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

Achievement date: 

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.


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.


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).