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TEC Time Takes Off at Stewart

Engineering is Elementary (EiE) Curriculum Introduced 

Stewart Elementary students and teachers got a jumpstart on the second semester by launching the innovative new Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum that will serve as a cornerstone of STEM education at the school.

Developed by the Boston Museum of Science, EiE fosters engineering and technological literacy among young learners. It revolves around the simple premise that although every student will not become an engineer (noun), they all can engineer (verb) – and that’s exactly what’s happening in Stewart Elementary classrooms today.

“We want our students to look at engineering simply as problem-solving,” says 4th grade teacher Rick Ritenour. He and his fellow fourth and fifth grade classroom teachers are delivering the standards-based EiE curriculum through a newly developed initiative known as TEC time, which is an acronym for Teaching-Engineering-Collaboration. TEC time consists of 45-minute sessions that run twice every six-day cycle at Stewart. “It encompasses hands-on instruction where students have to work on engineering challenges collaboratively, which in itself is a 21st Century skill that we want them to develop, explains Mr. Ritenour. “For fourth- and fifth-graders, successfully working in a group is a whole new experience. This is one of the things that sets us apart as a STEM school.”

The EiE curriculum features a series of individual storybooks depicting students from various cultures and backgrounds who are presented with an engineering challenge in their everyday lives. Stewart Elementary students read the storybooks, and then work in groups to solve a similar problem during TEC time. For example, Mr. Ritenour’s students are working on an EiE unit on aerospace engineering entitled “Paulo’s Parachute Mission” where they must design a parachute utilizing specific design criteria and constraints. Paulo, a Brazilian youth, works with a friend to design a parachute that safely delivers fragile capuacu fruit to ground.

“The EiE units are literature-based, and each revolves around a story which presents a design challenge involving engineering,” explains 4th grade teacher Jennifer Baxter-Blubaugh. Her students are working on an EiE unit entitled “Tehya’s Pollution Solution” which deals with cleaning up an oil slick. “Everything that students need to solve the problems are included in the lessons, and each lesson is already differentiated, which allows us to connect with students on different levels. It is a very comprehensive program that we are excited about.” Ms. Baxter-Blubaugh is part of a team of Stewart teachers who will travel to Virginia for a special STEM conference in late February 2012.

TEC time is intended to support and enhance STEM learning at Stewart. Students are not graded on the assignments. Liz Parry, an EiE consultant from North Carolina State University, visited Stewart Elementary earlier this year to provide a full day of training for teachers. She went through each EiE lesson and assisted the teachers in developing team-building activities and best practices for instruction.

More than 2.7 million students in all 50 states participate in EiE. For more information on the Engineering is Elementary curriculum, please visit www.mos.org/eie.

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