Elementary Engineers grew out of spending six years working with Charleston teachers, families, and children both in and out of the classroom. Our team observed that teachers, families, and children enjoy learning rich in meaning and deep in thinking; but often lack the time, money, or community support to make it happen. Decision makers and researches extol the virtues of such learning, often characterized by student-directed learning, cross-curricular study, and hands-on exploration of material, but rarely address the realities of time and resources.
Our team began to realize that we could use our expertise as educational researchers, our first-hand knowledge of Charleston elementary schools and the communities they serve, and our position within the Afterschool and Summer Learning Resource Center at the College of Charleston to help teachers, families, and students overcome many of these barriers. Thus, we created Elementary Engineers and its three programs: Elementary Engineers In The Classroom, Elementary Engineers Teacher Workshop, and Elementary Engineers Summer Enrichment Program.
Each Summer, we prepare teachers to implement an Engineering is Elementary™ (EiE) unit from the Museum of Science, Boston. There are 20 hands-on engineering design challenges to choose from. Each unit tackles a different engineering challenge from building a water filter for clean drinking water to designing a hand-pollinator when insects are not around to do the job. Teachers choose one that aligns with the science standards they teach. No matter the topic, each unit requires students to: ask questions; define the problem; imagine solutions; develop plans; create models; and improve their thinking based on analysis and interpretation of data. Such learning and teaching practices, are critical in building and promoting crucial 21st Century Skills (i.e. critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration) with our students. In addition to learning about the curriculum, teachers have the opportunity to discover valuable community resource, discuss effective integration of field-trips, and lesson plan for the coming school-year.
In The Classroom
Elementary Engineers In The Classroom helps teachers to extend and enrich student learning by organizing and funding field-trips to local STEM institutions and visits from local STEM professionals. These enrichment experiences are directly related to each unit. For example, students studying water pollution will visit the marine biologists at the Grice Marine Lab to observe marine life and examine harmful bacteria found in local waters, while students studying materials engineering through mortar recipes and building walls, will make bricks with a brick maker from the Historic Charleston Foundation, who specializes in the restoration of local buildings. Such experiences engage students on multiple levels: creating enthusiasm and dispelling negative misconceptions about STEM; making STEM locally relevant by connecting it to local problems and real-world work; and creating excitement about STEM career opportunities.
Furthermore, we provide teachers and students with the necessary material and curriculum support they need to overcome these barriers; including preparing and organizing all materials, so teachers can jump right in to instruction.
Summer Enrichment Program
The Summer Enrichment Program provides year-round learning opportunities that promote school success and stem summer learning loss. The informal nature of a summer program provides more opportunity for in-depth, hands-on exploration of science and engineering that may not be available during school hours. Each summer session is hands-on, geographically, ecologically, and locally relevant, and promotes active learning for students of varying backgrounds, aptitudes, and abilities. Each session focus one of the EiE engineering challenges and includes field trips and visits from professors and local experts. Our trained teachers each at the summer program, ensuring that the quality of instruction is high for students, and giving the teachers themselves additional experience with the curriculum and inquiry-based teaching practices. It is also free to those students who are typically unable to afford high-quality summer programs.