We are very excited to announce another fantastic Subject Expert Teacher to our team at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley Lower School! Ms. Pragya Bhatnagar will be joining our teaching faculty for the 2022-2023 school year as an Engineering Subject Expert Teacher.
Ms. Bhatnagar joins us with a variety of Engineering experiences – both in and out of the classroom. In addition to her time working in the field, Ms. Bhatnagar has spent the last several years developing STEAM programs in several different schools throughout her local school district.
Our Head of School, Ms. Brooklynn Titus, had a chance to meet with Ms. Bhatnagar and is excited to help all our new families get to know her!
Congratulations, on being a founding faculty member at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley Lower School! What are you most looking forward to in this new position?
important at the end of each experience is not the success or failure of the project but the journey and critical thinking skills learned on the way. At the core of my philosophy is the idea that it's ok to fail, then learn from it and try again. Not to mention that I look forward to the students having a blast which helps them learn and retain knowledge for longer.
Prior to teaching Engineering, you worked as an Engineer and Development Specialist. Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you made the transition to teaching?
I have been passionate about building things since early childhood. As a young girl, I loved tinkering in my backyard. My passion for building and designing things stayed with me as I grew up when I graduated with a Civil Engineering degree. I also got interested in software development and analysis during my college years. I worked as a development specialist and then a business system analyst for 11+ years. I loved working and traveling internationally in Europe and in the U.S. as I learned so much. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of working with multiple teams to solve big problems and see the impact of my work.
My transition into teaching started when I got more involved with volunteering at my child’s school by teaching hands-on engineering lessons for fun. My classes were an instant hit with the students and the teachers. I realized that I loved combining my passion for engineering with my passion for working with children and there was no turning back after that! I founded a non-profit engineering program to make a difference in children's lives in a bigger way and have been engaging elementary school students ranging from K - Grade 5 with my hands-on engineering curriculum for the past six and a half years.
Engineering class at BISV is so much fun for our students! What types of things can our students expect to do in your classes?
The Engineering Design Process is at the heart of my curriculum. This process is used by engineers to solve real-world problems. Students will learn to design and build solutions to solve a real-world problem or a need. Students can expect to learn about inquiry-based thinking around a phenomenon during the ASK step and learn to ask their own questions during the BRAINSTORMING step among other things.
The curriculum has three key components:
- Learning concepts through phenomenon, visuals, props stories, real-world examples
- Tinkering with hands-on projects to apply the concepts.
- Knowledge check with student sharing sessions/fun games
Each module or unit will represent one branch of engineering and can contain multiple lessons and projects. Some examples of branches are civil, aerospace, aeronautical, environmental/green technology, mechanical, etc.
Topics can range from the engineering of wind turbines, solar ovens, and solar cells as they learn about green technology to designing and building anemometers, kites, and airplanes as part of the aeronautical engineering unit. From learning about simple machines and then applying the knowledge to build a model elevator using pulleys to learning about dams and bridges, then designing and building their own structure to help solve a problem at hand. My NASA-inspired engineering unit is popular with my students. I have traditionally also invited a NASA engineer to visit with our kids once the module is complete, which is always inspirational.
I hope to have students work on design thinking projects for which I collaborate with Stanford’s Design School. As an example, our students could be learning about light in a science class and then apply the concepts in a design thinking session to build their prototype or idea of a light source that solves a blackout problem for a specific family.
Every trimester we learn about an engineer or scientist whose work inspires us and we will apply their work concepts to build our own project. One example could be learning about Julia Morgan, the famous Californian Architect, and Engineer, who famously built the earthquake-resistant structures that survived the 1908 earthquake. We would then work on a module about earthquakes that includes building earthquake-resistant structures to apply their newfound knowledge.You work hard to help your students connect with the tasks that they are given in Engineering class. How have you tried to engage students in problem-solving and the engineering design process at the elementary level? How might your classes look different from early to upper elementary grade levels?
My lessons are carefully crafted to be engaging for younger students. The three key components that I have talked about already are designed specifically to engage the younger students.
Children are naturally curious. They love tinkering and exploring. Once they are introduced to a problem and given the flexibility to design their own solution, they are very excited to get going to build, test, and finally share their solution with the school community.
The collaborative, student-driven, and hands-on nature of my lessons serve well to engage even the shyest of students and get them excited. I am always amazed to see their ideas and the spark!
I sometimes use stories for my younger students to engage them with the problem in a fun way. Most of my engineering projects can easily be scaled to suit all ages by simplifying the criteria or materials. Younger students tend to create simpler solutions to the same problem and older students create more complex models. I use lesson extensions to provide additional challenges to advanced or older students
Finally, certain complex projects are designed especially for the older student to challenge them to apply the knowledge that they may already have.
You have done so many amazing projects with your students. Can you tell us about a few favorites?
I have so many favorite projects!! But here are just a few...
One favorite among my students is designing and building a solar oven. They are very excited to see their smores cooking in real-time.
A favorite among my younger students is designing space food for astronauts, learning about bridges, and creating their own unique bridges. Building and testing rocket ships that take their rover to a planet of their choice is another of their favorites. Stomp rocket launches never fail to delight them!
My older students love creating wind turbines where students have fun trying different blade configurations and the elevator project around testing pulleys is another favorite.
Building a device that will collect samples from asteroid Bennu has been a challenging and fun project for all students They love the relay race game during the testing phase when they are challenged to collect the greatest number of samples for their team. Environmental/green technology projects are very close to my heart. I like teaching students about the science behind wildfires and we then work on building a prototype device to reforest the affected area with seeds. Teaching students about the 3R’s and C through fun games and projects is something I look forward to as well.
Finally, the project where I challenge students to build their own inventions never fails to surprise me. I learn so much from my students and that is the best part about being an engineering teacher.
As an Engineering teacher, you often see students wrestle with big ideas and work to solve hard problems. Do you have a favorite success story that you can share with us?
I remember this amazing story of courage and persistence when we were working on our project to build an earthquake-resistant structure that could withstand an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude. One of my students had worked really hard to create a beautiful structure which was, unfortunately, failing at the shake table during testing. She tried many different things to make it more stable but it kept falling over when she tested it. We were also running out of time in this particular class. She took a deep breath and decided to redesign everything. She moved around the walls, the earthquake-resistant features within that limited time, and went back to the shake table to get a successful test. The reason I also appreciated this effort was that she had been one of my more risk-averse students. She rose to the occasion at that time and I am very proud of her. After this experience, she became one of the boldest inventors in that class.
For the past several years, you’ve worked to develop STEAM programs in public schools. Can you tell us a bit about what this has looked like?
I started a new STEAM program at one school in a local school district. Over the years it grew in popularity and expanded to several different schools in the district. I also worked with the school district to help build maker carts by creating lesson plans that were specially curated to fit mobile cart offerings. These were then piloted to teachers in a few selected schools in the district
I was selected to partner with a local elementary school and start a STEAM curriculum for all students from K - Grade 5 as part of the school’s goal to become a STEAM magnet school. As the student and teacher community enthusiastically engaged with the curriculum, I took pride in seeing the positive impact the program had on the overall culture of exploration and innovation at the school.
My responsibilities also included training the school staff in the Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, which has a high engineering component. My goal was to contribute insight and resources to take their knowledge to the next level. These standards have now been adopted by all schools in the school district.
In April 2020 the program was featured in NSTA reports for the unique integration of engineering and the arts in my curriculum. During the pandemic, I developed an online interactive platform to continue engaging students with my curriculum in a virtual setting. I built the website and created content using graphic design and video editing skills. I made the platform SEO-friendly as well. These online lessons were not only offered to students in the district but also to students all over the globe.
As you know, Silicon Valley Lower School will have an Engineering Lab! What is your vision for this space?
I envision the space to be welcoming to collaboration and creative hands-on problem solving with the flexibility to change configuration based on the nature of the project. The classroom will provide ample workspace and storage for a large variety of materials and works in progress with materials bins that can be stored on utility shelving. Furniture and storage can be arranged specifically with collaboration and flexibility in mind. Students will be able to collaborate on large lab tables where they will have access to all equipment necessary. I plan to have a medium-sized book rack for a small library of STEM books that students can read if they have extra time. We will also have some outdoor testing spaces nearby to test projects connected to the sun and wind.
You are obviously passionate about teaching Engineering! Why do you feel like this is such an important subject for students to study?
Finally, what is your goal for each of your students?
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