Professional Development

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What’s Wrong with Ideas?

As designers of engineering curriculum for children and young teens, we are frequently asked if our materials are "hands-on." In fact, we get this question more than any other. This obsession with hands-on perplexes us. We think people ask for two reasons—first, because they believe hands-on results in better learning; second, because they believe hands-on is essential to student engagement and learning.

Through My Window is multimedia engineering curriculum directly based on the research for supporting active, intentional learning. This research reports that "hands-on" activities may or may not be "minds-on"—that is, learners physically engaged in activities may or may not be productively thinking about what they are doing. While hands-on activities are important, curriculum must be, first and foremost, minds-on.

Idea-centered curriculum—that is, curriculum with idea improvement as an intentional goal—is highly interactive without the traditional focus on a product. It is not daunting and children have fun doing it. And when paired with hands-on components, ideas frame learning and provide context. In fact, Through My Window encourages children to launch their own investigations and hands-on experiments, with specific ideas and direction for children to build, test and innovate with engineering concepts.

Our world is faced with challenging, complex problems. Can intelligent machines help care for an aging population? How can we improve global disease diagnosis and treatment? Develop new sources of energy? Introducing children to these types of idea or "knowledge" problems is a departure from traditional approaches to K-12 engineering education. It is, however, critical, because it fosters development of 21st Century skills and engages a broader range of students. In fact, we believe that idea-centered curriculum honors and appeals to the intelligence of all learners—particularly important at a time when popular STEM resources promote gender stereotypes.

Let's shape a generation of young people who can collaboratively tackle open-ended questions, engage with important ideas, and build new knowledge by including diverse viewpoints. Our future depends on it.

Contributed by Through My Window, which is the creation of a team of engineering and education experts, writers and students from Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College, which currently includes Glenn Ellis, Sonia Ellis, Beth McGinnis-Cavanagh, Al Rudnitsky, Isabel Huff, Lauren Binger, Evanleigh Davis, Abbie Duquette, Kyle Gouchoe-Hanas, Lucy Gouvin, Caroline Kushmer, Emma Martin, Mary Moser, Sarah Meyerson, Zoe Zandbergen, Matthew Mattingly, Sarah Dunton and Wayne Ferrari. 

Photo courtesy of Through My Window.


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