Amy D’Amico held up a spoon in front of a room full of Brazoria County educators and posed a deceptively simple question: Is this technology?
People often think of examples of technology as complicated electronics — the tablets, smartphones and countless other screens that command our attention and time every day. But basic items such as sticky notes, spoons and even instructions for canning fruit are also forms of technology, said D’Amico, the division director of professional services at the Smithsonian Science Education Center.
D’Amico and her team came to Lake Jackson on Saturday to educate local teachers about how to incorporate science and engineering concepts into their everyday curriculum. The event was a collaboration between the Smithsonian, the Dow Chemical Company and Jacobs Engineering Group.
“Our goal is to give K-12 teachers a foundation in engineering principles that they can integrate into their classrooms and show how those principles can affect every part of learning,” said April Steelman, the STEM and solutions manager for Dow Texas Operations. “It’s also a way of showing kids when they’re young what an engineer actually is.”
For years, Dow and Jacobs have selected and sponsored teachers to travel to summer courses at the Smithsonian Science Education Center in Washington, D.C. Last year, however, they decided to also bring the Smithsonian to local teachers. The first local event took place in Louisiana, followed this year by the event in Lake Jackson.
“We wanted to broaden our reach and hopefully expand the number of kids that are coming into these fields,” said Freeport site leader for Jacobs Engineering Dan MacGregor,.
The seminar began by introducing basic definitions of engineering and technology. Technology is simply the tools we use every day to complete tasks, said D’Amico, and engineers are the people who manipulate that technology to solve problems.
Using the example of the plastic spoon, she asked the teachers how they might change it — or engineer it — if they wanted to dig a hole to plant flowers. Ideas included lengthening the handle, sharpening it into a point and making it out of wood and metal instead of plastic.
Teachers also participated in group problem-solving activities, such as building a 2-foot tower out of index cards and masking tape that could support a stuffed dinosaur for 25 seconds. They had just 18 minutes to complete the project.
The activities underscored that engineering and science are not a set of facts and tasks students can memorize, but rather a creative and collaborative process adaptable to every different situation.
“This is growing the intelligence of the workforce,” Jacob Engineering’s Alicia Darrow said. “We want to empower students to think for themselves, so they have a strong foundation when they do enter the workforce.”
Teachers at the event also had the chance to connect with industry ambassadors from Dow and Jacobs, relationships organizers hope will extend the program’s reach as educators head back to their classrooms.