New Hartford Elementary school teachers as they partake in Novel Engineering Training.
Editor's Note: Portions of the following article first appeared in the NHCSD "Tech Spotlight." Novel Engineering is set to expand as a district-wide program, Grades K-6, for the 2017-2018 academic year.
What is great for students at New Hartford Central School is having teachers that are strong advocates for new pathways of student discovery in STEM-related fields. Significantly, teachers are urging a focus on instructional methods that strike a balance between the arts and sciences. A unique example of this effort is the “Novel Engineering” pilot underway at Bradley Elementary School.
“Novel Engineering” encourages students to interact with literature in a proactive, hands-on manner. In this approach, students read stories appropriate to their grade level, then doff their literary caps in exchange for engineering ones. With each story they read, students determine a problem that character faces. Students then use engineering skills to design and build a tool that would, hypothetically, solve a character’s problem, thus bringing the story to an alternative resolution.
“Novel Engineering” is one facet of a comprehensive pre-engineering institute: the Center of Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University. The New Hartford Central School STEAM committee adopted “Novel Engineering” as a pilot program for the 2016-2017 school year. It has been one of the several strategies used to explore STEM-related coursework at the elementary school level. As the Board of Education discovered at its regular meeting of November 15 , the results of the pilot are promising. At the meeting, students from Mrs. Lisa Meyers’s Grade 4 class presented one of their latest “prototypes.” Board of Education members learned that the prototype was designed to help “Stormie,” an over-sized protagonist of the short story Stormalong, build more appropriate-sized living quarters. As Mrs. Meyers notes, “My students are focusing on what the National Education Association calls ‘The Four Cs.’ These are critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity/innovation.” Meyers adds, “What is so inspiring is the familiarity our students are gaining with the engineering design process, and how to think like engineers!”
That process is similar to the one that Meyers’s colleague Mrs. Kathy Donovan, the district’s STEM enrichment teacher, utilizes in her classes every day. Just as the Grade 4 students shared with the Board of Education, these steps include: create, plan, imagine, ask, and improve. Mrs. Donovan explains that teachers do not have to look too far to find good sources of problem-solving inspiration. “Our pilot is using readings from Journeys, a literacy program adopted district-wide, for our elementary schools to use regularly throughout the year.”
While New Hartford elementary students will no doubt engage in literacy/STEM challenges equal to that of “Stormie” in the days to come, several of their teachers will face some classroom problem-solving challenges of their own. Three New Hartford faculty, including Mrs. Meyers, Mrs. Donovan, and Myles Elementary Special Education teacher Mrs. Melissa Gehringer are finishing their first semester in the Teacher Engineering Education Program offered (mostly online) at Tufts University. Evidently, they are already transforming their studies into classroom instruction, through the “Novel Engineering” pilot as well as the district’s continued commitment to enrichment opportunities through DELTA STEM.