Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Elementary!

A chronic shortage of engineering students threatens America’s role as one of the world’s leading innovators. Without bright young minds preparing to solve the problems of tomorrow, our country is left without a diverse group of critical thinkers to resolve pressing issues. In addition, countries such as China and India have far surpassed the quality (engineers with advanced degrees and patents) and volume of engineers that America produces. With education reforms and new test oriented standards, creative thinking and problem solving are becoming less focused on in the classroom, further impeding the creation of American engineers.

Our solution to this pressing problem is to start engineering education in elementary school. When children are ages five to nine their brains are still rapidly developing. Everything they do is new and exciting and they are constantly exploring and problem solving without even realizing it. Similar to the ease at which young children can learn a second language, engineering skills are best taught at a young age. In a way, children are engineering informally all the time by playing with blocks or Legos. By encouraging these explorations in elementary school, we can keep students’ interests’ alive. Describing their activities as "engineering" when they are engaged in the natural design process can help kids develop positive associations with engineering, and increase their desire to pursue such activities in the future. In addition, starting in the lower grades will help level the playing field for minority students who have historically been underrepresented in engineering. Above all, engineering at the elementary level will lay a foundation for all students in important subject areas, and help to generate the next generation of problem solvers and world leaders.