All freshman in the science and technology magnet program are already required to take two introductory engineering classes, but the curricula for those classes were originally designed in 1976. “There has been some revamping through the years, but we knew we needed a major overhaul. Things have changed so much,” explains Jane Hemelt, coordinator of the science and technology program, which serves about 900 of the school’s 2,700 students. The problem was that there wasn’t an easy way to get the expertise to fix it.
Hemelt talked about the problem with Rocco Mennella, a mathematics professor at Prince George’s Community College and Catholic University who teaches science and math at Roosevelt. For several years, Mennella had been recruiting Roosevelt graduates as tutors for his summer precalculus class, and he told Hemelt that his recruits—who were science, math, and engineering majors—might serve double duty by redesigning the engineering curriculum.
Mennella’s college recruits came from Caltech, MIT, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, and the University of Maryland, where they have been exposed to some of the best science and engineering teachers in the country. In addition, Cressman contacted about 80 engineering professors at universities and colleges around the country to find out what they would like their incoming students to know; almost 50 responded.
For example, all agreed that the classes should focus on the practical aspects of engineering, including computer-aided design and computer programming, while exposing the high school students to electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering. But the curriculum designers also wanted their younger peers to have fun while learning, so they put in many hours on computers creating lessons that would challenge students to redesign the Taj Mahal, build an SUV, or guide a robot.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School will test some of the modules as part of other classes this fall, which will reach 30 students or more, and the team hopes to roll out the other classes full time in coming years. The Prince George’s school district’s other two science magnet schools, Oxon Hill and Charles Flowers, also plan to use the curriculum. But Mennella and Hemelt hope it will spread even wider, including to schools that don’t specialize in science and math. Those schools might just use parts of the curriculum, or spread a semester-long class out over a year. “Who knows, this could become a model for the state and maybe a model for the country,” Hemelt says.
I am looking into how people can see the curricula, and any other material that may be available.
Related: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach – Kids in the Lab: Getting High-Schoolers Hooked on Science – Middle School Engineers – Technology and Fun in the Classroom – Education Resources for Science and Engineering