Below is part two of our two-part series on creating a family engineering event in your school. Big thanks to our guest blogger Wendy Goldfein, a 2013 VISTA Elementary Science Institute graduate, for providing us with all the information you need to host your own event!
Upon arrival at my school’s family engineering night, families are immediately engaged in exploring engineering concepts. They can start their evening off by rotating through a large number of short, independent activities set up on tables throughout our cafeteria. Each of these simple activities demonstrates a specific engineering concept and then links that concept to real world applications.
From launching a weighted paper cup down a zip line, to “mining” a chocolate cookie, to seeing how many pennies a foil boat can hold, families are engaged in engineering problem solving. The families move through these activities at their own pace, able to linger at those that catch their interest.
Volunteers are available to answer questions, assist families, and offer encouragement. In addition, each family participates in a longer, facilitated engineering challenge. These activities are more in-depth and more fully engage the families in the engineering design process. The families are challenged to work together design, create and then test something that is needed to solve a particular real life problem.
Whether it’s designing a robotic hand out of popsicle sticks, creating an apparatus that protects an egg, building a wind powered car out of index cards and straws, or a rocket launcher from a water bottle, the enthusiasm and smiles as families work together to achieve success with their project is inspiring.
My school’s family engineering night is not just an effort of the staff and administration. Volunteers also consist of local high school students, engineering students from a nearby university, local Einstein fellows, members of professional engineering associations, engineers that live in the community, and ordinary moms and dads willing to lend a hand. All come together with the goal of providing a unique learning experience for not only students but their families as well.
If you’re interested in hosting your own family engineering event, there are some terrific resources available to help you out!
In my opinion, the very best reference tool is a manual published by the Family Science organization in Portland, Oregon. Their book, called Family Engineering, is filled with “how to” instructions, ready-to-copy lessons, and everything you need to plan your own engineering night. You can even order laminated center charts with directions and clips to support them. Most of the activities require simple recycled materials such as empty toilet paper rolls or empty water bottles. Generally, other needed materials are low cost and easy to obtain – from Popsicle sticks to foil, rubber bands, or paper cups.
Other resources that I have found helpful as I plan activities can be found at:
An engineering night does take significant planning and prep time in advance, but it is worth every minute. It has not only become the most anticipated annual family event at our school, but is also has provided the foundation for developing our school wide STEM program and for building strong community relationships.