Cultivating a child’s interest in engineering is a multi-stage proposition. The journey begins during the child’s preschool years, and it progresses through middle and high school. Engineering enthusiast Greg Aziz emphasizes that carefully coordinated engineering exposure can spark a boy’s or girl’s desire to pursue this wide-ranging discipline as a career.
Greg Aziz Highlights Engineering Activities for Every Age
Surprisingly, parents can find age-appropriate engineering activities at every stage of a child’s development. Each type of activity mirrors the child’s natural curiosity and capabilities at that point. A regular diet of engineering activities will help to promote a problem-solving mindset that’s key for an engineering career.
The Preschool Years
Greg Aziz notes that preschoolers are primed to learn about the simplest engineering concepts. Their familiarity with shapes and colors, and their ability to classify objects into groups, will prepare them well for engineering play.
Here are three timeless engineering explorations that still hold an appeal for 21st-century preschoolers. Greg Aziz emphasizes that parents (or other adults) should remain aware of potential child safety hazards. An adult should always be present during young children’s engineering play periods.
Fortunately, most engineering-themed toys are simple and sturdy. Greg Aziz notes that child-sized bricks, blocks, and dominoes are ideal for making buildings and other structures.
Alternatively, connecting toys such as pegs, sticks, straws, and gears are designed to fit together with specially formed linkages. Either way, a preschooler will likely be entertained for hours ─ and they won’t realize they’re getting an engineering education.
Loose Parts Workshop
Because young children enjoy building things, give them the surface and the tools for this fun activity. On a clean floor or roomy table, provide boxes or buckets of paper towel cores, bubble wrap, small carpet remnants, wood pieces, and other intriguing objects.
Whether children have a project in mind, or create an object on the fly, their creativity is in motion. Allow them to take a break (or a nap) and return to their undisturbed project with fresh energy.
After they finish their creation, Greg Aziz suggests asking them what they learned from the project. Finally, their adult partner should help the youngster make the connection between the finished product and a basic engineering concept.
Engineering Field Trips
Preschoolers can’t get enough of children’s museums and science museums. Often-interactive indoor exhibitions may show engineering or physics principles in action. Outdoors, a sundial, a water transfer mechanism, a lifting pulley, a sound-generation device, or other real-world exhibit can teach engineering concepts.
The Elementary School Years
Elementary school-aged children will often jump into age-appropriate creative engineering projects. Greg Aziz presents a sampling of classroom-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (or STEM) projects that can easily be duplicated at home:
- Simulated Earthquake
- Homemade Catapult
- Handcrafted Marble Maze
- Popsicle Stick Bridge
- Engineered Newspaper Structure
Elementary school students are also good field trip candidates. Upper-grade students may especially enjoy science museums or other technically focused exhibitions.
The Middle School Years
Middle school students are beginning to delve deeper into subjects that interest them. They’re also aware of their academic talents, and some students may even have an idea of their future careers. Once middle schoolers learn several classic engineering applications, parents (or other adults) can challenge them to apply these techniques to structural, mechanical, or vehicle construction projects.
- Egg Drop Lander
- Handmade Toothpick Bridge
- Rubber Band Car
- Candy-Crafted Gear
- Wind-Powered or Balloon-Powered Car
Middle school students can often appreciate engineering-focused museum exhibits. Greg Aziz notes that visiting real-world examples of dam and/or bridge construction, or other higher-level engineering concepts, may also be popular with middle schoolers.
High School: Preparing for a College Engineering Program
Greg Aziz recommends that engineering-focused high school students begin to position themselves as candidates for a college engineering program. First, these high school students should choose a curriculum (and electives) that help prepare them for the rigorous college courses to come.
By selecting the most demanding courses available, and earning top grades, these students demonstrate their commitment to excellence. The Dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT), a respected engineering school, emphasizes that the school prefers students who are willing to push the boundaries.
“We want students to make decisions that are educationally sound for them to best prepare them to succeed in college and beyond. We want students to challenge themselves appropriately in the areas that are most interesting to them.”
Greg Aziz’s Tips For How Students Can Distinguish Themselves
Engineering school applicants face lots of stiff competition. Students who want to attend these well-regarded institutions typically have excellent grades. Therefore, each student must find other ways to distinguish themselves in the eyes of college admissions officers.
Document Research or Laboratory Experience
Greg Aziz recommends that students seek ways to obtain real-world research or laboratory exposure. University-affiliated research centers, or companies that perform applied research for their clients, may welcome an unpaid intern or research assistant.
Students should maintain documentation of their hours spent at the facility. In addition, the student should ask for a letter of recommendation from the facility’s manager.
Publish a Research Paper
Peer-reviewed scientific journals offer a platform for original research publication. Students who decide to publish a research paper should familiarize themselves with the process. Greg Aziz also suggests that they receive guidance from a professional in the field.
With this structure in place, the student should identify a relevant problem or question and get to work. A polished (and published) finished product will demonstrate the student’s initiative and dedication to established scientific principles.
Enter a Respected Competition
Engineering-focused high school students are likely familiar with high school science fairs. However, three respected events take STEM competitions to the next level. Students will gain respect from merely entering one of these prestigious fairs. Winning a contest (and potential prize money) will be a true feather in their caps.
Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (or ISEF): The Society for Science and the Public hosts this global competition. To qualify, students must participate in an ISEF-associated Science Fair, hosted in all 50 states plus more than 75 countries.
Regeneron Science Talent Search (or STS): The Society for Science and the Public also hosts this United States competition. About 2,000 high school seniors apply online, and 40 finalists fly to Washington, DC to compete for 10 prestigious awards.
Google Science Fair: Established in 2011, this respected event has no entry fee and is accessible to virtually any student who wants to enter. Students can apply online, and Google offers excellent resources for entrants and their teachers.
Write a Superb Supplemental Essay: Many engineering schools offer students the chance to write a supplemental essay about their engineering passion. Here, admissions officers want to hear an inspiring story that will help the student stand out. Ideally, remarks Greg Aziz, this well-written narrative will garner the student acceptance to a coveted engineering program.
Greg Aziz Focusing on the Long-Term Goal
Although nurturing a child’s engineering interest will take sustained effort, Greg Aziz emphasizes the satisfaction in seeing this goal achieved. He encourages parents to take advantage of available resources, and schedule STEM-focused attraction visits, in support of this worthwhile goal.