Engineering their World, Envisioning their Futures

Little did NASA and The University of Texas engineers know the program they piloted three years ago would lead River Dell High School students to the Tappan Zee Bridge.

River Dell High School students of Bergen County are now unofficial junior project engineers/NNYB Outreach

River Dell High School students of Bergen County are now unofficial junior project engineers/NNYB Outreach

Inspired by the barges and construction equipment she observed, principal Lorraine Brooks correlated the school’s new course — Engineer Your World (EYW)  — with the bridge project. She marveled at students’ overwhelming response, which necessitated two school trips last month. “You can’t take 80 kids at once,” Brooks smiled. “Everyone’s interested in this, especially the kids.”

To call the bridge project’s educational outreach popular is an understatement.

“I came back so excited and thought (before) I knew everything about the bridge!” she said. “Students were especially interested in the moving parts of the project (design-build aspect), career possibilities, and work that had to be done before construction started.”

“The New NY Bridge is a once in a lifetime project and we want it to inspire local students at all levels from graduate school and college down to elementary classrooms. The goal of our educational outreach effort at all levels is to use this historic infrastructure project to inspire the next generation of bridge builders here in New York.” — Brian Conybeare, Special Project Advisor to Governor Andrew Cuomo

Students get the dibs on endangered species being monitored and environmental initiatives/NNYB Outreach

Students get the dibs on endangered species being monitored and environmental initiatives/NNYB Outreach

Students wanted to know about environmental issues and mitigations in addition to engineering. “That’s the career they envision. The tangential benefits are the artists who designed the posters at the viewing area — they were phenomenal,” Brooks said.

EYW is open to any River Dell student who is taking or has taken Algebra II. “Eighty percent is hands-on, and students (three sections with a total of 22 girls) work in groups solving problems such as building a skyscraper that can withstand an earthquake,” she said.

The course developed as a year-long, design-based engineering curriculum model by UTeachEngineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Through a $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Math and Science Partnership program, UTeachEngineering partnered with high schools nationwide to implement it in a variety of settings.

River Dell science teacher Lori Dunn attended a two-week summer training institute at UT in Austin before introducing students to EYW.

Pretty day for observing the river activity/NNYB Outreach

Pretty day for observing the river activity/NNYB Outreach

“We work with public and private STEM schools, engineering academies, college preparatory schools and traditional high schools, singe- and mixed-gender schools, urban, suburban and rural schools,” and of varied socioeconomic status, UTeachEngineering, Director Cheryl Farmer explained.

The original version was piloted with 200 students in seven Texas classrooms in 2011-2012, Farmer said. Today, 3,000 students in 77 schools in 12 states are taking EYW. Teachers who are new to the program receive support from UTeachEngineering via monthly videoconferences, one-on-one debriefs, and on-demand access to our staff engineers and instructional support specialists.

Brooks said she’d like to return in the spring as would other educators and parents I’ve spoken with. The Outreach Team will be ready and waiting!

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

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