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Design It! Engineering in After School Programs

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert John Ervin

Design It! is well suited to the afterschool environment. The project guides are well developed, providing enough support and information that instructional leaders without strong science backgrounds can implement the projects successfully. Working in collaborative groups, students share their skills and strengths to solve the problems they encounter in building 14 projects—an approach that will appeal to the target population (children in second to fifth grade). The materials are durable and can be used multiple times; when they do need to be replaced, they are easy to find or inexpensive to purchase.
Full Review:
Design It! was created by the folks at the Center for Science Education at EDC and distributed by Kelvin. It is a set of high-quality projects that could be used as a science and engineering curriculum in afterschool programs. I recommend Design It! for the afterschool environment. It meets or exceeds the three criteria I consider most important for afterschool materials: a typical afterschool leader could implement the program; the content of the program would interest its audience (in this case, second- to fifth-grade children); and the science content is accurate and relevant.

Many elements contribute to the appeal of Design It! Students participate in the building of fourteen projects, guided by series of steps that are clearly described at the beginning of each project. This opportunity for student-led inquiry is evident in the project called “Gliders vs. Darts and Missiles” that I worked on with several students. By following the process recommended in the instructors' guide, I was able to offer my students an activity that captured their interest, curiosity, and imagination. It led to interesting discussions, and was fun for the students!

Design It! promotes a cooperative process. Students form teams to design and build each project, working together to resolve problems they encounter along the way. I observed students "feeding" off one another's ideas, and experiencing how cooperation helps them create more effective designs-in this case, for a glider. Additional benefits come from grouping students who do not typically interact. Students clearly enjoy the design and construction. An effective instructor or facilitator can use these materials to stimulate students' creativity and imagination.

Among the features of Design It! that I found to be most compelling were: (1) the objectives for each project are easy to understand for both the instructor and the student; (2) the projects develop and promote cooperative learning skills; (3) the program centers on discovery and on solving problems that arise in the process of designing and building the projects; (4) the lesson plans are thoughtful and pedagogically sound; and (5) the instructor does not need a strong scientific background to facilitate the projects.

Design It! Is relatively easy to implement. In the instructor's guide, the projects are carefully described, the format is not hard to follow, and the necessary background information is clearly stated. Many of the materials are common household/school items that are easy to find and inexpensive. Paraprofessionals, college students, recreational leaders, or high school college-prep students will have no problem facilitating the Design It! projects. In fact, when I showed the materials to afterschool instructors, they could not wait to try them. They did not think that they would have any trouble presenting a project, and felt they would have sufficient preparation time without changing their normal routines.

The Design It! curriculum is also inexpensive, a feature that cannot be overlooked for the typical afterschool program constrained by a limited budget. A great deal of thought went into selecting project materials that are readily available from a variety of sources—school supply, home improvement, and office supply stores—and that are suitable for repeated use. The student write-up templates and materials can be reproduced, and supplies may be purchased in bulk to save money. The materials for the Glider project my students completed were so common that we found them already in our supply cabinets.