Children's Engineering Initiative
What We Do
Digital Fabrication as the Centerpiece of Elementary STEM Education
The School of Education & Human Development’s Children’s Engineering Initiative takes a more integrative and transformative approach – by focusing on the elementary grades and placing engineering at the center of an integrative approach to problem solving, analysis, planning, and innovation that draws on math, science, and technology.
Project Status: Closed
There is no question that the nation’s need to foster advanced learning in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) is a fundamental challenge for education. Schools have begun to address this challenge through curricular reform and teacher preparation. These efforts largely have focused at the middle and secondary school level, and for the most part concentrated on the separate STEM disciplines.
The UVA EHD Children’s Engineering Initiative takes a more integrative and transformative approach – by focusing on the elementary grades and placing engineering at the center of an integrative approach to problem solving, analysis, planning, and innovation that draws on math, science, and technology.
Changing How STEM Is Taught in Elementary Schools
The UVA EHD Children’s Engineering Initiative aims to fundamentally change how the STEM disciplines are approached in the nation’s elementary classrooms and how teachers are prepared and supported to facilitate student learning and development in this new learning space. Our plans for this transformative learning space center on digital fabrication as the mechanism for integrating the STEM disciplines in an elementary school classroom.
Digital technologies can now translate electronic designs into physical objects through computer-controlled fabrication systems. Digital fabrication is a project-based learning activity that maps to skills in mathematics (e.g., geometry; computation), science (e.g., content knowledge in the area of fabrication; experimentation), technology (e.g., hardware; software-hardware interface; computer programming) and engineering (e.g., complex problem solving, planning, analysis, application of knowledge), all in a project-based team setting.
The goals of this project are to:
- increase elementary teachers’ competence and interest in teaching STEM content, specifically the mathematics that underpins engineering proficiency, through introduction of digital fabrication in preservice and inservice teacher education and math content courses, and
- increase elementary children’s competence in mathematics while simultaneously increasing their interest in engineering and STEM careers by engaging and supporting teachers.
Students will have the motivating and satisfying experience of taking their concepts from mind’s eye to physical form. This new model-building approach will engage a broader population than by traditional paper-and-pencil methods. This infrastructure will incorporate the latest thinking from the National Academy of Engineering concerning balancing scientific inquiry with design experiences.
Four Essential Components
The infrastructure developed to accomplish this goal includes four essential components of:
- an online digital fabrication library and collaborative space
- a curriculum
Teachers’ enjoyment of materials creation will be used to introduce engineering design concepts and associated mathematical content. Based on this experience, teachers will introduce engineering and mathematics to elementary students in an engaging context. This engaging context, in turn, will support the development of crucial attitudes, skills, and concepts that encourage and support interest in STEM-related careers.
This initiative will investigate whether an engineering design curriculum based on digital fabrication can successfully increase teachers’ engagement with engineering, mathematics, and related competencies. The project also will examine whether increased teacher engagement and competence produces a positive impact on students, boosting their performance and engagement with engineering and mathematics and, subsequently, students’ interest in STEM careers.