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Feb 13 2014

From tinkerer to engineer with DiscoverE

tinkerer to engineerFrom about age two, A’s questions were not “why?,” but “how’s it work?” He would never accept a throw-off answer, but only an in-depth, well-researched answer with as much detail as possible. When he was three I thought I would need a PhD in astrophysics to tell him bedtime stories. I never knew what “how’s it work?” question would come out of his mouth next, usually while I was driving and unable to look up the answer. There was a lot of panicked “uhhhhhh…..” on my part then. Sadly, there’s still a lot of that now.

One of the best benefits of homeschooling for him is that he can continue to ask those questions and now has the time to dive into searching for the answer. I love that he’s old enough to research on his own and then teach me. I also love that I don’t have to make up an answer to just shut him up for five freaking minutes for the love of all things holy and green pacify him until I can look it up.

We’ve always known that he has an engineer’s mind. A has wanted to be an inventor forever, only now he calls it hacker or maker, and the house his room looks like an electronics graveyard. He’s tinkered with everything from Legos to Snapcircuits to VEX robotics to the MakeyMakey to his beloved Raspberry Pi. I just do what I can to keep up and hope the FBI doesn’t appear on my doorstep one day.

As a homeschooler, A is lucky to have the time to focus on his passion like this. My job is to encourage that passion-driven learning, and build on it in hopes of expanding what he thinks he knows. He knows he loves to tinker and hack and create, he just hasn’t quite made the connection that that’s what engineers do. The kid has so many inventor’s notebooks that he has started to catalog them. Engineering is his calling.

Enter DiscoverE. DiscoverE, formerly the National Engineers Week Foundation, is a resource for teachers and parents looking for information on educational options, careers, and fun activities in the field of engineering. It’s a coalition of hundreds of organizations and volunteers who work with schools and community groups to help students understand how engineering works in their lives. Digging around in the site I immediately discovered that my son’s two loves, programming and tinkering, are perfectly aligned with computer science and electrical engineering as careers. I will most certainly encourage those, for the career outlook is bright and the potential salary will ensure that I get the high quality nursing home (with daily massage and sommelier on call) I will have certainly earned by raising this child.

The site has activities and field trip suggestions for locations around the country, which is great for road trips with kids. We’ve already hit most of the Illinois destinations on the list, and the ones in Wisconsin may be day trips for the summer. In the meantime, the activities are basic but solid introductions to engineering principles. They are easily filtered by age, interest, and the amount of time you have available. These are mostly for groups, so A won’t experience the teamwork aspect of the projects, but I’ve already printed out a few to try with him later in the week. I’ve been mulling how to change up our homeschool lessons now that I’m working, and I think project based homeschooling might be the next step. Projects such as these are a great resource.

One of the main programs with DiscoverE is the Future City competition. Future City is a national, project-based learning program for middle school students to design and build cities of the future. It’s the ideal cross-curricular educational project, truly giving tweens a taste of what engineering is and how it affects everything in their lives. The National finals are this weekend, and I plan to check back to see the winning project. I’m also wondering how I could coerce convince my child into joining a team of homeschoolers; surely there’s a team around here somewhere.

My kid has engineering blood, something we’ve known since the very first “how’s it work?” I can see him someday working as a volunteer mentor with DiscoverE, introducing a new generation of students to his favorite question. In the meantime, we’ll use these resources to teach me more about engineering so I’m ready for his questions strengthen his knowledge base in preparation for an eventual career.

That fancy-pants nursing home I’ve earned won’t be cheap.
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You can follow DiscoverE on Facebook, and catch the results of the Future City competition on their Facebook page.  And join in on Twitter for a #GirlDay2014 #STEMchat on February 19 at 9pm EST in honor of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

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This was a sponsored post for DiscoverE. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

2 comments

  1. Yellow Readis

    Ooh, these links look fabulous! Did you know that chartered engineers also do free talks on all sorts of topics? You might need to coerce an adult engineer to take A, but my DH has taken C to a few of them. I only have links for Engineers Australia though, so not so useful for you :( . But I’m sure they do them in the states too.

  2. Celeste Hill

    Just for a laugh, while I was looking at #gtchat just now, I had no idea my daughter was making a time machine. Now engineering is not her thing – she tells stories – so don’t expect time travel just yet. Unless your son nails it. C named her creation the “Time Turner”. It was a sweet little thing involving an abalone shell. But I had to chose my camera angles carefully, because she’s still in her underwear – well, it’s only midday ;)

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