January 20, 2013
Middle school is a challenging time for students who vary widely in maturity and often show less interest and ability in math and science.
"Kids also begin thinking about careers more concretely in middle school," says Peter Wong, director of university relations at the Museum of Science. He leads development of Engineering Now!, the middle school engineering curriculum at the National Center for Technological Literacy®. "In high school kids need to start making choices. But unless they have developed a base in math in middle school, they won't be prepared. They also need positive experiences in STEM classes to keep their options open."
Engineering Now! addresses concepts, practices, and cross-cutting topics in science, technology, engineering, and math for grades 6-8. The curriculum consists of 10 units, each focused on a different technology and related engineering design challenge.
"We're in formative development," Wong says, "and are conceptualizing the main activity for the last two units."
Students kick off each Engineering Now! unit with an episode or video from the popular WGBH show Design Squad Nation. Student teams are then given a hands-on design challenge to solve using science and engineering. Students also spend class time learning about engineering-related careers. Typically, middle school science programs are discipline-based. Students may study earth science in 6th grade, life science in 7th, and physical science in 8th. Some districts and states choose a more integrated, spiral-based approach, teaching each discipline in each grade, at an increasing complexity. Engineering Now! works with both approaches.
In addition to WGBH, the Museum is partnering with Teacher Geek (retailing materials kits for each design challenge) and LAB TV (sponsored by the National Defense Education Program to highlight STEM careers).
The 10-unit Engineering Now! curriculum spans aerospace, agriculture, biomechanics, construction, and manufacturing engineering and technology. The Museum received initial funding for the curriculum from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Genzyme, Noyce Foundation, the National Defense Education Program, Google, and National Grid. The Museum seeks another $800,000 to fund the next two years.