Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Engineering Instruction for Kids: Start Innovation Early

It's said that in engineering lies the future of mankind. Every innovation, every grand design has its roots entrenched in engineering knowledge. All things considered, this is a dynamic and hugely diverse field to join. Currently, forward thinking educational forces are realizing that in order to progress children's education and learning at a faster rate, it's necessary and beneficial to introduce kids to the basics of engineering as early as possible.

The benefits of this early introduction to computer science and engineering are plentiful. While it is highly unlikely that every child will go on to become an engineer, it has been proven that being taught to think like an engineer at an early age increases brain function and problem solving skills. It is skills like these that will help developing children to become more successful. Early training in problem solving helps to broaden developing minds and creates a structured approach to learning that will be invaluable even when studying other subjects at school and beyond.

When teaching young children engineering skills, there should be no pressure and no criticisms. One of the most successful methods involves children exploring the ins and outs of common, familiar items. These items include building blocks, marbles and strips of shaped wood. Desks are moved aside to create a zone where young engineering students can explore the possible combinations of these materials to complete set goals. The goals are as simple as ensuring that a marble reaches a bucket, but it's essential that students use the materials provided to make this happen. They are given free reign as far as creativity goes, which often results in some truly spectacular, sprawling arrangements. Children are encouraged to explore new, different ways of getting the marble to its destination.

With such promising programs in place, it is important to find out what types of environmental support structures could be introduced. There are four useful steps that have proven hugely useful in promoting this early learning and problem solving ability.

  1. Involve Young Children in Solving Design Problems.
Young children will benefit from being encouraged to find solutions to challenges that have been placed in front of them. The sense of purpose is a great driving force that in itself encourages children to formulate solutions to the problems set before them. The danger lies in over-simplifying the tasks so that the challenge is diminished. It is far better to pose a real challenge and offer a supportive environment where questions are encouraged.

     2.   Models That Enhance Learning

When explaining concepts that may be a shade too complex for children to immediately grasp, it is invaluable to have a visible, real world example solution to demonstrate. This helps children grasp what is expected of them and gets them excited to get their hands dirty. It is one thing to stand in front of a class and lecture them about the way a ball rolls down a hill, but actually showing them the ball rolling is an entirely different approach which has been shown to be massively beneficial. Young minds learn better through observation, not by instruction.

    3. Repetitive Work Is More Effective.

Engineering is a highly repetitive occupation that requires designing and revisiting designs in order to find the best operational solution to any given problem. It is this repetition that is so helpful to young learners, who learn to refine and improve designs until they are satisfied that they have mastered the task. By reaching the same solution by differing methods, lateral and creative problem solving skills are instilled.

    4. Take Your Time.

It is important that time becomes less of a factor in the problem solving process. Time constraints result in undue pressure and feelings of imminent failure, which effectively switch the learner's brain off. The learning process is far more effective when the focus is switched from time limits to task completion. At a young age, a child is far more likely to succumb to pressure. It is when this happens that learning ceases and is replaced only by panic. Allowing a pressure free environment allows the full absorption of the material at hand.

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