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E is for Engineering: STEM at Innovation Academy Montessori School in Las Vegas

STEM Engineering-Innovation Academy Las Vegas Elementary School

STEM Education Las Vegas | Innovation Academy Montessori

With the letter “E,” we are halfway through a series exploring how our Las Vegas Montessori school incorporates STEM. First, a quick review: STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and math.” We aim to include aspects of each field in our daily curriculum. The inclusion may be obvious or subtle, but it’s always there!

Our first article focused on science as a way to develop theories and conclusions from observing the surrounding world. Then, our second article touched on technology’s role in developing real-world applications based on those conclusions.

With those two elements as a foundation, this post visits engineering as a way of physically bringing an application to life. This could be a machine, structure, or tool of some kind. For example: folding a paper airplane? That’s engineering! Likewise, so is building a tower that won’t easily topple as it gets taller. In addition, helping construct a set for a play counts. So does digging a hole the ideal depth for a seed. In other words, engineering is all around.

A Truly Hands-On Activity

Since we teach not for memorization, but for learning and understanding, engineering allows students to make connections.

Some schools focus on tests. At those institutions, teachers are required to emphasize high scores on standardized exams. Students spend their time studying and practicing to repeat the information they learned. That can mean doing little more than reading and writing for hour after hour.

While seated study has its place in the classroom and at home, it should never be the entire “goal” of a school day. Not even close!

Hands-on learning via engineering lets children move around and exercise their hands and bodies as they exercise their minds. Motion can serve as a change of pace from more sedentary activities. For example, a child may need to sketch out a plan for a structure, then gather the materials to make it. The actual construction comes after that. As a result, the student experiences a range of activities, all connected to a single idea.

Building a Bridge

STEM Engineering rain maker
What may look like just water bottles is actually a STEM project on creating rain.

As we noted in previous posts, STEM is not a teaching strategy based on keeping the individual letters separate. We do not start with a science activity, then finish and move to technology, and so on. Ideally, each discipline naturally shines amid a cohesive exploration of a subject or concept.

That said, engineering may stand out as the most obvious bridge between all of the aspects of STEM—and more. Engineering requires a grasp of science, as well as the technology necessary to execute a plan. More often than not, math is also important. Engineering a project may require understanding angles or adding up measurements or even simply counting.

Since we teach not for memorization, but for learning and understanding, engineering allows students to make connections. By creating their own plans, then figuring out what is required to execute them, they exercise critical thinking skills. Above all, engineering is about not just thinking, but literally creating the solution to a problem.

More Than Math and Science

One dictionary offers this alternate definition of engineering: “the act of working artfully to bring something about.” While this means something like “engineering an outcome,” we like the word “artfully.” Engineering is not purely about function, but should also incorporate form.

The goal of an engineer is to make the world a better place: safer, more supportive, more comfortable. As we teach engineering at Innovation Academy, we work to ensure an activity is not about blindly building from a plan. It also has to make sense.

As our students grow, the hope is that they will not see their future as a cog in a machine. Instead, each step of a process should take into account how the engineered result will impact everything around it. Will it ultimately benefit people in a positive way? Does it improve the community? Does it have heart?

It may seem like this is a lot to build into a curriculum for young learners, but we believe in building a sold foundation. In other words, engineering the innovators of tomorrow requires solid planning today.

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STEM Education Las Vegas | Innovation Academy Montessori