When you think of engineering, you may think of high technology, heavy equipment, or expansive infrastructure designed and constructed by hundreds of individuals. While these are all surely facets of modern engineering, there is an underlying thought process to each, that can be internalized and explored by students as young as Early Childhood. Kingsley Montessori School piloted this program with a "Designing Shelters" curriculum, under the tutelage of Melanie Flores and Julia Richmond. This curriculum was rolled out in partnership with the Museum of Science, Boston who developed the Engineering is Elementary program. Since the first iteration of "Designing Shelters," the Kindergarten Engineering program has helped countless young people find inspiration in engineering design at Kingsley and beyond.
Students of all ages begin their engineering career by exploring the concepts of design thinking; expanding on the question of what it means to be an engineer. Kindergarten students explore the concept of "technology" and are excited to realize that they use technology to solve problems every day. Some students can even think of occasions where they created tools (developed their own technology) to solve problems in their lives.
Engineering Design Process
Students then begin exploring age-appropriate design and engineering challenges to pique their curiosity, and get them thinking like engineers: using the tools they have to build new solutions to novel problems.
Students learn about the systematic, cyclical nature of the design process first hand. First, they find their question; what problem is it that they need to solve, or question that they need to answer? Next, they imagine the different solutions people have tried, and the different solutions that they've never seen before. When solution that seems feasible comes to mind, they begin to plan and create their solutions.
Kindergarten Engineering Design Projects
This curriculum is designed to culminate in a final, hands-on project, in which the students explore and complete the entire Engineering Design Process. Recently, students identified the need for better, multi-purpose hats. Specifically, they were interested in engineering a hat that would protect your eyes from the sun and your head from rain, while also staying on your head in strong winds, and through active movement.
Students developed the criteria that they wanted their hats to achieve, and then set out to work the Engineering Design process. They imagined what a hat might need to have or look like in order to accomplish all of the criteria, and then began to plan what their hats would look like.
Now that the criteria for a successful hat are defined, another important aspect of the design process comes up. Students need to decide how they can test the hats they create, to make sure that they actually stand up to the design criteria. The students decided that they would utilize some of the materials they had around the classroom to help with these tests.
In order to test whether the hat protects against rain, the students developed the "spray-bottle test."For wind, the "fan test." The "flashlight test" determined if the hat would block the sun; and finally, the much anticipated "jump test" determined if the hat was secure during abrupt motion.
With hats and tests planned, students set about gathering the materials needed to turn their plans into reality. Armed with tin foil, transparency sheets, ribbons, plates, and fabric swatches, and the ubiquitous roll of duct tape, these junior engineers began to assemble, adhere, build, and otherwise construct their projects.
The creation stage required the full expanse of the foundational skills the students have been developing throughout their Early Childhood education, but as we've seen time and time again, they rise to the task. When the dust settled, the prototype hats were ready for the first round of testing.
Throughout the testing, a number of students realized that the hats they created weren't secure enough. The jump test proved a bridge too far for these prototype hats; which lead to the next step: improvements.
Students utilized the data that they recorded throughout their tests to revise their plans, and alter their prototypes for better results. Some students added extra string or ribbon to keep the hat tethered to their heads; opting to either create a hat that fit their head snugly, or an adjustable hat that would fit a range of head sizes. Other students altered the shapes of their hats by bending their materials or using different objects to build the hat.
After the improvements were made and recorded, students were prepared for a second round of testing and analysis. Students underwent the usability tests a second time, this time recording more positive results. At this point, some of the hats were "complete" while others required a bit more fine-tuning as a result of the second round of testing.
As students realize the importance of testing and continuous improvement, they begin to improve both their prototypes, and their design criteria. Some students extended their tests to include the "pouring rain" test (simulated by wringing a sponge overhead), and the "advanced jump test" that tested whether the hat would remain on after 100 jumps! As the students have learned, "an engineer's work is never done," and you can always develop more fine-tuned solutions.
Kindergarten Engineering Design Showcase
The final products of these diligent kindergarteners are eventually revealed in trade-show fashion at the Kindergarten Engineering Design Showcases hosted for parents and families at the school. Students present their designs, their thought process, and the problems they endeavored to solve with their product. They walk viewers through the process of ideation, planning, testing, and revising with the help of a photo slide-show and their engineering notebooks.
Each student shows off their product, and discusses further changes that could be made, or ways the process could have been streamlined. In this way, students reflect on the project, and motivate themselves towards their next engineering feat.
Interested in learning more about Early Childhood at Kingsley? Attend an upcoming Admissions Event!