20 February 2012


Today in the USA we celebrate George Washington's birthday. In my state we also celebrate Abraham Lincoln; I think most states celebrate both. ( I don't really get this difference, but you can read about it here )  Here's the rundown: George's bday is Feb 22, Abe's bday is Feb 12, so we celebrate with a federal holiday on the third Monday in February.

Every year around this time is National Engineers Week. George Washington is regarded as the first engineer because of his work on the C & O Canal ( connecting the Chesapeake Bay and Ohio River parallel to the difficult to navigate Potomac River) and his survey work. Universities all over the country hold hands on experiments and projects in middle and high schools. There is even an event in Stuttgart sponsored by IBM, Diamler and Bosch.

Engineering touches every part of your life: streets, sidewalks, water drainage systems, buildings, cup holders, medical instruments, paper clips, electrical wiring, chemical waste, and so much more. When I was in college my father in law claimed that 'We don't need engineers in Maine." How comical!

As a parent there are so many things that I want to do differently than my parents; however, I was raised well and appreciate all that my parents did and did not do for me. One thing I want to be is encouraging to my kids. If they say they want to do something I want to help them do that. I want them to have a myriad of experiences and then they can chose what interests them most.

When I was a little girl I remember being yelled at for taking apart my fathers radio. You bet I made sure to put it back together correctly. I've taken apart watches, cameras, a VCR (who remembers those?), I wired my HS auditorium when I was a junior. In the 7th grade I had a teacher that told me that my mind worked differently than the other students. Being different in middle school is no fun and it took me a long time to realize that was a compliment. Embarrassing confession: I was a Mathalete. It was fun though.

How can you get young children interested in engineering? Blocks! When they are bigger you can build structures with popsicle sticks too. Reading is so important too. Remember when you were getting ready for the SAT and for literacy they told you to read? When kids get around 4-5 you have to figure out what kids want to read. We read kids encyclopedias for bed time stories for the oldest and the youngest son likes story books.

I don't think that learning is ever done, so I feel it is really important to have an ongoing dialogue. When we went to Koenigstuhl we went to see the mechanical parts of the Bergbahn.  Answer all their (sometime annoying) questions. If you don't know then google it together. I make almost all of my household cleaners with my kids. I have to explain to them why I add each ingredient and what its purpose is. I also cook with them frequently. Last year when my son turned 8 we did a 'Mad Scientist' party. Best. Party. Ever.

For older kids, did you know you can sup-up Nerf guns? Oh yes. Rockets can be made out of 2 liter soda bottles. Alka-Seltzer is your friend. First Lego League has a robotics competition every year for kids from all over the world. Every year there is cement canoe races in New Orleans sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The other societies have similar competitions.

Here are some professional organizations that have student chapters and also offer scholarships:
National Society of Professional Engineers*
American Society of Mechanical Engineers*
American Society of Civil Engineers
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Society of Women Engineers*
Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Association of German Engineers)
*these are my professional associations. I did receive scholarships from ASME, SWE, and W R Grace

I would love to know how you teach your children about science! What are your favorite things to do with your kids? Are there favorite places you like to bring them to learn about?

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