STEM in the Community

Get Kids Involved

Kids are learning at home and schools are practicing distance learning, so let’s explore collaborative STEM engineering projects that kids can work on remotely now, then build in person when we get back to life before COVID19.

One way to frame these projects is Community Based Engineering or CBE. If you don’t want to be formal, feel free to look at sample challenge projects and modify them for your class or your children.

What is Community Based Engineering? The Community Based Engineering or CBE approach introduces students to engineering as a way to tackle problems that are important to them in their own lives. Using CBE students identify and solve engineering problems in neighborhoods, community centers or schools.

The goal is to help educators (parents, teachers, community members) help kids feel empowered as scientists and engineers to investigate and solve problems that make a difference in their own community.

Why? CBE initiatives have three goals: 

  • Connect and give meaning to science and math concepts within an engineering design process. Bring STEM to a real life problem.
  • Help students connect with peers and community members.
  • Introduce teachers to the engineering design process.

How? Following is the CBE Engineering Design Process. If you are working with younger kids feel free to use a modified process as shown in the graphic.

1. Unpack the problem: Identify a community problem that could be solved through engineering design. Identify the  specific community needs, and make a list of criteria and constraints. Ask kids to identify a need or a problem and challenge them to decide if it can be solved using engineering design given the requirements. 

2. Research and plan a solution: Brainstorm potential solutions to the problem. Kids can brainstorm independently and then collaborate. Investigate scientific phenomena related to the problem and its potential solutions. This sounds overwhelming. In reality kids explore (google) possible solutions based on options they find through discussion, research and online. Consult resources and community members to plan a specific solution that might meet the criteria and constraints. Here kids review possible solutions with community decision makers to check feasibility. Does this make sense as a solution and the effort required?

3. Construct and test a prototype: Construct a prototype that demonstrates a solution. Test the prototype with community members to see if it stays within the constraints and fulfills the criteria. Make changes and test again. Kids can use rapid prototyping by drawing and building models of possible solutions. Does this possible solution solve the problem? Will it work?

4. Explain and redesign: Generate explanations for what does and does not work about the prototypes. Make recommendations to the community for next steps for solving the problem. As a group, kids collaborate and decide what worked, what didn’t work and how we can modify to find a possible solution. Questions to ask include what is feasible and what is within a budget. 

Here are a few Sample Challenges to try:

  • Playground Design or Renovation to Make Park Accessible to all Kids
  • Community Center Space Redesign
  • Art Room Design
  • Design a Garden
  • Design Water Transport System for That Garden
  • Alternative Energy : Wind or Solar
  • Calculate Water Footprint and Make Changes at Home.

GreenApple and are also posting Mini Design Challenges every 2 weeks that can be done by a class, group or at home. Check them out.

STEM in the Community

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