The results of the first ever national test of technology and engineering were released in a report by the US Government on May 31, 2016. There were a few eye-opening statistics in this report that tested a sampling of 8th grade students from 800 public and private schools nationwide. The most interesting statistic to me is that 2/3’s of students reported that family members were their primary teachers on how to build or fix things. Another more problematic figure is that only 43% of students tested were proficient in technology. Less than half!!!
If parents or other family members are the primary teachers for engineering skills, how can we help our children improve in this area? Here are a few suggestions that parents can use during the summer when our children are a captive audience.
For young children, building blocks of all kinds are fun educational toys. Some ideas are wooden blocks, Legos, MagFormers, K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, and many others. If these toys aren’t in your budget, consider shopping at a thrift shop or yard sales where you can purchase these at a major discount. You can even make your own wooden blocks, providing yet another engineering learning opportunity. Blocks encourage imagination and ingenuity as well as fine motor skill development.
Build something together. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Patterns for things like bird houses, bread boxes, water rockets, and doll houses can be found for free online. Use extra pieces of wood you already have at home, collect pallets from neighbors or businesses, or purchase new wood or other materials at a local lumber store. Many of these items can also be made from kits. Kits are a bit more expensive, but usually contain everything you need for the project. Building things encourages working together, creativity, learning how to use and care for tools, and gives kids a sense of accomplishment when they produce a useful item.
Is your faucet leaking? Do you need to change your oil? Is your fence in need of repair? While it may take longer to do these things with a child or two “helping”, the rewards for your child far outweigh the extra time spent working with them. Teaching a child how to replace a plug or fix a leaking toilet not only helps with engineering skills, but gives them life skills as well.
Extend Your Skills
For kids ages 12 and up, teach them how to build things that will extend their learning. Instead of buying a microscope, build one that works with their smart phone or tablet. Instead of buying a computer, buy a kit and let them put it together themselves. Not only do they learn important engineering skills while building these projects, but they also learn how and why these things work, giving them invaluable information that will help them in all aspects of engineering and technology.
If we want our children to succeed in an increasing complex and technical world we need to help them learn the skills that will propel them past the 57% of students who are not prepared for the modern work place.