of their mind, their imagination, along with what they know regarding math and science, formulas... that they can create anything that their mind can create," says Principal Bussman.


Website for students' chair projects

University of Minnesota STEM Education Center


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