Eight Good Reasons

November 2011

COMMUNITIES: EDUCATION
Eight Good Reasons

BY JOHN R. HALL, P.E., F.NSPE

JOHN R. HALL, P.E., F.NSPEIt is a common precept that the most effective essays are limited to three points. Phooey. I am quite capable of reading and comprehending more than three things. In today's multitasking (distracting) world, when are we not confronted with more than three things at a time? For everything I design, there are at least 10 rules or regulations that have to be satisfied simultaneously. Quite frankly, I'm insulted by this limitation—and you should be too. On the other hand, I've got only one page of real estate....
 
This is my third article addressing engineers and K-12 education. In the prior two, I told some stories to encourage you to visit a K-12 classroom, and I promoted the adoption of standards for K-12 engineering education. It occurs to me that I have failed to tell you why it is important to integrate engineering into the K-12 educational experience. Mea culpa.
 
studentOur students are technologically illiterate: They know how to use technology, but they have no idea how it works. Our science curriculum focuses almost exclusively on the natural world, not the human-made world. Our schools are not equipping students for 21st century jobs. Basic technological literacy should be the function of our schools. In a world where auto mechanics and cable installers must be computer technicians, who will keep our technological systems in operation?
 
Engineering develops creative thinking skills: Simply understanding existing technology may be sufficient for service technicians, but if America is to keep its place as a world leader in innovation, schools need to teach, apply, and encourage creative thinking.
 
Engineering applies math and science concepts: Some like to say engineering is the application of math and science. (I like to say engineering is the application of everything I learned in school, but that's another subject.) By applying math and science lessons to real-world problems, students will better retain the concepts.
 
Students should know the engineering problem-solving technique: Why is the procedure we were taught in engineering school called the "engineering" problem-solving technique? Why is it not the "universal" problem-solving technique? Children can learn this technique and apply it to both technical and nontechnical problems throughout their lives.
 
Engineering is project-based, team-based learning: Students can learn to work together, integrating a variety of disciplines to solve a problem—just like in the real world.
 
Engineering is 3D in a 2D world: Televisions, video games, computer monitors, tablets, and smartphones are consuming our children's time. Even "3D" movies and television are viewed on 2D screens. Students are literally losing touch with the real world. Hands-on engineering activities will allow students to practice necessary 3D skills.
 
Engineering does not reflect the diversity of our population: If the engineering profession hopes to truly represent and serve all of society, we must reflect its diversity. Most of today's engineers chose engineering due to influence from a family member or friend. If this continues, the engineers of tomorrow will look just like engineers today. Until we expose all children to engineering opportunities, we will never be representative of the whole of society.
 
America will have the engineers it needs: It has become common knowledge that America needs more engineers. In order to produce more engineers, we must expose more students to engineering and better equip the ones who are capable and interested for engineering careers.
 
I could go on to say that engineering will teach students to acknowledge and learn from their failures; it will teach them to build on the efforts (or failures) of others; or that it will expose them to a tremendous variety of career opportunities. I could add that society will better appreciate the role of engineers when students understand what we do and how critical it is to everyday lives. I could add that, absent the role of innovation (engineering) in the advance of civilization, world history is incomplete. But then, I would have 13 points.
 
A careful reading will reveal that none of these points serve only to enhance the engineering profession. If that were the purpose in introducing engineering into the K-12 curriculum, I would not be making this plea. I firmly believe that we need to better equip our students for real-world challenges, and that engineering is a necessary element in any plan to do so.
 
John R. Hall, P.E., F.NSPE, of Coral Gables, Florida, is a K-12 champion.