Outreach Program Teaches Fourth Graders About Engineering, Communication, and Perseverance

Achievement date: 
2018
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Fourth-grade students learned about engineering and added skills in construction and problem solving—in one case building solar-powered cars—through an outreach program of the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Illinois.

Impact/benefits: 

In addition to teaching the kids about engineering, the three Center visitors and the classroom teacher saw the students grow personally in their perseverance, communication skills, and self-confidence. The long-range goal is that the students learn they, too, have what it takes to become engineers when it’s time to think about careers.

Explanation/Background: 

Organized in 2018 by a senior in engineering, and supported by two faculty mentors from the Center, the outreach effort tapped a curriculum developed as part of the Center’s program in Research Experience for Teachers (RET). Building solar-powered cars was the ultimate hands-on project and allowed the students to learn a lot about construction—alongside an introduction to solar cells and other emerging technologies.

Also during the Center’s RET multi-year effort, a team of four science teachers near the University of Illinois worked to create a multi-week curriculum unit related to power, heat, and power density aligned with Illinois’ Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).