Sunday, June 14, 2009

Engineering Education Workshop

On Saturday I went to a free workshop about teaching engineering. It was pretty cool. We got to experiment on how to create "penguin houses" out of various materials for ice-cube-penguins to keep them from melting in 20 minutes of a heat-lamp-induced stay (conduction, convection, radiation) while keeping under a $200 budget. We got to build boats out of aluminum foil to see how many would fit before the boat sank (bouyancy). We got to create lunar landers out of cardboard and straws and index cards and such to land from shoulder height without jarring the astronauts (marshmallows) out of their shuttle (cup). ... and other activities.

It was a fun day and showed me what I DON'T know about engineering, and what I want to explore more about. By the way, our group's penguin house cost $2000 and only preserved 6g out of 10g of ice (whereas others cost less than $200 and preserved anywhere from 8g to 9.1g). Go us. But the presenter did NOT have to make a face when she read our results out loud.

I liked the concepts. Most seemed to assume you were teaching science or had the freedom to use up lots of time to do these things. So now, as a math teacher, I have to see how I can break these lessons up into smaller chunks to wedge into a packed curriculum. I do think the activities were worthwhile, now I have to see how to incorporate them into algebra 1 and geometry.

I did see one geometry connection. When we were making our lunar lander, our accordian shaped index-card "legs" kept flaying out. Then I recalled that triangle shapes are sturdy, so we fashioned some extra supports that used this geometry fact ... of course it didn't prevent our marshmallow astronauts from bouncing boisterously out of the cups to their sure death on the moon.

I did like their continued stressing of the fact that your 1st attempt was not it. As an engineer, you learn from your mistakes and go back to the drawing board to rethink and recreate.

I also liked the talk related to NASA and "Design Squad". There are videos of the DS show you can stream and discuss. It's broken down into chapters (she said), so you can show snippets. NASA has a ton of free resources for teachers. Also, there are video profiles (Pro Files) of engineers (on DS site) that show cool things they do and non-stereotyped people who work as engineers.

Whew! Stuff to think about.


  1. I have just created a blog...I am a young high school math teacher (just finished my 4th year) and have been so caught in the throes of teaching that I have forgotten the art of reflection that my college professors taught me so well. SO... I made a blog to do this and also want to network with other math teachers. Can I provide a link to your blog on mine? My url is

  2. Anonymous7:28 PM


    That would be great. Welcome to blogging :).

    Ms. Cookie

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  5. Anonymous2:36 PM

    I enjoyed reading your post and the sites you listed. As a geometry teacher, I will be sure to explore those and see what applications I can use in my classroom. This workshop you attended reminds me of a NASA symposium I was selected to attend during my undergraduate work. The various workshops I attended displayed the various ways math and science teachers could incorporate engineering concepts as well as NASA teaching materials into their lessons. I found that I could not reasonably use many of the projects in class because they would take up too much time, but I could use the pictures, examples, and lessons from the NASA website to create authentic examples for my students. For example, having students find the height of an aurora or land the space shuttle using trigonometric concepts helps the students to see how the concepts they are learning in class could be used in a job or real-life situation. It definitely makes the lessons more interesting, especially incorporating their pictures or history into the lessons.