Tag Archives: Engineering

What Can Kids Learn from the Sochi Olympics?

There’s one uniting factor in the Olympics that transcends nations, politics, and even sports. When people sit down to watch the games, whether they’re old or young, no matter what country they’re from, one thing goes through their minds is “How do they do that?”

It’s a rare opportunity when an event on TV naturally spurs so much intense curiosity about tiny details of physics, engineering, and math. For that reason, the Sochi Olympics might be the most educational event on the tube all year. The National Olympic Committee has essentially built a $51 billion lab where innumerable cool science demonstrations can happen. That’s pretty far beyond most schools’ science budgets, making the winter games an extra chance to pique kids’ interests in STEM.

First up are the athletes who make mastering the forces of physics on ice look easy—figure skaters.

“There’s no better example of physics than on an ice skating rink. It’s a wonderful place to see science,” says Brad Orr, head of the physics department at the University of Michigan, in a video that’s part of NBC’s video series “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.”

For example, Orr explains that for any object to be balanced, its center of mass has to be directly above its point of support. A figure skater’s center of mass is near his or her hips, which have to remain directly above his or her skates at all times, otherwise the skater will wobble. Easier said than done when you’re flying through the air!

NBC Learn and NBC Sports, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, have put together the video series which explores the science, technology, engineering and math on display at the games.  And the National Science Teachers Association has provided accompanying lesson plans and activities.

The series also points out that when the snowboarding half pipe event kicked off in 1998, the walls of the half pipe were only about half as high as they are now. Over time, engineers have designed the half pipe’s walls to be higher and the radius to be larger, letting snowboarders like Shaun White go higher and faster while simultaneously reducing the forces on their bodies.

Of course, the skills used to figure out velocity and momentum don’t just come in handy every four years. Physics and engineering are around us everyday—in bridges, cars, and manufacturing. But science and math are on display in such a thrilling way at the games it’s likely to get kids asking questions.

A close third for the most nail-biting event behind figure skating and snowboarding is definitely curling. Well, not really. But even curling can heighten any Olympic fan’s curiosity. How does brushing in front of the rock really make a difference in how far it slides?

“In sweeping in front of the ice here, you are bringing the temperature of the ice up and that reduces the friction, but you’re also creating a thin film of a quasi-liquid type [of] material,” says curling expert Mark Shegelski of the University of Northern British Columbia in a Scientific American interview from the last Olympic games. “This is something that is not fully agreed upon by everybody, but the work that we’ve done strongly supports the idea that the key thing going on is the friction that is due to the thin liquid film.”

Speaking of friction, it’s a bobsledders number-one enemy. CBS News delved into how engineers from BMW, Dow Chemical Company, and Protostar Engineering gave the old bobsled model a complete overhaul for this year’s games using 3D imaging, wind tunnel testing, and carbon fiber materials. All together, their innovations trimmed 15 pounds off the two-man bobsled—which allowed the BMW engineers to add back that weight more strategically (they still had to meet minimum weight requirements).

STEM careers are projected to grow 17 percent by 2018 (compared with 9.8 percent for non-STEM jobs), and we’re facing a major shortage of qualified workers. A recent report from the nonprofit group ACT analyzed data from 1.8 million teens and found the overall interest level in STEM is actually pretty high, but the intent and skills needed to actually pursue a career is still low.

That’s why building on things kids are already interested in—like the Olympics—and matching those interests with hands-on opportunities is a great way to demonstrate the real ways STEM impacts our world.

Common Sense Media has this great guide for finding other teachable moments in the games. As curious as kids are about how sports work, equally as intriguing is the political backdrop to the games, not to mention all the hard work and perseverance on display. Talking with kids about how athletes got to the games, as well as the controversies and advertisements, makes them savvy watchers and critical thinkers—definitely gold-medal skills.


Photo / Atos International

3D Printing: Coming to a Classroom or Museum Near You

In museums and classrooms across the country, 3D printers are teaching design and engineering, bringing historic treasures into young hands, and letting budding inventors try and try again.

If 3D printing—which builds an object layer by layer based on precise, computer-assisted design specifications—hasn’t come to a school or museum near you yet, you can bet it’s on its way. Some industry watchers predict 2014 will be a big year for 3D in the classroom. While top-of-the-line models still cost a pretty penny, CNN has reported some smaller, stripped-down 3D printers are selling for only $200-$300.

The technology has already made quite a splash. As Pittsburgh’s own Gregg Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation, recently pointed out in the Huffington Post, “People are already using 3D printers to make edible food and artificial body parts (what?!).” No kidding. (Read more about those body parts here.)

Since 2011, DIY-ers of all ages have flocked to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh for a chance to play around with the 3D printer in its MAKESHOP. “I’m a big believer that if you provide materials for kids and if you provide them with inspiration and you provide them with mentors, they will be inspired,” Jane Werner, the museum’s executive director, told us last year.

Here are just a few ways 3D printing is inspiring young people’s learning in museums and classrooms around the country.

Print Your Own Dino Bones

Or animal skeletons, or archeological finds from ancient civilizations, or other replicas of artifacts students don’t normally get to touch. At New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, students explore the intersection of paleontology and technology by examining allosaurus bones and using 3D printing to make a model skeleton. “It really taught me how paleontologists reconstruct and study dinosaurs and how they deal with disarticulated bones…and broken bones,” said Jordan, an 8th-grader, in this video about the experience.

Last November, the Smithsonian Institution launched a 3D scanning and printing project that makes more of its treasures accessible worldwide. You can browse the 3D collection, or sign up to be notified about the spring release of Abraham Lincoln: The Mind behind the Mask, a new, interdisciplinary resource for high school teachers that combines 3D images and prints of the two life masks taken of Lincoln—before and after he assumed the presidency—and shows the drastic physical changes he underwent.

Make and Bake

At The Browning School in New York City, kindergartners aren’t just baking cookies—they’re making the cookie cutters, too. Engineering has become part of the curriculum across the grades, from 3D-printed cookie cutters to homemade Lego-style building blocks. You can see photos and video of their work here.

To broaden access to the technology, MakerBot has developed a 3D printing bundle and encourages public school teachers to request it on DonorsChoose.org.

Tinker ‘Til You Get It Right

At Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, California, middle school teacher Christine Mytko runs an afterschool Maker Club and also uses her 3D printer for classroom projects. The Maker Club is a great place to test out a variety of ideas and to keep testing and trying until you get it right. Read about one student’s epic journey to build an iPad stand here. (Mytko was also recently profiled in the Atlantic  about STEAM learning.)

Build Prototypes for Local Businesses

Since 2008, students at Chico High School in Chico, California, have been using 3D printing to build fast, accurate prototypes for local companies, starting with a water bottle lid for Kleen Kanteen. IT instructor Mike Bruggeman now has two 3D printers in his classroom and his engineering and architecture students continue to develop prototypes for other companies. You can read more about their work here.

Win Competitions

At Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, a Catholic school in a Minneapolis suburb, science teacher Timothy Jump leads high school students in Advanced Competitive Science, a three-year program focused on engineering. In 2004 his students won the US Robocup Rescue engineering competition, building an urban rescue robot that outperformed models built by students in prestigious university engineering programs. Having a 3D printer on site cuts down the time involved in creating and testing prototypes, which accelerates student learning. “Students are fascinated by the printer,” Jump said in this case study. “They’re just mesmerized that this technology is even possible.”

And maybe, if your students really get into it, they’ll build themselves an energy-efficient car like the Urbee 2. This electric/methanol hybrid car is built from 3D-printed components, which should eventually make mass production of the vehicle cheaper and more sustainable. In 2015 it will cross the US on less than 10 gallons of gas.


Photo/ Don DeBold

Taking Flight in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh students will soon have access to four classroom learning simulators. What makes these simulators special, says Gary Gardiner, whose company installs the classrooms, is not just the embedded iPads each student gets to control. And it’s not the elaborate challenges that students solve, which range from “Pandemic,” where they shrink to a microscopic size and travel inside the bloodstream of a diplomat, to “Vesuvius,” where students are must tell residents of a town on top of a volcano whether the volcano is about to erupt.

What really makes them special, Gardinar says, is the way this new technology enables good old-fashioned teamwork.

“You can’t single handedly carry the weight.” Gardinar says. “You have to work together.”

Educators say that in order to live and work in the world of the future, today’s students will need to be able to engage in systems thinking and work on complex challenges as part of a team.

That’s exactly the kind of work these learning environments promote. The students each take on a role and must work together to solve the missions.

“No teacher is holding their hands,” says Michael Penn, who teaches at Shaler Area Elementary School in Glenshaw, just outside of Pittsburgh and is lucky enough to play flight director at his school’s IKS Titan. The Titan was the region’s first such interactive learning environment that opened last year.  The technology has been a learning experience for educators as well, Penn says. “It’s been a real challenge to let go and let kids learn and let kids choose what they’re excited about and choose the direction of things.”

Part video game and part classroom, the simulator is specifically designed to build kids’ interest in STEAM subjects and to help hone teamwork, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills

That’s why with help from the Grable Foundation this program is expanding. Pittsburgh will soon be home to three additional classroom simulators, to be installed at Carnegie Museum of Natural HistoryBaldwin-Whitehall Middle School, and the Penn Hills Elementary Center.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has more:

The simulations are designed according to what each school district’s teachers and administrators want and need, he said. For example, Penn Hills educators wanted software that will help students read, interpret what they read and draw inferences from different authors. The Penn Hills Dream Flight simulations will study the Earth, its continents, rotations and the phases of the moon.

At the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, teachers are interested in simulators that involve ecology, showing how one change in the ecosystem causes other changes, Mr. Gardiner said.

Districts will open up their simulators to students from other schools in their districts and they plan to create an app development course that would allow high school students to create Dream Flight missions for their peers.

Watch the video for an up-close look at how this technology works. And if you’re in the Pittsburgh region, come see for yourself. The simulator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be open to the public.

Why We Should Prepare Our Daughters (and Our Sons) for Modern Manufacturing Jobs

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that even though women are a bigger part of the overall workforce, they make up only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce, down from down from 32 percent in the early 1990s.

“Women tend to be less interested in engineering than men, which is a big skill in manufacturing. Women also tend to take less math courses,” said Journal reporter James Hagerty. “Manufacturers are going to have to make the case to young women that manufacturing can be a very good career.”

A number of factors cause women to be less interested in manufacturing, one of the most important among them being perceptions of the field. Many people think manufacturing jobs involve heavy-duty physical labor in dark and sometimes dangerous factories. In her book, “Grace and Grit,” Lilly Ledbetter describes these kinds of conditions at the Goodyear tire factory where she worked throughout the 1970s. On top of workplace injuries, noxious chemicals, and unrelenting harassment, she discovered she was being paid thousands less than her male coworkers. Her lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court and was eventually the catalyst for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

That unwelcoming image of mid-century manufacturing has stuck around. But manufacturing today has changed a great deal since Ledbetter’s day. Women and men working in manufacturing today are critical to the innovation cycle. They design parts, operate robots, and act as key advisors on the practical aspects of new designs or processes. The work is highly skilled and often requires sophisticated computer and engineering knowledge.

Those specialized skills are the focus of the White House’s recently announced new public-private manufacturing hub in North Carolina. It’s the first in a series of institutes Obama has planned. This one is a group of businesses and universities in Raleigh that, using federal funding, will focus on connecting research with manufacturing. The idea is to apply semiconductor technology to developing energy efficient devices for cars, electronics, and motors.

Obama sees improving the manufacturing industry as key to raising middle class incomes. With certificate training, manufacturing salaries can start around $40,000. And as Hagerty pointed out, these jobs offer better pay and benefits on average than service jobs, particularly jobs in retail or food service, which tend to attract a lot of women.

But these middle-tier jobs often go unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants. In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article Anthony P. Carnevale, an economist and head of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said that even though the manufacturing sector will shrink by a million jobs over the next decade, it will still experience a huge labor shortfall as 2 million workers retire without enough new, trained workers to take their place.

One young women who may be poised to do just that is Sarah Hertzler, a high school junior in South Fayette, Pennsylvania. who fell in love with engineering after joining a club for girls interested in building rockets and robots.

“Sometimes when you think about engineering, you think of grease and nuts and bolts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s about ideas and designing.”

Like many schools in the Pittsburgh region, South Fayette High School emphasizes computational thinking and creativity in its curriculum. It also gives students access to lots of technology. The region is ripe with opportunities for girls like Sarah—from Girls of Steel, Pittsburgh’s all-girls robotics team, to the Girls Math & Science Partnership, where girls meet with mentors and explore STEM careers.

And when it comes time to choose what kind of career to pursue, the work of the Pittsburgh Technology Council and others ensures they’ll have a world of STEM job options open to them.

‪For #HourOfCode, Young Programmers In Pittsburgh Teach Their Peers

In mid-December, more than 15 million students spent at least one hour learning about computer programming, according to the nonprofit code.org, which launched the Hour of Code this year as part of Computer Science Education Week. The event was designed to get more kids interested in computer science.

Here in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, known locally as SciTech, lept on the bandwagon, involving about 200 students—nearly half its student body.

The coding tutorials took place in the school cafeteria, where 80 novice coders were paired up and matched with a high school tutor, who guided them through beginning programming experiences. When the rookie coders finished their first piece of programming, they talked about code with representatives from Carnegie Mellon University and Google and played student-designed video games in a penny arcade. (Proceeds from the arcade went to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.)

SciTech has a 1-1 laptop program and wireless access throughout the building, so infrastructure issues were minimal. But prepping the people took lots of work. Computer science teacher Ann Gollapudi said she spent a week preparing her students to lead programming tutorials in which students used Scratch, a graphics-based programming language, to make interactive holiday cards.

Gollapudi’s colleague Kayla Schultz trained high schoolers to lead tutorials in Python and Java. The high school students practiced their lesson plans on each other and gave each other written feedback to refine their teaching. “Our guests were amazed by how organized our students were,” Gollapudi said. This is not the first time Pittsburgh students took the lead—see our post about what happens when young students share their expert technology skills.

The hard work didn’t stop at a single hour of code, either. In January, SciTech will host CodeDay Pittsburgh, a 24-hour hackathon led by nonprofit tech educators StudentRND. At CodeDay Pittsburgh, SciTech’s Hour of Code participants can take the next step toward learning how to put code to work designing apps, video games, and other cool projects.

SciTech Hour of Code organizers said student interest was high enough to suggest even longer-term effects. “Students were excited and fully engaged. I suspect the enrollment for our computer science classes will increase in the coming years,” as a result of the Hour of Code, predicted English teacher Juliette Hill.

That will be music to the ears of the organizers of Hour of Code, whose goals are to show today’s kids the joys and benefits of learning how computers work. While not everyone will become a programmer—not everyone who can tickle the ivories becomes a composer after all—coding will likely become a defining literacy going forward. Pittsburgh students are already ahead of the pack.

Photo / Mast Charter

Webmakers, Educators Gather at #MozFest to Forge the Future of the Web—and Learning

Get a bunch of makers, hackers, designers, and educators into a room, and what do you think might happen? That is precisely the question that Mozilla Foundation Executive Director Mark Surman and the team behind the Mozilla Festival sought to answer last month.

The annual festival, which operates under the motto “less yack, more hack,” provided the chance for passionate thinkers and inventors from around the world to meet and collaborate to “forge the future of the web.”

“The Mozilla Festival is where many of Mozilla’s best and most innovative ideas spring to life,” explained Surman on the festival’s website. “It’s where passionate thinkers and inventors come together to learn from one another and engage in a conversation about how the web can do more, and do better.”

The festival is a part of Mozilla’s mission to ensure that the web remains an open resource. #MozFest “strengthens the global braintrust” of those dedicated to the concept of a “user-built web,” said Surman

Photo/Mozilla in Europe

“The festival is filled with fiercely unconventional technologists and creators, eager to share their skills,” said Surman. “We’re replacing darkened lecture halls with hands-on sessions and interactive workshops and there’ll be time to hack the ideas that emerge when hundreds of bright minds gather together in one space.”

MozFest activities were all related to several themes, such as “Connect Your City,” and “Build and Teach the Web.” Organizers behind the project also set out to achieve the following goals:

  • Make things with the tools Mozilla and others are creating.
  • Learn who is building what, how we can share and help each other.
  • Imagine making in 100 years: what future are we building?
  • Design the things we want to build next, especially for mobile.
  • Fuel leaders who want to invent, teach and organize.

The three-day event transformed the nine floors of the wired media and design campus Ravensbourne in East London into maker labs and classrooms, and encouraged the attendees, or “webmakers,” to bring their metaphorical “thinking caps.”

“Bring an idea and we’ll connect you with kindred spirits who will help nurture your ideas through hands-on sessions and interactive workshops,” said Surman. “Find your community at MozFest, hone your skills and amplify your voice around our common mission: ensuring the web is an innovation open to all.”

A few programmers from Hive Pittsburgh answered this clarion call, including Sprout Fund executive and deputy directors Cathy Lewis Long and Matt Hannigan, and Dustin Stiver, the organization’s program officer for engagement and collaboration. (Hannigan spoke with two fellow Hive Learning Network directors about the experience here.)

What’s just as exciting is that mentors from the Andy Warhol Museum and Hive Pittsburgh also teamed up to host a session on “collecting youth culture” during the Mozilla Maker Party that was held on Saturday. Heather White from Power Up Homewood and Adil Mansoor, an Artist-Educator from the Warhol Museum led the session that brought webmakers and teens together to explore art, culture, and global affairs. The activities combined both digital and hands-on interaction, and invited participants to share their thoughts on abstract concepts like love, fame, and art. They even had a mobile silkscreen station available to create one-of-a-kind bandanas. How cool!

While MozFest almost sounds like an unfathomable dream for techies and inventors, it also signifies the areas where excitement for education and technology overlap. Not only were web designers and hackers present, but educators and programming directors looking for new technologies to improve learning were there as well. What can educators learn from the DIY spirit of technologists in the open source movement? Turns out a lot.

Photo/Mozilla in Europe

Mozilla, for example, has been a leader in the Open Badges movement—which aims to use technology to recognize learning that happens outside of a traditional classroom through badges that are recognized across the web.

That’s not all. Through collaborations with educators, Mozilla’s new Webmaker tools “help people everywhere make, learn and play using the open building blocks of the web.” These tools include authoring tools and software like Popcorn, Thimble, and Hackasaurus. And they’ve been a key piece in the Hive Learning Networks. At the festival on Saturday, Mozilla announced a number of updates including the Web Literacy Standard, “a map of competencies and skills that Mozilla and our community of stakeholders believe are important to pay attention to when getting better at reading, writing and participating on the web.”

Educational innovators believe that experiments like these can help empower students to take charge of their own learning whether online or off, inside the classroom or out.

It’s hard to imagine that amount of dedication and creativity flowing under one roof, but we’re sure the innovations that result from this collaboration will emerge in the months to come.

Read more from those who attended the conference here, here, and here.

Can the Power of Citizen Science Help Save the Environment?

For all human innovation has given us, the unfortunate truth is it’s also caused harm to the only planet we’ve got. And while there’s a slew of amazing technology that’s helping prevent and reverse the damage, most of it’s in the hands of scientists and engineers. But what if technology could bridge that gap and directly allow people to monitor changes to their own environment?

Deren Güler’s FLOAT project did just that. In 2008, while she was a grad student at Carnegie Mellon, Güler and cocreator Xiaowei Wang used Kickstarter to fund FLOAT, which fitted kites with simple sensors to test Beijing’s air quality. The kites’ sensors were connected to LED lights that changed color depending on the air quality, turning from green to hot pink depending on the level of pollutants they detect. Tapping into the 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition of kite flying, the kites created hundreds of tiny air quality testing stations at a time when no official reports were accessible to the city of 17 million.

“Making electronics and computation accessible to a diverse, wide audience of people is something that is really important to me. This is somewhere where people need to have the power of measuring air quality in their own hands.”

-Deren Güler

“Kite flying is a very playful way to start to talk about issues of air quality,” said Wang in a ChinaFile video about the project. “It’s really poetic, too. It’s this vehicle that’s of the air, literally.”

More than just raising awareness about air pollution, the kites and FLOAT workshops gave agency to people by turning them into active data collectors.

“Making electronics and computation accessible to a diverse, wide audience of people is something that is really important to me. Because this is somewhere where people need to have the power of measuring air quality in their own hands,” Güler said.

Güler’s other work also involves creating accessible tools for makers and tinkerers from all walks of life. She’s the creator of Invent-abling, gender-neutral electronics kits that have made their way into places like Assemble and Makeshop.

On the other side of the globe, a 2007 HASTAC grant-winning project from University of California Berkeley professor and game designer Greg Niemeyer called Black Cloud also turned measuring air quality into an emotional experience.

PuffTrons—boxes Niemeyer and his team created to measure carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, light, noise and temperature—were installed in Los Angeles at sites around Manual Arts High School. However, the students weren’t told where the sensors were and had to use clues from the data to locate them next to busy streets, dry cleaners, and even next to their own school—which turned out to be the most polluted spot of all.

The students used what they found to recommend changes. For example, carbon dioxide levels in their classrooms were at high enough levels to make them sleepy and cause headaches, so they installed plants and kept doors and windows open.

Although Black Cloud was an in-school game, the data armed students with concrete information about the air they were breathing.

“This is the kind of authentic knowledge that can make real change,” said Andy Garcia, the English teacher whose students teamed up with Niemeyer to play the game. “From this project we could easily write a policy recommendation letter to the city council based on the health environment around them.”

Like any good game, the goal wasn’t to lecture kids but rather get them to explore and figure pollution out themselves.

“We didn’t tell people who got sensors much about CO2, but they noticed patterns and became curious. It was their own curiosity and ultimately their own questions that drove them to find meaning in the technology,” Niemeyer said of the project in a CITRIS interview.

Getting people involved in protecting the environment isn’t just limited to air pollution. British scientists are also turning to publicly collected data for an entirely different environmental problem—a sudden invasion of Spanish slugs. The rapidly growing Spanish slug population isn’t native to the ecosystem and has potential to wreack havoc on British crops this winter. So scientists launched SlugWatch, an online portal and Twitter account where people can pitch into the nationwide effort of researching and combating slugs by reporting sightings, uploading photos, and learning how to trap them.

Everywhere you look, tools that were once only in scientist’s labs are turning up in our own hands. The potential of technology to connect people with conservation efforts is endless, important, and sure to grow.

How Early Should We Be Teaching STEM?

For many parents and teachers, tackling topics like engineering and science with children can seem daunting. Questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” can leave adults feeling like they don’t have the answers. However, many experts believe that this kind of “science talk” is just what children need in their early years, before the fear of being wrong materializes in formal and more competitive learning environments.

“In 20 years as a STEM educator, I have rarely gone a day without hearing or reading two common refrains about elementary education. If these themes were reduced to bumper sticker slogans they would read as follows: Elementary teachers fear science. Children are born scientists,” explained Doug Haller, principal of Haller STEM Education Consulting. Haller, a former educator, has made STEM education his business, literally, and now runs the blog STEM Education: Inspire, Engage, Educate.

Early learning experts have begun to tackle this conundrum. Sesame Street, long known for its pioneering efforts to teach basic math and literacy skills to young children has, in the last four years adjusted the show’s seasonal curricula to include specific science and engineering concepts and to emphasize more specific investigative skills.

For example, the character Grover, who was traditionally known for confidently making mistakes, is now “Super Grover 2.0.” This new version of the Muppet uses trial and error to solve seemingly silly problems like, say, a cow that is stuck in a doorway because of an inhibiting hairdo. Grover’s solutions are now directly linked to science concepts like spatial reasoning. Sesame Workshop will soon be unveiling a new online hub on its website, with new videos, online and mobile games, and parent and teacher resources on teaching science.

The best part about Sesame Street’s new curriculum is that it’s working. While there currently is no publicly available standardized assessment tool to gauge preschoolers’ science knowledge, recent studies conducted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces of the show, have found that children can learn sophisticated vocabulary and valuable science concepts from shows like Sesame Street.

Aside from appealing to children’s inherent desire to ask questions about their environment, there are other reasons experts support using STEM concepts in pre-K classrooms.

“One often overlooked benefit of early childhood STEM programs is that they can counteract the destructive and persistent belief that math is for boys,” said Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving STEM learning in a recent report. “Boys and girls alike internalize this belief as early as second grade, long before any actual gender differences in performance. We need to nip those attitudes in the bud, especially since math is the language of STEM.”

In addition to being the language of STEM, seminal research by Greg Duncan, professor at UC Irvine, has shown that pre-kindergarten mathematical knowledge is actually the highest predictor of later academic success. And early childhood exposure to STEM concepts not only helps to diffuse gender norms, like Change the Equation’s Rosen said, but can also help fight other harmful notions that often prevent children from pursuing their science-based interests.

For example, Lisa Guernsey, author of “Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child,” explored the benefits of teaching young children computer programming skills, like coding, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times.

Guernsey spoke to Claire Caine, a technology instructor at the Jewish Community Day School in Boston, where students have been testing out Scratch Jr., a new programming language designed for kindergarten students. “The earlier you catch them, the better off they are,” Caine told Guernsey. “The idea that they might not be good at something hasn’t entered their mind yet.”

Guernsey also noted that children are less likely to be swayed by stereotypes before age eight or nine. She has explored effective, hands-on ways to teach early engineering concepts in preschool and elementary-level classrooms. In a recent piece for the Smithsonian’s online magazine, she explained the game “Ramps and Pathways,” which has children construct ramps for marbles using common objects like blocks and strips of wooden molding. “In Ramps and Pathways classrooms, children explore the properties and possibilities inherent in a few simple materials,” said Guernsey.

Guernsey also interviewed Beth Van Meeteren, professor at the University of Northern Iowa, about the game. Van Meeteren wrote her dissertation on the subject, and has recorded videos of students’ decision-making skills as they build and rebuild their designs. She once saw a first-grade student build a structure over several days, culminating in 13 three-foot ramps in a “labyrinth-like” design that spiraled to the ground. “The marble traveled 39 feet on a structure that took up only nine square feet of floor space,” Guernsey wrote.

Van Meeteren explained that the design was entirely the student’s idea, and that games like “Ramps and Pathways” can teach a multitude of skills in the classroom—not just math. “I’d love to get this into more classrooms,” she said. “It seems that only gifted classrooms are allowed this quality instruction. All children benefit.”

Ideally, STEM learning will continue to find more outlets in early childhood classrooms, as well as kids’ media. But, until then, it’s up to teachers and parents to tackle STEM topics head on and meet young learners where they are, before it’s too late.