One of the best reasons to do engineering activities with kids is because open-ended design challenges allow them to lead their own learning. The same activity can engage students at many different ages and stages, with each person starting from their own knowledge base and experience and growing from there.
While engineering activities are an effective way to engage kids, some educators and volunteers shy away from them because they can be messy and loud. Or, they may be uncomfortable or unsure of how to lead students through the process.
Follow these five tips for facilitating an engineering activity and both you and the students will have fun while you’re learning.
Test the activity before you do it with students to:
- Make sure you understand the necessary materials and instructions.
- Identify the learning goals you want kids to walk away with.
- Anticipate where kids may need extra help and where they might get stuck.
- Make modifications to the activity as necessary – such as adding or taking away materials.
- Think of ways to extend the challenge for kids who finish early or have done a similar challenge.
- Come up with real-world engineering connections to the activity.
Use the engineering design process (EDP) as a guide, it will help you:
- Break the challenge down into bite-size pieces.
- Lead with guiding questions rather than telling students what to do.
- Share how engineers approach a problem.
- Use an iterative development process.
- Make connections to real-world engineering problems.
Establish success criteria and constraints.
The first two steps of the EDP—Identifying the Problem and Learning the Specs—are often overlooked. But when students understand the problem they are trying to solve, what materials are available, and any design constraints for the challenge, you are setting them up for success.
Ask open-ended questions.
Questions that start with “why” and “how” help you gain an understanding of their thinking. Questions like:
- Which idea are you excited to try? Why?
- What idea do you think will work best?
- Is this different than the one you are excited about? Why?
- How does your idea work?
- What have you tried so far? How did it work?
- Or, why do you think it didn’t work? Why do you think this is happening?
- What else could you try? Or, is there another way to look at this?
- Avoid giving too much direction. It discourages kids from thinking for themselves.
Recognize the student’s efforts and ideas, especially if they aren’t successful.
Give constructive feedback — specific, detailed, and encouraging. A simple ‘good job,’ does not explain why you think what they are doing is good, nor what they can do to keep improving.
Good luck! Remember following the design process helps you become a better facilitator each time you use it.
Learn More About Facilitating Engineering Activities.