I arrived in the City of Angels Wednesday afternoon to find a whole lot of equally enthusiastic #NSTA17 conference attendees. This is a HUGE deal, and we have a huge number of choices. I’m focusing on the engineering end of the spectrum—as an engineering educator who specializes in culture change through integrated STEM through engineering, I am always on the lookout for new, innovative, and fun ideas to engage teachers AND students in problem solving. And as a human, I cannot possibly get to every session that interests me. But even restricting my choices to those who indicate engineering is involved, I have a FULL dance card for every single slot—with many having three or more choices! What a terrific “problem” to have.
When I consider a new resource or idea for my practice, I look for particular things that truly and definitively teach engineering. For example, as an engineer and engineering educator, engineering is “create” not “build.” “Hands on” is simply that, and without constraints (limitations such as time, team, and materials) and criteria (what it must do; or how will we know we’re successful?). And for me (like many students who are kinesthetic learners), virtual or digital-only experiences are not sufficient to help me understand at the deepest level. So the ideal engineering learning opportunity is both hands-on and digital, which when done well takes learners from very local issues to connections to global challenges and in the end, synthesis at the highest level.
Teams, Not Groups
Collaboration is essential for implementing engineering in a meaningful way. One way to demonstrate this is to use teams instead of groups. It may seem to be semantics, but it’s critical to innovation to have teams. Teams are comprised of members who all have a vested interest (and responsibilities) in working toward a solution that will meet the constraints and criteria. Groups typically have some common identifier such as an ability or skill.
And while I’m part of the NSTA team this week, I’ll be looking for sessions that use the F word: failure. Engineers plan for failure. After all, how can we innovate if we know the answer before we start? Teachers aid in this objective greatly by not scaffolding for success, allowing teams time to iterate and ensuring they know they have—and teachers plan for—time to improve. Remember, engineers plan for failure, but honestly? We want to fail in teeny tiny scale—big failures tend to make the news. Seriously, innovation requires iteration. And iteration inspires deeper learning and the synthesis we all seek for our students.
I have filled up my calendar with so many wonderful sessions for Thursday. I’ll be going to as many as I can, stealing—wait, that’s such an ugly word…I mean borrowing to replicate as a sign of my admiration. So I’ll be learning from all of you, asking questions, getting advice, offering to collaborate, and making connections. After all, that’s what engineers do.
Happy Thursday at NSTA!
Author Liz Parry is a guest blogger for NSTA for the 2017 National Conference; follow Liz on Twitter @STEMninjaneer.
More About the 2017 National Conference on Science Education
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The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.
Future NSTA Conferences
2017 STEM Forum & Expo
Kissimmee/Orlando, July 12–14
2017 Area Conferences