First- and second-graders in 10 Prince George’s County public schools are getting the chance to develop their science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills this year through a national program called Engineering is Elementary (EIE). Through the program, students work in groups to tackle a specific engineering problem in order to improve their problem-solving abilities and organizers say they hope sparks an interest in the field for the future.
“We want to get kids excited about engineering at an early age so that we can increase the pipeline of engineers that this country needs,” said Godfrey Rangasammy, the school’s science supervisor. “It’s all about critical thinking and 21st-century learning skills. It’s a brand new way of thinking for students and teachers.”
The program is also being used in Howard County and Anne Arundel County. Twenty teachers from Prince George’s County will participate in the program, which will be paid for through a $60,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.
Rangasammy said the county’s science office applied for the grant and was selected.
As part of the program, students are given storybooks that feature children from different cultures and backgrounds who describe a real-world engineering problem. They are then asked to solve that problem in four-student teams.
“The students comes up with a design and the teachers grade their design and then the students reconvene in the group to refine their design so there’s a fantastic opportunity for reflection and ownership,” Rangasammy said.
This is the second year the school system has received a grant from the state to administer the program. Last year, third- and fourth-grade students participated in the program, but this year, Rangasammy said the county decided to use the program with younger students in order to expose students to the principles learned from this program at an earlier age.
Jhanna Levin, an elementary school science teacher at Calverton Elementary School in Beltsville who used the program last year, said there is an international push toward integrative thinking, and this program helps students work toward that goal.
“The idea in the end is to bring everything together, to help students use all of their knowledge to do their job in the future,” Levin said.
Rangasammy said teachers who use the program this year will participate in a three-day training session in October. The program will begin later in the month.
“One of the major challenges last year was that teachers were not comfortable,” he said. “It was a brand new way of thinking for teachers. We had never taught engineering principles in elementary school.”
One of the problems first-graders will get to take on is called “A Sticky Situation: Designing Walls.” Second-graders will tackle “Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills.”
Asiha Stallworth, a science teacher at Barack Obama Elementary in Upper Marlboro, said her students who participated in the program last year were engaged in it because it was something they could all do together.
“It built a positive community within the classroom,” Stallworth said. “The kids were engaged with it because it was something they could all do together. They got to work with each other in an almost professional manner.”