GROTON — What’s the best way to develop great engineering leaders of tomorrow? Capture their attention, engage their minds, and feed their “zest for the curious” today. That’s what teachers and parents at the Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton have found a way to do, in conjunction with local engineering companies such as American Superconductor of Devens and professional engineers such as Groton resident Gary Hoglund, of the Groton-Dunstable Science Engineering Technology Math program, and the Groton Dunstable Education Foundation. What’s more, this practice is spreading to all of the Groton-Dunstable elementary schools.
With significant involvement from Hoglund, GDSTEM was founded in 2007. Volunteer parents, educators, and community partners promoting science, technology, engineering and math educational activities within the Groton-Dunstable school district have come together to sponsor programs that enhance the school district’s curriculum.
Groton resident Kim Duhamel, parent of three Groton-Dunstable students, is working with Florence Roche’s Fourth-grade Science Coordinator Ellen Potter, to help pull engineering-oriented curriculum into the elementary school level.
The Boston Museum of Science and Kim Duhamel’s alma mater, the Stevens Institute of Technology, have created a program titled “Engineering is Elementary” — a project which fosters engineering and technological literacy among children. Potter and Duhamel first piloted the EiE program at Florence Roche through the support of a GDEF grant, and Phase One is now being piloted district-wide at all schools in grades K-5. This week, the Devens-based global power technologies company, American Superconductor further helped to support the EiE program, specifically for a unit on windmills, with Director of Marketing and Communication, Blake Bisson, providing the GDSTEM program with a $2,000 sponsorship. Bisson finds the “hands-on aspect of learning intriguing” and believes “it’s great to have kids educated in this manner.”
So what does the EiE program entail? It is an interdisciplinary means of incorporating technology and engineering into an already-existing science curriculum. Individual lessons focus on various areas of engineering. The current unit on wind turbines meets curriculum requirements in the weather unit while teaching a lesson in mechanical engineering. Previous units have included lessons on simple machines, incorporating industrial engineering features, hand pollinators which highlight agricultural engineering feats, and units on magnets or transportation. To complement the engineering components, each lesson comes with a story book and each story has a character from a different country (intercultural) with a unique challenge, such as being handicapped, or from a third-world country, or one who has a cultural influence that impacts their freedom to act. Each EiE lesson has a consistent process to solve any given problem and that process includes the following steps: Ask, imagine, plan, create and improve.
Duhamel sees the EiE program as being very beneficial. “(It) makes what the students are learning relevant. It teaches them technical vocabulary, strengthens writing skills, and provides answers as to why they are learning about these interdisciplinary subjects,” she said.
Seeing the GDSTEM program, combined with the talents of those piloting the EiE program at Groton-Dunstable, reach so many students, Blake Bisson knows it’s “a fantastic way to bring up the next generation.” AMSC plays a competitive role in the supply of renewable energy today and will need strong technologically-savvy employees in the future. They will be looking for good talent in the areas of design and power electronics for wind turbines. GDSTEM volunteer Gary Hoglund, sees AMSC’s relationship with the Groton-Dunstable school district as a “win-win situation.” For AMSC, the wind industry has been very good, with business tripling over the past three to four years. The company has been growing during the recession, with strong exports to China, and as a result of this growth, AMSC is fortunate to be able to afford to help others with donations as the one they made to the GDSTEM program. AMSC employs local residents at its Devens facility and having the company sponsor the GDSTEM program is a natural outcome of these common relationships.
With such phenomenal exposure to the world of engineering concepts, terms, and design processes, and with such extraordinary support from partners such as American Superconductor, parents and teachers in the Groton-Dunstable School District, these local students are becoming gifted, able and sophisticated young adults in a world that is greatly in need of such talent.