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Technology Class
Students Building Windmill

K-5th Grade Engineering 

Music. Art. P.E. Library. A special entitled “Engineering” is unique on the elementary level. Engineering is a process of understanding, designing, and building informed by science and math. The skills that they learn and the stamina they build in my classroom are transferable to any profession they may choose in the future.

Sample Lessons, Student Examples, and
Free Resources

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Interest Survey

During the first week of the school year, and throughout the year, I give all of the 1st - 5th grade students an interest survey. The open-ended drawing and writing prompt asks students: what they enjoyed about engineering last school year, what they want to create during engineering this year, and how or why that prototype would impact the world. I read each and every one of the nearly 700+ responses. I quantify the results, scan the exemplar student papers, and use the data to plan weekly instruction. During each 6-day rotation of classes, I anonymously share an exemplar interest survey at the start of the engineering experience. From water slides, to cars, to mazes, to suspension bridges, my instruction is relevant and culturally responsive. I am intentional about amplifying student voice and aligning their interests to the Nevada Academic content standards. All students appreciate the opportunity to feel seen, heard, and valued.

I use a mix of explicit instruction (with anchor charts and realia), read-alouds, and brief video clips (1 to 5 minutes in length) to introduce the design challenges and showcase a diverse mix of engineers in the field.  My whole group teacher-led introduction is timed to take 10 minutes or less! I reserve the majority of the 50 minute class period for collaborative learning and hands-on design time. Engineers need to know how to ask questions, imagine solutions, draw plans, create prototypes, conduct tests, make improvements, and communicate the results. Teacher as facilitator, that’s my approach.

Student Responses

“What will we make today?”
This is the question I get from students in the lunchroom, in the hallways as I pass by, and the moment they walk in the classroom. My engineering design challenges are open-ended and require the students to problem solve through the constraints of limited time and materials. Students have roles as they work with their peers and feel empowered in the collaborative decision-making process.  

“I like working with my friends!”
Engineers do not work alone. My class is unique because I do not have a seating chart. I allow students to choose their own seat and groupings. Naturally, they learn that choices have consequences and rewards. I encourage them to build on the ideas of others.  I tell them to look around the classroom and see what other students are doing well. I teach the students ways to give their peers feedback and acknowledge the success of others. There is no “cheating” in my classroom. There is no “test.” I encourage them to learn from their peers, books, videos, family members, and other sources as much as possible. They are used to working alone while taking tests or writing papers in their grade level classroom, but in my classroom they supported in problem solving multi-step challenges and encouraged to seek help. Repeatedly testing and improving a plan or prototype in this type of punish-free and failure-expected environment feels safe to them.    

“Can I take this home?”  
Students leave my classroom thirsty to continue learning outside of the school hours. They want tangible things to show their families and continue building at home. I plan and balance challenges that have a take home product and those that do not. When the student goes home, I know that they will share the prototype with a family member. The student may proudly teach the person about the design process and the related academic vocabulary. It fosters dual learning opportunities, and shows parents/caregivers that there are high-interest unplugged options to consider providing to their child.    

“Where can I buy this?”
The kindergarten students affectionately call me the “Toy Teacher.” From Ozobots, to Hexbugs, to GraviTrax, to Tumble Trax, to Magna-Tiles, to drills, students want to know the how to get access to our costly engineering materials at home. I want students to continue learning beyond the school walls; therefore, I ensure a balance between no cost, low cost, and high cost materials. My K-5th grade classroom is unique because of the exposure I give them to new open-ended “toys,” and fresh ideas for repurposing recyclable materials. I emphasize that engineering can happen anywhere, at anytime, and with anything!  

“Next time I will…”
It is through engineering that we create innovators and problem solvers who will think about the world in ways we haven’t yet considered. My classroom is unique because of the frequency in which students engage in deep and complex metacognition. I give students a mixture of sentence stems to use during the 5-10 minute quick-write reflection time at the end of most design challenges. I get goosebumps reading their ideas for prototype improvements, peer collaborations, and personal growth (perseverance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, fluency, pacing, time management, etc.).
“I want to be an engineer!”
I cannot count how many students that have made this declaration in their written reflection or handmade gifts for me. The title of my class, the 1-5 minute video clips showcasing a variety of engineers, the read-alouds, the ample amount of student-led design time based on their interests, the pride of independently or collaboratively completing a complex prototype/model, the “Engineering Wall of Fame,” and the joy of taking home something they made, are the unique reasons why my class is transformative and will lead students to create solutions to change the present and future world.

K-5th grade "Engineering Wall of Fame"

The plastic pockets include: action/team photos, design plans, and written personal reflections from a design challenge. The wall is updated once or twice a month.

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