Have you seen your child build a magnificent tower just for it to fall down, or study so hard for a test but not do well on it? We are all familiar with failure and must face it regularly, but when it comes to our children it can be difficult to see them struggle. Enter the desirable traits of resilience and perseverance, as well as the difficult-to-teach skills of critical thinking and problem-solving.
At BASIS Independent Manhattan, we delight in giving students the opportunity to explore problems from new angles, apply their knowledge to the real world, and learn all of this through hands-on work and projects. This type of academic and developmental growth is elucidated by the journey of a PreK-4 student through our spiraling engineering curriculum.
We met with Ms. Delaney (Engineering Subject Expert Teacher, PreK-4) to discuss her approach for teaching engineering to young students, how she differentiates instruction, and her measuring stick for student success.
Teaching a Range of Ages
Starting in PreK, our students are introduced to engineering vocabulary, drawing techniques, and creative thinking that are built upon each year. Younger students might be challenged to build a bridge between two points while older students could be coding a computer program to accomplish a certain task. Our students are learning foundational and cumulative design skills, so the engineering curriculum grows with them.
As projects and concepts become more advanced, they apply the Engineering Design Process – Ask, Plan, Create, Test, Improve – so the spiraling engineering curriculum grows with them. For example, during the 4th grade's skyscraper unit, students use and build their knowledge of architectural drawing, programming, and civil engineering from past years to construct a unique model building.
Challenging & Supporting Students
To support different skillsets and communication styles, Ms. Delaney finds the most effective projects feature individual and collaborative components so students can formulate their ideas before tapping into a more systems-oriented way of thinking with a larger group.
The 3rd-grade robotics unit was the perfect example of this synergy! After learning about mechanical locomotion and circuitry, students planned, designed, and constructed crawling robots on their own. About halfway through the project and during the testing phase, many students became frustrated when their robots wouldn't work. Students moved into small groups where they helped each other troubleshoot technical difficulties until everyone had a working robot.
Although challenging, this project was a class favorite because students felt ownership of their construction process and then leveraged their strengths to collaborate and help others overcome challenges.
Every student experiences "Aha!" moments in their own way. For some, the lightbulb turns on, resulting in immediate excitement. For others, these brain blasts happen more quietly over periods of focus and uninterrupted project work. But not every engineering project results in a "lightbulb moment."
When students begin engineering, they are usually discouraged when their towers fall or their inventions don’t work. By learning that failure is not the end of a project but rather an opportunity to revise and improve their ideas, that is where personal growth happens.
To normalize the concept of failure, Ms. Delaney starts each year looking at “Famous Failures,” and how the slinky toy, potato chips, and even the x-ray machine were all inventions made by mistake!
For all-age students, success is measured by a willingness to persevere and challenge themselves. Most often, their projects are not a success on the first attempt; however, the circular engineering design process becomes a foundational skill that pushes students outside of their comfort zones in pursuit of creative solutions. By the time a child reaches grade 4, they have experienced failure enough times to learn that it is not the opposite of success, but a very necessary part of it!
Preparing for the Next Years and Beyond
Engineering from the early years through grade 4 prepares students to become independent and critical thinkers.
- After exploring the different branches of engineering, they have learned to research and analyze information, plan and prototype designs, and synthesize new and creative ideas.
- Through individual and group projects, our students are comfortable approaching a problem from multiple perspectives.
- Engineering prepares them to pursue creative solutions and view failed attempts as positive opportunities for deeper learning.
- They understand the importance of functional problem-solving that is rarely done by individuals and rather when you're part of a productive and collaborative team.
You can learn more about our well-rounded, high-achieving BASIS Curriculum, including our two-teacher model in elementary grades, as well as unique subjects like engineering, Mandarin, logic, and fine arts. Join us at a Lower School Open House on Saturday, Apr. 9 at 10:00 a.m. Learn more »