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Elephants, engineers and wrecking balls

Preschool chosen to pilot new Museum of Science initiative
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
 
 
This summer, Gordon’s Preschool was chosen to pilot a new curriculum developed by the Engineering is Elementary program at Boston’s Museum of Science.
 
 

Over ninety schools applied to participate. Only ten were chosen. Gordon was the only Rhode Island school to be selected.
 
 

Gordon’s science faculty have been building off the Museum of Science’s pioneering curriculum works for several years, and in the summer of 2016, all of Gordon’s Early Childhood and Lower School faculty attended a daylong training in Engineering is Elementary.
 
 

The Museum of Science has long been a leader in curriculum development for elementary school engineering. Gordon’s science faculty have been building off their works for several years. Gordon is proud to be part of the team as they extend their work to reach three- and four-year-olds.
 
 

Today was the first of seven lessons, which will happen once a week through November.
 
 


Their teachers began by introducing Eleanor the Elephant.
 
 


Eleanor is an engineer.
 
 

What do engineers do?
 
 


Fix cars!
Drive trains!
Build trains!
Make… courageous stuff!
 
 


The Preschool students are already accustomed to this kind of conversation.
 
 

It’s the kind of thing they talk about every week when they visit Gordon’s Early Childhood IDEA Lab.
 
 

Their teachers pressed forward: do engineers design shoes? What kinds of problems are they trying to solve when they design a shoe?
 
 


What does velcro do that shoe laces don’t do?
What do LEGOs do that wooden blocks don’t?
What does a crayon do that a marker doesn’t?

 
 

Once they had agreed that engineers figure out how to solve problems, the class moved on to choose their morning activities.
 
 


The students who chose “engineering” were given a problem to solve: Eleanor the Elephant needs a new pillow for her bed.
 
 


They were given a variety of materials to choose from.
 
 

It turns out that everyone can summon up an opinion about what makes a great pillow.
 
 

The easy answer would be that a pillow needs to be soft.
 
 


But through their work in the Early Childhood IDEA Lab, these students already had a richer engineering vocabulary, beyond just “soft” and “not soft.”
 
 

They were tuned into the distinction between bouncy pillows and floppy ones.
 
 

They gave due consideration to structure and stability.
 
 

Who wants a pillow that doesn’t keep its shape?
 
 


Their teachers had watched the students in the Early Childhood IDEA Lab, so they knew the engineering part of the lesson would come easily.
 
 

The trickiest part, then, was introducing them to Eleanor.
 
 

But these students welcomed her with open arms, taking the puppet seriously and attending to its needs without getting silly.
 
 

“I like a floppy pillow,” reported one student, “but Eleanor needs more structure.”
 
 

Every student visited the pillow-making table today, and at the end of the day, they cheered as Eleanor deemed their final design “just right.”
 
 

If they’re this engaged by the pillow challenge, wait until the coming weeks,  when they will collaborate on rafts and something called “the wrecking ball.”
 
 


And with the teachers giving their feedback to the Museum of Science every week, these lessons will have an impact far beyond Gordon’s campus.

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