CRYSTAL LAKE – After an extended winter break, science teachers at Hannah Beardsley Middle School were eager to get students back to work – with golf balls, windmills and straws.
Eighth-grade science classes looked like all fun and games Wednesday at Hannah Beardsley, but students were in a crash course about career opportunities in science, technology, math and engineering as part of the fourth annual Discover Engineering Week.
The annual event, headed by teacher Mary Warren, brings together professional engineers to make presentations to students about different careers and shows students basic engineering skills by having them build bridges out of cups and straws or construct windmills that generate enough power to pull up a cup of pennies.
Warren said the weeklong focus on engineering helps stop many students’ misconceptions that engineers are just people who sit around and do math all day.
“There is such a shortage of kids in the United States going into [engineering] so that is where a lot of the jobs are,” Warren said. “We’re trying to get them started on that path early.”
The Congressional Research Service projects a need of 2.4 million computer scientists and engineers of all kinds to meet the demand for positions expected by 2020.
The program is strategically timed to take place a month before high school registration when students can opt to sign up for District 155’s Project Lead the Way – a national program intended to get high school students to take engineering courses for college credit.
Since Discover Engineering Week began, enrollment in Project Lead the Way has increased, including a 34 percent jump last year.
Jennifer Drozt, a science teacher at Hannah Beardsley, said while technology changes quickly in the field the basic principles students can learn early always stay the same.
“The basic principles of the engineering design cycle are the same. You come up with a plan, you build it and then you redesign it to troubleshoot it and get it better and that’s really what the students are practicing,” Drozt said. “We give them a project that’s fun and they inherently do all those steps. It’s sneaky learning.”
Mike Sievers, an engineer at Northrop Grumman, has participated in all four Discover Engineering weeks and said the students always have an eye-opening experience.
He said he always enjoyed math and science as a child and was interested in engineering but believes today’s students do not see it as accessible as in the past.
“Most of them really don’t have an idea of what engineering is. They really don’t understand what it is and what it might take to get into that field,” Sievers said. “I think it stimulates some of their thought process in decisions on what they want to take as they go into high school.”
Eighth-grader Jack Rempert said he was surprised with the amount of different fields engineering branched into. “I didn’t know there were so many different skills in engineering like robotics,” he said. “It taught me a lot.”